by Louise Kuo Habakus
It’s a complete non-starter. We can’t smell bad. Our kids can’t smell bad. Let’s face it, anyone we’re shacking up with can’t smell bad.
The problem, of course, is that sometimes we do. (Sure, there are people who don’t sweat. Don’t envy them; they have a different issue.)
Listen, it’s hot outside. We try not to run the A/C too much. We’re at picnics, BBQs, and pool parties. We’re at the beach, by the lake, in the mountains hiking, fishing, and climbing. Our kids are running around barefoot and then stuffing their dirty, sweaty feet into their shoes. You get the picture.
This is where my hardcore eco, non-toxic, alternatively-minded friends crumble. You know, the ones who install whole house water filters, cross state lines to buy grassfed meat and raw dairy, and stock an at-home apothecary to rival your local health food store.
It’s a dirty “secret ” (pun intended) they admit to me in a whisper. They use Secret, Ban, or Lady Speed Stick by Mennen, the invisible dry antiperspirant and deodorant solid.
And they give it to their kids.
Yes, the same kids on whom they spend a fortune feeding organic fruit, cultured vegetables, and gluten-free, non-GMO snacks.
They do it because they feel they have to. The sad reality is that most natural deodorants don’t work and others only pretend to be safe (check out Tom’s of Maine’s deodorant and antiperspirant ingredients). This is a super vexing problem for many people. I googled the topic and found, on the first search page: 6 tips, 7 effective ways, 9 natural ways, and 17 really effective ways to eliminate, stop, and reduce body odor for good, for life, forever.
What’s wrong with deodorant and antiperspirant?
(Deep breath) Well… nearly everything. It’s way up there on the list of vile things we do to ourselves. If you already know what’s wrong with the stuff, scroll down to the bottom for our solution.
1. They’re loaded with toxins. I list the primary offenders below. They are implicated or suspected culprits in a variety of disorders and diseases, including human endocrine disruption, allergic contact dermatitis and changed cell morphology, Alzheimer’s, early puberty, developmental and reproductive defects, breast and hormone-related cancers, and damage to the heart, liver, and nervous system.
2. Our skin soaks them all up. Chemicals rolled, rubbed, and otherwise spread on our skin get absorbed into our bloodstream. Stat. Consider prescription meds that are delivered transdermally (i.e., nicotine or birth control patches). Our bodies are literally wide open for substances administered in this fashion.
3. Shaving makes things much worse. Shaving causes skin irritation. When we apply toxins after shaving, we facilitate their absorption via microabrasions. (These minute tears can also lead to skin infections.) Keep in mind that we are removing underarm hair that our bodies grow to help reduce friction and chafing. Medical anthropologists Syd Singer and Soma Grismaijer discuss this in their book Get It Out!
4. Bad things happen when we block our ability to sweat. Not only is skin the largest body organ, weighing 6 to 9 pounds. It is also the largest organ of detoxification. Sweating is a necessary mechanism for health and survival. Humans excrete toxins through our skin via sweat. Anything that impedes this process–including antiperspirant–is burdensome to the body. As a disturbing analogy, consider blocked fecal elimination and the toxification caused by prolonged constipation.
5. We’re doing it all to ourselves. These products are discretionary purchases. We reflexively buy them and use them regularly, thereby encouraging their use by everyone around us. Deodorant ads are ubiquitous and contribute towards normalizing the behavior. Human beings are comforted when we do what everyone else is doing. And then we stigmatize those who opt out.
What’s in deodorant and antiperspirant anyway?
There are a lot of ingredients, many of which you can’t pronounce. Some of these chemicals fall into one of our Frightful Five:
1. Parabens are a family of synthetic preservatives used in deodorants and the vast majority of personal care products since the 1950s. In the 1990s, researchers raised concerns about parabens as xenoestrogens (substances that mimic estrogen) with the power to disrupt human endocrine processes. In 2004, researchers found parabens in cancerous breast tissue. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database ranks the health hazard posed by parabens as Moderate to High, and offers a long list of health concerns, including allergies and reproductive and developmental toxicity.
2. Aluminum salts are an active antiperspirant agent that blocks the secretion of sweat. The Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry published a study in 2012 that stated: “We have demonstrated the existence of high transdermal Al uptake on stripped skin. Our finding should compel antiperspirant manufacturers to proceed with the utmost caution.” At the Tenth Anniversary Keele Meeting on Aluminum 2013 researchers discussed stunning new information regarding aluminum and Alzheimer’s, neuropsychiatric impairment, toxicant interactions, oxidative stress, colitis, bone damage, cancer, vaccine injury, and more. Specific concerns were raised about prenatal aluminum exposures via maternal antiperspirant use and Tums (antacid) consumption.
3. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. They are also used in cosmetics and shampoo as lubricants or softeners, and in synthetic fragrances. You won’t find them listed on the label, however. Look for the words “fragrance” or “parfum” instead. Research links prenatal phthalate exposure with incomplete testicular descent (shortened anogential distance), reduced masculine play in boys, and impaired production of testosterone.
4. Propylene glycol is an inexpensive synthetic and petroleum-based material that softens cosmetic products to make them easier to apply to the skin. It also attracts water and functions as a moisturizer and penetration enhancer. PG appears on the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. It has been identified in some of the most serious EPA hazardous waste sites in the U.S.. EWG Skin Deep notes that PG is associated with irritant and allergic contact dermatitis and contact urticaria (hives), and these sensitization effects can be seen in concentrations as low as 2%. Some women suffering from yeast infections, cystitis, and vulvodynia, as well as post-menopausal women using estrogen creams, experience extremely intense burning and pain from PG exposure. A 2010 Swedish study in PLOS One links airborne concentrations of PG and development of asthma and allergies in children.
5. Triclosan is a high production volume anti-microbial agent commonly used in wipes, gels, and soaps, as well as toothpaste (!) and, yes, deodorant. Although the FDA states that triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans, it is registered as a pesticide. The EWG warns that it is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity and may disrupt thyroid function. The American Medical Association recommends triclosan not be used in homes because it might encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Mercola.com reports on linkages between triclosan and disrupted muscle function and hormone regulation.
So that’s just great. And we’re still left with the problem of body odor. If you’re a do it yourselfer, our intrepid readers have shared some of their favorite no-b.o. ingredients, using one or a combination of the following, to address the combo of bacteria, moisture, rashes, and itchiness:
- Anti-microbial essential oils
- Apple cider vinegar
- Arrowroot powder
- Baking soda (aluminum-free)
- Bentonite clay powder
- Coconut oil
- Corn starch
- Kefir (!)
- Lemon wedges
And if you draw the line at making up your own deo concoctions, tell us your favorite products that really work.