Like sunscreen, face wash, shampoo and makeup, drugstore deodorant is another beauty/hygiene product we use every day that is definitely toxic and may have far-reaching, deleterious effects on our endocrine systems, not to mention the potential to cause serious health conditions. It’s not hard to see how smearing on a bunch of chemicals, metals and unpronounceable compounds onto your skin every single day might cause some problems.
TIME magazine reported on a study which showed that deodorants and anti-perspirants upset your microbiome, changing the amount and kind of bacteria living on your skin. While the verdict is out as to whether this change is good or bad, one thing is for sure: it is definitely not natural. With anti-perspirant and generic deodorants, you are stopping up sweat glands, replacing Corynebacterium, the bacteria that we naturally produce and that protects against pathogens, with Staphylococcaceae, which can be either beneficial OR dangerous.
While this may be news to you, it’s likely that your body already knows that deodorants are harmful. Have you ever rolled on some clinical strength anti-perspirant and had to scrub it off when your armpits turned red, raw, bumpy and itchy? That’s aluminum salts blocking your sweat glands, triclosan killing all your natural bacteria, and parabens, phthalates, fragrances and other additives replacing them with something mysterious and frankly, gross.
Let’s take a look at all those strange things in store-bought deodorants/anti-perspirants that you’ll want to avoid:
You may have seen these on the ingredient lists of shampoos, conditioners, body washes, moisturizers, even toothpastes (!) and many other hygiene products—not to mention many food products (there are many different kinds, but all will have paraben in the name: ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, e.g.). So what are these seemingly ubiquitous things and why do we have to be scared of them? Scientific American discloses that the US Food & Drug Administration is not worried about the small amounts you are getting in a squeeze of moisturizer; however, it is the cumulative exposure, the lifetime of using and consuming things that have small amounts of these preservatives that is linked to a host of health problems: the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) states that parabens are thought to be dangerous hormone disruptors because of their ability to “mimic estrogen,” which can, “at sufficient concentrations…increase cell proliferation in human breast cancer MCF-7 cells.” The list of other potential effects of these chemicals is frightening: sperm and testosterone reduction, skin cancer, behavioral changes and much much more.
Luckily, the industry is catching on and there are now a number of products or product lines that are “paraben-free.” The EU, ahead of the US in so many ways, actually banned the use of a number of parabens in cosmetic products in 2012.
Like parabens, phthalates, which you’ll find listed as phthalates, DEP, DBP, DEHP or simply “fragrance,” are also hormone disruptors: studies find that exposure to DBP and DEHP in pregnant women is linked to a “feminization” of male babies during prenatal genital development; in addition, MEP and MEHP (derivatives of DEP and DEHP) may alter sperm quality and lead to male infertility. If this isn’t reason enough, the National Toxicology Program has also labeled phthalates a “reasonable human carcinogen.”
Statistics indicate that levels of phthalates in human urine samples have been declining since the late 90s, which is great news. However, it is still important to be on the lookout for sneaky sales tactics, which attempt to slip these “toxic”–according to the EPA–chemicals into your nail polish, eyelash glue, and many other goods. Even if you are meticulously checking for these compounds on the ingredient lists of all your cosmetics, however, you may not be able to tell when a product has them and when it doesn’t: some companies actually fold in phthalates and their derivatives into “fragrance.”
An antimicrobial agent, triclosan is another hormone disruptor. But it’s additionally concerning because it may be contributing to a resistance to antibacterial agents and antibodies, adding to the danger of “super bacteria.” In fact, triclosan- and antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli and salmonella have been found, the implications of which are truly frightening.
Triclosan has also been known to bioaccumulate, finding its way into sewage systems and then killing off algae, crustaceans, fish and other plants.
CSC reports that “In 2005 the FDA found no evidence that antibacterial washes containing either triclosan or triclocarban were superior to plain soap and water for protecting consumers from bacteria”–in 2005! In 2016, they finally banned it from household antibacterial soaps, but it is still lurking in deodorants, aftershaves, moisturizers, face masks and countless other products.
There are a number of other questionable ingredients in your generic drugstore deodorant and antiperspirant, like aluminum, which blocks your underarm sweat ducts and inhibit bacteria that feed on your sweat and cause body odor; artificial colors; fragrances; the list goes on. But the 3 above are the big culprits.
At this point you may be despairing that you will be stinky for the rest of your life. Ask most people and they will tell you that natural deodorants don’t work. But they’re most likely speaking to that old cliche of the hippie with armpit hair, smelling of patchouli and intense body odor, who swears by the crystal she rubs under her arms every day. But the times have changed! There are actually tons of natural deodorants on the market that will keep you smelling good and won’t cause cancer, estrogen proliferation, and toxic bioaccumulations. Take a look for my top picks:
- Primal Pit Paste; I love this one. Its ingredients include organic beeswax, baking soda (the original natural deodorant), essential oils, and coconut oil and shea butter to soothe your skin.
- Lymph Candy: Started by a Brooklyn-based couple in anticipation of their new baby, this company makes deodorants with only 6 ingredients–none of which are parabens, phthalates, triclosan, aluminum or any other toxic chemical. It’s also vegan!
- Schmidt’s Deodorant: Schmidt’s has some incredible scent combinations, including Charcoal and Magnesium and “Waves.” I personally love the Rose & Vanilla.
- Purelygreat Unscented Charcoal Deodorant: Rated #1 on the Environmental Working Group Cosmetics Database!
- Soapwalla: I actually find this deodorant to work the best for me. You may feel weird about smearing cream from a tub onto your armpits, but it’s really just a matter of getting used to it!