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Are Antiperspirant and Deodorants Harmful?

Written by Yvonne Roach
Co-founder and chief organiser
Picture of co-founder Yvonne Roach

Antiperspirants and deodorant sprays - good or bad? The jury, it seems, is still out. The National Cancer Institute believes the research on whether antiperspirants/deodorants are harmful is inconclusive.

However, many of us are concerned enough to want to use alternatives. I, for one, am careful about what I put on my skin, and what I eat (one of my interests is naturopathic living). If the label is difficult to understand my view is 'proceed with caution'!

I decided to see what has been said and also pull together at some of the suggestions for alternatives.

Let us start with what is the difference between an antiperspirant and a deodorant?

Antiperspirants are designed to prevent our body from producing sweat by blocking sweat from reaching the skin. The active ingredient in antiperspirants tends to be aluminum-based compounds or salts.

Deodorants prevent unwanted odour but do not prevent sweat. Deodorants are often alcohol-based. Other active ingredients in deodorants can include sodium stearate, sodium chloride and stearyl alcohol.

Both antiperspirants and deodorants may contain perfume fragrances or natural essential oils intended to mask the odour of perspiration. It's worth noting here that the terms antiperspirant and deodorant are often used interchangeably, even though they refer to different products.

What has caused concern about these products?

Research by a number of scientists including Darbre PD (Reading University) suggested that aluminum-based compounds, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. Because oestrogen has the ability to promote the growth of breast cancer cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Other research by Harvey PW and Everett DJ focused on parabens, which are preservatives used in some deodorants and antiperspirants that have been shown to mimic the activity of oestrogen in the body’s cells.

However, these studies both say further research needs to be done. It is also wise to remember that there is growing evidence that an unhealthy lifestyle can play a part in cancer development, maybe more than anything we apply on our skin.

Vivienne Parry wrote a well-researched article for the Guardian (2004). I found this article one of the most useful as I did my research.

Vivienne looked several studies on antiperspirant and concludes that "something we apply every day should feel like such a compelling explanation for breast cancer. It fits with our wider fears about modern life, that the chemical stew in which we all live is causing rising levels of cancer. But above all else, in some way it might be easier if it were true. If it were, we could at least have some measure of personal control over breast cancer, which would help stop it feeling so scary. "

Vivienne ends by saying "The problem is that the evidence that underarm products cause breast cancer is simply not there."

The evidence does not seem to be against antiperspirants, but there's enough to cause many of us to look for alternatives.


What are some of the alternatives to antiperspirants or deodorants?


1. Buy a more natural deodorant; one you can understand the ingredients list!

If you're looking for a more natural deodorant, there are a variety of options available; there are many natural deodorants on the market. Here are two suggestions:
JASON deodorants
Lush deodorants 
Robert uses The Greench. He uses it sparingly as he has sensitive skin and says it works. The downside is the bathroom floor gets covered and needs a daily wash!


2. Make your homemade deodorant

Here are some ideas for homemade products. The advantage of making your own is you will know exactly what goes into the product and, if you have sensitive skin, you can vary the ingredients accordingly.

a. Baking soda and water (+ corn starch)

Using baking soda as a deodorant is a simple way to combat body odour. Try mixing 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda with a little bit of water — don't dissolve it — and rub it under your arms. You can also create a baking soda and cornstarch mix to fight odour and help prevent wetness. Simply mix one part baking soda with six parts cornstarch and dust a little on your underarms.

b. Lemon juice

Citric acid will help to kill odour forming bacteria. Cut a Lemon in half and apply. The drawback for women is you can't apply this to recently shaven armpits!

c. Rubbing alcohol

Alcohol is well known for its antibacterial properties, and it'll come as no surprise it can also be used to kill odor-causing bacteria. Fill a spray bottle with alcohol and spritz your underarms with it. You can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to give it a scent if you prefer.

d. Coconut oil and arrowroot powder

Use 4 Tbsp. of baking soda, 4 Tbsp. of arrowroot powder and 5 Tbsp. of coconut oil, mix the ingredients. If desired add a couple of drops of essential oil to make it smell nice. This makes a paste that goes on clear and lasts all day.

e. Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a natural astringent distilled from the witch hazel shrub. It helps kill bacteria and will also rid skin of trapped moisture and oils. Dab a little witch hazel onto a cotton ball and rub onto your skin. If you have thick underarm hair, use witch hazel in a spray bottle to thoroughly penetrate hair and reach the skin.

Whilst some of the above seem a little wacky it's worth trying out each of the above to see what works for you. Whatever you decide to use there is one more thing to think about. How do you prevent getting the antiperspirant, deodorant, baking soda, alcohol or coconut oil on your clothes? All the alternatives come with a similar problem; how will they affect your clothing? Will they rub off and be seen? Will they leave white/yellow or annoying stains?


How do you protect your clothes?

To protect your clothes and prevent stains on your outer clothing we recommend wearing an undershirt.

Undershirts also come in many forms, from cheap three packs to ultra expensive base layers designed for Arctic living.

Choose an undershirt which is designed for the activity you are undertaking. If you are concerned about your odour, then invest in an undershirt made from fabric which also helps prevent bacterial growth. Studies have shown that viscose fabrics may have antibacterial properties. What is clear is that viscose feels lovely and light on the skin. Robert Owen Undershirts are specifically designed to be worn in the office, under your work shirt, T-shirt or jumper. 

At Robert Owen, we care about how clothes feel on the skin. That's why we focus on base layers made from fabrics that work with your skin and body.

Oxford men's undershirt in bamboo viscose
TRY NOW - The Oxford sweat protect
  Chester V-Neck mens slim fit undershirt in tan.
TRY NOW - Chester deep v neck
Picture of Chester mens white crew neck undershirt
TRY NOW - Chester crew neck


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