What Does Sweat Really Tell Us - And Why Antiperspirants Can Make It Worse
Many people are opting for natural deodorants because it’s quite possible popular sprays and roll-ons are full of toxins that cause harm to the body. But what is the best natural deodorant that will keep you smelling good and not looking like a swamp monster?
It can be a bit complicated to find a really good natural deodorant or antiperspirant, but it’s worth the search. The truth is, prolonged use of conventional deodorants may actually be causing you to get more stinky and sweaty than you usually would! It may also be causing other more serious health issues.
As Dr. Michael Shapiro, medical director and founder of Vanguard Dermatology, puts it:
Most conventional deodorants contain a number of toxic chemicals, such as aluminum chlorohydrate, parabens, propylene glycol, triclosan, TEA, DEA, FD&C colors, and Talc.
Deodorant and antiperspirants are a relatively new phenomenon. Humans have had a long history of stinkiness but much of that was because of the fear of bathing. Underarm odor was the least offensive of the body odors. Once people started bathing regularly, hygiene became fashionable again so companies and marketers capitalized on it with deodorants.
Advertisements are what duped humans into believing they need deodorants and antiperspirants to navigate life, and mainstream brands have put our lives in jeopardy with their propaganda.
Today, the underarm deodorant industry has exploded into a $22 billion world market, according to Euromonitor, a market research provider. Sales in the United States total roughly $3.3 billion.
The Stinky Armpit Conspiracy
The first deodorant, which killed odor-producing bacteria, was called “Mum” and was trademarked in 1888; the first antiperspirant, which stopped sweat-production and bacterial growth, was called “Everdry,” and it launched in 1903. Because some of the products contained aluminum chloride, customers complained that they caused burning and inflammation in their armpits, and that it ruined many a fancy outfit.
The products only took off when an advertising agency positioned perspiration as a social faux-pas that made you unpopular. They targeted women first, basically telling them that if they wanted to keep a man they’d better not be wet and smelly. Case in point is this 1937 Mum advertisement:
In this smart modern age, it’s against the code for a girl (or a man either) to carry the repellent odor of underarm perspiration on clothing and person. It’s a fault which never fails to carry its own punishment — unpopularity.
Eventually advertisers preyed on men’s insecurities, too. Until then, it was considered masculine to have body odor:
In the Great Depression of the 1930s men were worried about losing their jobs. Advertisements focused on the embarrassment of being stinky in the office and how unprofessional grooming could foil (a) career.”
And so, anti-sweat products became part of America’s daily grooming routine for both men and women. In essence, the personal-care industry was hijacked by misleading messages and outright false advertising. And all for the bottom line.
But for more proof of the conspiracy to poison your pits, simply watch this 1952 commercial, “Poof! There Goes Perspiration!”:
It’s also entirely possible that this deodorant obsession is a uniquely American thing. According to a Quora commenter:
I [commuted on a packed train in the Mumbai heat] six days a week for three years. I never noticed any body odor. None at all. No one wore any deodorant. Most people would put some talcum powder after they shower, which would work for like five minutes or so in Mumbai.
Then I came to US. Everyone said, use deodorant. I’m like fine, I’ll use deodorant. After several years of using deodorant, I can smell if the guy next to me is not wearing deodorant. I never smelled sweat when my nose was three inches from another guy’s armpit in a hot Mumbai [locale]. But, I smell it on a guy who is three feet away from me sitting in an air-conditioned room.
I figured that when everyone smells of sweat, you stop noticing the smell. You simply get acclimated to it. In the US, you have to wear deodorant because everyone wears deodorant. If no one wore deodorant, you wouldn’t have to wear deodorant.
The Sweat-Smell Connection
Sweating is a result of the body attempting to cool itself off when there is either an internal or external increase in temperature. The unpleasant odor is actually a byproduct of bacteria that feed on sweat-gland secretions.
