Underarm deodorant is the one product you're most likely to use every day, for the rest of your life. But is it safe?
I don't know about you, but I can't live without my deodorant. Ever since I went through puberty, approximately a million years ago, it's been the single product that I've worn every day, sometimes twice or three times a day, depending on what was going on in my life (breastfeeding made me sweat a lot, and I went through tonnes of the stuff when my daughter was a baby). When I fly, I always pack deodorant in both my checked luggage and my carry-on, because I can't live without it.
Like most women, I've tried them all, from flaky sticks to drippy roll-ons to sticky gels. Inevitably, the scents they come in have the word "fresh" somewhere on the packaging, because let's face it - a deodorised underarm is a fresh underarm. Nobody likes BO. But when rumours started circulating that the ingredients in deodorants were linked to breast cancer, Alzheimer's, and other terrible and debilitating health conditions, I had to take another look at my deodorant.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "There's no conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants with breast cancer... Some reports have suggested that these products contain harmful substances such as aluminium compounds and parabens that can be absorbed through the skin or enter the body through nicks caused by shaving. No clinical studies have yet given a definitive answer to the question of whether these products cause breast cancer. But the evidence to date suggests these products don't cause cancer. If you're still concerned that your underarm antiperspirant or deodorant could increase your risk of cancer, choose products that don't contain chemicals that worry you."
The reality is, there are harmful ingredients in deodorants, as there are in many beauty products - I might even go so far as to say the majority of beauty products. Here are the top four ingredients you should avoid when choosing any beauty product, including deodorants.
Parabens are chemical preservatives which come in many forms, such as methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl and butyl. Parabens are known for their antibacterial and antifungicidal properties. They can cause skin irritation, and high levels of parabens have been detected in breast cancer tumours, so there is a correlation between parabens and breast cancer, but remember a correlation is not the same as a causation. Parabens can mimic estrogen in the body, and the jury is still out on whether they can activate the growth of breast cancer cells.
Aluminum chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate, and aluminium-zirconium are anti-perspirant ingredients. These aluminium-based complexes react with the electrolytes in your sweat to form a "plug" in the duct of your sweat glands, thus preventing sweating from occurring. They also cause your pores to contract, further preventing sweat from getting up to the skin's surface. There is no scientific consensus about whether aluminium exposure could directly increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. However, some studies do cite aluminium exposure as a risk factor for Alzheimer's, so in my humble opinion, better safe than sorry.
Triclosan is another antibacterial and antifungal agent. Triclosan acts a bit like an antibiotic, and there are major concerns that triclosan can cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop, much the same way as overuse of antibiotics.
Talc is used as an astringent. Studies have established preliminary links between talc and pulmonary issues, lung cancer, skin cancer, and ovarian cancer.
I've been systematically swapping my beauty products for more natural versions, and deodorant is no exception. Fortunately, there are a lot of choices out there if you want to look beyond your supermarket shelf. The deodorants below don't contain any of the above ingredients, and are good options if you want to avoid potentially harmful chemicals being absorbed into your body.