Natural deodorants are nothing new. Browse the aisles of your grocery store and chances are you’ll find shelves full of produce, as well as natural versions of various other personal care, home, and beauty products. Often they are more expensive than their more conventional counterparts.
The implication is that natural products are inherently safer and purer than the so-called “unnatural” versions, which have been used for decades.
But are natural deodorants really better for you than regular old Speed Sticks? Here’s what the experts and scientific evidence suggest.
The difference between natural deodorant and conventional deodorant
Before we compare natural and conventional deodorants, it’s worth pointing out that there are actually two different types of products within the deodorant category: deodorants and antiperspirants. As explained in an article by Annals of Dermatology and Venereology in 2020, antiperspirants are formulated to prevent sweating, and they use aluminum salts as the active ingredient to do this.
Deodorants, on the other hand, do not actually prevent sweating. Instead, they aim to mask sweat odors with fragrance and an active antimicrobial ingredient to limit the growth of odor-causing bacteria. According to an article from International Journal of Dermatology, the active ingredient in conventional deodorants is often triclosan, which research has shown to be a synthetic antimicrobial agent. Natural deodorants, on the other hand, are usually based on essential oils and plant extracts, which act as a fragrance and also have antimicrobial properties.
Most, but not all, natural deodorants are aluminum-free. But even those lines are blurred. For example, Tom’s of Maine, a brand known for selling natural products, has a few aluminum-containing antiperspirant products, as well as its many aluminum-free deodorant offerings. These antiperspirants don’t say “natural” on the packaging, but the fact that they’re sold by a company that claims to use natural ingredients could certainly confuse consumers. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not defined the term “natural” as used in cosmetic labeling, and therefore there are no meaningful regulations on how brands use the term or what ingredients might be in so-called “natural”. ” some products.
Are conventional deodorants and antiperspirants harmful?
“The noise around conventional deodorants dates back to the early 1990s, with an email chain letter circulating claiming that deodorants block sweating and the flushing out of toxins, and could swell lymph nodes and cause cancer” , says Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Boca Dermatology in Boca Raton, Florida. “To date, these risks have not been demonstrated.”
An article published in natural medicine in 2004 called the email chain a hoax and pointed to a study published in 2002 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which looked at data from 1,600 women and found that deodorant use was not associated with breast cancer. The natural medicine the article also questioned the validity of two studies — one published in 2003 in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention which linked the use of antiperspirants and frequent shaving of the armpits to breast cancer, and a 2004 publication in the Journal of Applied Toxicology which showed that parabens (preservatives used in cosmetics, including deodorants, which mimic estrogen) were found in breast tumors. The first study, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), was small and poorly designed, and its results were not supported by other research. The second study, according to the ACS, found parabens in breast cancer tumors, but it did not show that these parabens caused or promoted tumor development or that the use of products containing parabens was linked. to breast cancer.
“There were also concerns about aluminum exposure and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Fromowitz. “But as the science of the disease has progressed, experts have dismissed that idea.” In other words, conventional deodorants and antiperspirants are safe to use, he says.
According to the FDA, conventional deodorants and antiperspirants are perfectly safe for regular use in humans. If you are still worried about using conventional antiperspirants, you can also take comfort in the fact that due to their mode of action, these products are classified by the FDA as both cosmetics and drugs, and are therefore subject to to stricter regulations than conventional products. and natural deodorants, which are simply classified as cosmetics.
To date, there’s no reason to believe that natural deodorants have any negative health effects either. But, as is the case with conventional deodorants, they may contain ingredients that some people are sensitive or allergic to. Most often, it is the fragrance ingredients in deodorants that cause dermatitis, a common skin irritation that usually presents as a rash or patch of dry, itchy skin. If you experience itching or other skin issues under your arms after applying deodorant or antiperspirant, Fromowitz recommends talking to a dermatologist.
What to look for in a natural deodorant
Although the evidence does not support the idea that conventional deodorants and antiperspirants have negative health effects, some people prefer to use natural products made without artificial ingredients. Natural deodorants might also be a good alternative for people who have tried many conventional antiperspirants and deodorants and found that their skin was sensitive to them. Again, though, it’s important to remember that aluminum-free natural deodorants don’t prevent sweat — they just mask its smell.
If you’re looking for a natural deodorant, Jenelle Kim, MD of Chinese Medicine and founder of San Diego-based JBK Wellness Labs, recommends reading the ingredient list rather than just trusting claims on the front of the label like ” natural” or “pure beauty.” Ideally, brands should be transparent about what their product contains, she says, instead of just listing terms like “natural fragrance” without being specific about the ingredients from which the fragrance is derived. Fromowitz also recommends paying close attention to the essential oils and other fragrances used in the products you choose, as these are the most likely to cause irritation.
Beyond that, there is no consensus or evidence to say that some ingredients in natural deodorant products are more effective than others. If you want to go the natural deodorant route, try a few with different ingredients and decide which, if any, works best for you.