But the question is, how do you keep up your morning routine without inadvertently killing yourself? And, to answer that, we must first look at the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants; both deal with B.O. problems, but they do so in completely different ways.
The Difference Between Deodorants And Antiperspirants
What is Deodorant?
Deodorants contain warmth-and moisture-activated ingredients that kill the bacteria responsible for causing unpleasant odors; they also contain perfumes to mask stinky smells. They do not interfere with or stop the sweating process. Ingredients called “fragrances” can be any number of harmful chemicals manufacturers are not legally required to list on a product’s packaging, according to the Environmental Working Group.
What is Antiperspirant?
How does antiperspirant work, in contrast? Well, for starters, it plugs up offending sweat glands. Plugging up anything in your body isn’t optimal or wise. Meanwhile, one of the sweat-blocking ingredients found in many antiperspirants is aluminum, such as aluminum zirconium and aluminum chloride, which has estrogen-like properties. Because estrogen can promote the growth of breast-cancer tissue, there’s concern that aluminum may have the same effect when absorbed through the skin. There is also a cumulative effect to daily antiperspirant use.
Breast cancer is high on the list of concerns, not only because of the underarm’s close proximity to breast tissue and the aluminum in antiperspirants, but because there are other common ingredients such as parabens (identified often with a prefix such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben) that also disrupt hormones in the body.
Why Should You Opt for Natural Deodorant?
We’ve talk about what deodorant and antiperspirant is and why it became fashionable, but do you really know what is in your conventional deodorant or antiperspirant?
With the help of Dr. Shapiro, then, here’s the dirt on eight ingredients common in mainstream underarm products, all of which you should definitely avoid.
Aluminum-based compounds are the active ingredients in antiperspirants. They block sweat glands to keep perspiration from getting to the skin’s surface. Some research has suggested that these aluminum compounds may be absorbed by the skin and cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells. Because estrogen can promote the growth of cancer and non-cancerous breast cells, aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may be a risk factor for developing breast cancer. How exactly can deodorant cause cancer? Read about why celebrities are denouncing mainstream deodorants to find out more about the link between deodorant and breast cancer.
Parabens, in their many forms (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben), are a class of artificial preservatives widely used in cosmetics and personal-care products. They are suspected of disrupting the body’s delicate hormonal balance. This can lead to things like early puberty in children and an increased risk of hormonal cancers – including breast cancer. Exposure has also been linked to birth defects and organ toxicity.
3. Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is a humectant (keeps substances from drying out) and it was originally developed as an antifreeze, but is now included in some deodorants and antiperspirants. It is a neurotoxin known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver damage. In propylene glycol’s Material Safety Data Sheet, workers are urged to avoid skin contact with this toxic chemical as it may cause eye and skin irritation, gastrointestinal irritation and discomfort, nausea, headaches, vomiting, and central nervous depression.
This term can legally refer to hundreds of chemicals. One of these is phthalates, which has been linked to a variety of health issues. High phthalate blood and urine levels in women of childbearing age have been linked to a higher risk of birth defects. This suggests that phthalates may disrupt hormone receptors as well as increase the likelihood of cell mutation.
5. TEA & DEA
Triethanolamine (TEA) and diethanolamine (DEA) adjust pH and are used with many fatty acids to convert acid to salt (stearate), which then becomes the basis for a cleanser. They both could be toxic if continually absorbed into the body in small doses over a long period of time; for its part, DEA can cause liver and kidney damage, while TEA can cause allergic reactions. These chemicals are already restricted in Europe due to known carcinogenic effects.
This substance is an artificial antimicrobial chemical used to kill bacteria on the skin and other surfaces. Triclosan is a skin irritant and may cause contact dermatitis. Recent studies suggest this chemical may disrupt thyroid function and other critical hormone systems. The American Medical Association recommends that triclosan and other “antibacterial” products not be used in the home, as they may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics that can allow resistant strains to flourish. Read Maryam Henein’s investigative piece “Clean Dirty Lies” to find out more.
