Clean beauty advocates question whether or not the toxins found in our personal care products, like deodorant, really belong on our armpits. With research linking unregulated ingredients like parabens and phthalates to serious health consequences (including endocrine disruption and cancer), the clean deodorant debate has emerged. And unless you’ve got the ABCC11 gene mutation (one that makes sweat odorless), you probably use deodorant on a regular basis.
Curious about switching to a non-toxic deodorant? Below, experts explain everything you need to know about why you should consider making the switch.
Antiperspirant clogs your sweat glands
While it’s convenient to stop sweating altogether, some experts believe that clogging our sweat glands with heavy metals like aluminum, as well as chemical preservatives and other toxins, may be linked to serious illnesses including Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. As Merady Wickes, beauty director of The Detox Market, explains, “While the results [of studies] are still being debated, experts do agree that using these products disturb our microbiome, which leaves us susceptible to more pathogens.” Instead, consider a clean option that lets you sweat and protects the skin’s natural balance of bacteria.
Parabens, triclosan and propylene glycol are considered harmful
As for the specific toxicants found in conventional deodorants, Dr. Morgan Rabach, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical, elaborates, “There are a bunch of chemicals to avoid in conventional deodorants,” she begins. Among them, she lists “Parabens, which may disrupt hormone function [and] be linked to breast cancer, triclosan, which has been linked to abnormal thyroid function, and propylene glycol, which can cause contact dermatitis.”
Synthetic fragrances can cause
If you see the word ‘fragrance’ on an ingredient list, it could be masking hidden phthalates and endocrine-disruptors, so it’s best to steer clear. If you’re worried about suffering a reaction, Rabach notes that no fragrance is your best bet. She notes, “I would opt for a deodorant that is specifically formulated for sensitive skin since many botanicals, or plant-derived alternatives, can cause contact dermatitis or irritant dermatitis.” For most of us, however, essential oil fragrances should be fine. If you’ve heard that essential oils can cause “armpit irritation,” Wickes clears up this common misconception by explaining that baking soda is the true cause. “The culprit is typically not the fragrance, but the baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate,” Wickes says, adding that, “very few people get contact dermatitis from essential oils unless they are added to formula at very high concentrations.”
Look out for baking soda
“Natural deodorants rely on a variety of clays, minerals, plants and essential oils to absorb excess moisture and neutralize odor-causing bacteria,” explains Wickes. While baking soda is one of the most effective ingredients cosmetic formulators can choose from, its alkaline pH, unfortunately, causes rashes on certain skin types. “I’d say it’s about a 50/50 split of those who can use baking soda deodorants and those who can’t,” she continues. “Some know right away if baking soda irritates them, some need to use it for a few days to find out, and others actually can use it as long as they don’t shave right before.” If you notice irritation or a rash developing, switch to a baking soda-free brand ASAP.
Step away from the baby powder
Steer clear of baby powder and products that include talc or talcum powder. Unless it has been tested for purity, the everyday beauty ingredient is often contaminated with the carcinogen asbestos. As the documentary Toxic Beauty reveals, there is a massive, class-action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for lifelong users of baby powder now suffering from ovarian cancer. As tempting as it might be to refresh your pits with a plume of baby powder, it’s better to be sweaty (and safe) than to expose yourself to toxic ingredients.
Give your body time to adjust
It takes time for your sweat glands to detox from aluminum buildup, so you might feel slicker (and smellier) than you’re used to. Because of this, it’s common for first-timers to become discouraged and give up. “When you’ve been using conventional products for years, your glands and pores are clogged, and the microbiome is out of balance,” begins Wickes. “It can take a few weeks to detox your pits and normalize.” To ease the transition, Wickes suggests using a detoxifying charcoal soap, eating an extra-clean diet full of organic produce and to wear breathable materials made from natural fibers. If you can just hold out for two to five weeks, the benefits of the clean swap will be worth it.
xx, The FabFitFun Team
Now that you’re up to speed on the clean deodorant debate, check out our top clean deodorants.