7. FD&C Colors
FD&Cs are artificial, synthetic colors approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food, drugs, and cosmetics. Some are made from coal tar derivatives and have been known to be carcinogenic; they also often cause allergic skin reactions.
As a hydrous magnesium silicate, talc is a soft mineral used in personal-care products as an absorbent and color additive. If it contains asbestiform fibers it is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. One woman was awarded $110.5 million from a lawsuit claiming talc in baby powder caused her cancer. The quantity of asbestiform fibers in cosmetic-grade talc is unregulated. If talc is listed on the label, there is no way of knowing whether or not it contains asbestiform fibers.
When choosing a deodorant, be sure to read the labels and stay away from these eight “dangers of deodorant.”
Natural Deodorant That Works
Now you know why to avoid commercial varieties, but what is the best natural deodorant for you?
DIY Natural Deodorant
If you’re more of a DIY kind of person there are a number of natural deodorant recipes that can keep you stink free. A quick and easy deodorant can be made by mixing coconut oil and baking soda until it forms a paste and then adding a few drops of essential oils (lavender is a safe choice). Just be aware that many people with sensitive skin can’t tolerate the baking soda, in which case you could use arrowroot powder but it may not work as well. Other natural deodorant ideas are:
- Magnesium oil spray
- Colloidal silver spray
- Rose water
- Apple cider vinegar (although the smell of the vinegar might be worse than your BO)
Sweat and Your Diet
Also keep in mind that what comes out of your body is a direct reflection of what goes in. If you are consuming toxic “food products,” pesticides, and chemical additives you’re likely to smell much worse than if you’re eating a clean diet. Dr. Faisal Tawwab agrees:
A clean food diet can absolutely cut down on body odor if you choose the right foods. Red meat, clean or not, can cause body odor. Switch to poultry for the best results. A diet high in fiber can help break down the unwanted compounds in the body. That is of course, with the exception of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage as the high amounts of sulfur they contain can actually increase body odor.
Tawwab also suggests that body odor may be a symptom of gut health issues which can be rectified with gut healing choices like fermented food, probiotic supplements, and removing damaging foods like gluten and dairy.
Best Natural Deodorant
Taking a step back from commercial deodorants doesn’t mean you have to commit to a lifetime of stinkiness. Instead, there are natural deodorant choices that can minimize toxic exposure.
One alternative is 3rd Rock’s ODORBlock which is alcohol free and is made with food-grade edible ingredients. What’s more, 3rd Rock ODORBlock is transparent — so it doesn’t leave streaks on clothing — and the organic ingredients soothe and moisturize skin as they eliminate the bacteria that cause offensive smells.
This effective non-toxic deodorant contains an ingredient that naturally and harmlessly prevents bacteria from growing: silver. Silver has antimicrobial properties which can kill odor causing bacteria. It’s also an excellent sensitive skin deodorant because it doesn’t include baking soda.
We also like Zatik’s deodorant, which is a certified organic deodorant and is made with herbs like vetiver, which has an earthy musky smell, making it an excellent natural deodorant for men. This product has an easy to use roll on and is made by a husband and wife duo.
Win The War In Your Underarms With The Best All-Natural Silver-Based And Food Grade Deodorant On The Market.
Are There Aluminum-Free Antiperspirants?
Though many natural deodorants will help absorb sweat, there is no antiperspirant ingredient approved by the FDA besides aluminum (and we don’t believe that should be approved either). That doesn’t mean you are out of luck! Changing your diet and detoxing from toxins in your food and personal care products may help you to stop sweating so much. Many people find that once they stop using commercial deodorants and antiperspirants, they don’t sweat as much.
There may be extra stink and sweat during your transition from toxic deodorant to natural deodorant but just remember that it is your body’s way of removing toxins. After the transitional time passes, you likely won’t have as much embarrassing sweat or stinkiness. Other things you can do are to avoid sweat-inducing fabrics like polyester and stick with breathable cotton.