Natural Deodorants Are All The Rage, But Are They Truly Better For You?

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
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A few years ago, I somehow got sucked into some kind of internet black hole about the “dangers” of my usual deodorant and the “benefits” of natural deodorant. The fact that I latched onto this concept literally made zero sense when you consider the entire rest of my life on this planet before and since. I’ve got a cabinet full of “harsh chemicals” that I gleefully coat my home in to combat the messes (and smells) that three children and two dogs produce on the daily. We fully vaccinate our kids and ourselves. Hell, we’d get extras if we could. We love solid science and Western medicine, and we only buy non-organic produce. Honestly, I’m probably about 74% Diet Coke at this point in my life. I am literally the opposite of an organic, earthy kind of human being.

When I got a wild hair and decided to toss our old faithful anti-perspirants in favor of some all-natural deodorant I ordered online, my poor husband didn’t see it coming.

One morning he got out of the shower, and instead of finding his usual brightly colored gel-solid named something like “Freshness Tsunami” or “Strong As A Musk Ox,” he found a fully-recycled cardboard tube filled with…well, I don’t know what it was filled with. It looked kind of like a combo of compressed sawdust and sidewalk chalk, and I assume it contained essential oils.

To be honest, it was very gritty-looking, and it smelled kind of like dirty armpits before we ever even used it. Whatever. Someone on the internet told me it was a good one. That’s not the point.

On the day we were supposed to start using this all-natural deodorant for the rest of our lives, I was so excited to see how he liked our new healthy-armpit lifestyle that I texted him at work to see if it was working for him before I even got in the shower.

“Katie. Where did you stash my deodorant? I hate that paper tube of shit. I will never be using it again. Did you try it? It’s so rough. It felt like a cat was licking my armpit.”

I was kind of offended, but then I tried it myself. He was absolutely correct. The moment I used it, I knew exactly how Simba and Nala felt in that scene at the beginning of the Lion King. You know the one.

Needless to say, I dug our old deodorants out of their hiding place under my sink, returned them to their rightful positions, and tossed the cat tongue stick into the trash. We’ve been using the regular stuff ever since.

Except for that one blip a couple months ago.

I decided that if so many people love natural deodorant, I must have just chosen a dud the first time around. I was awake in the middle of the night nursing my daughter, and I discovered that one brand that’s all over the place advertising their all-natural deodorant that can be used anywhere on the body. Now, tbh, I initially had no plans to use it anywhere but my armpits, but something about the marketing roped me in. Despite literally never needing to eliminate any odors on any part of my body that would necessitate a sort of creamy, tube-based formulation instead of the regular, traditional stick, I thought I’d give it a try.

As fate would have it, my best friend had ordered a sampler pack that same night. We were in it together.

Fast forward a week or so, and she’s got a rash in her armpit, and I’ve got a rash…well, let’s just say that I experimented with using it on some of the other places it SAYS it can be used, and it didn’t pan out for me. I should have stuck to my pits and left my parts out of it.

Anyway, you live and learn. It took me two strikes, but I have determined that natural deodorant just isn’t for me.

But just because natural deodorant doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for anyone.

I know tons of people that swear by their Tom’s or their Native or their Lume or whatever other natural brand they prefer. Natural deodorants can be perfectly effective for a lot of armpits, and if they’re keeping the stink or sweat away to your liking and making you happy, I say rub whatever you want under your arms and go on about your day.

If you’re using natural deodorants because you believe there are health benefits, or to avoid something in regular deodorants that you think could harm you, I’ve got some news.

The New York Times interviewed a whole bunch of experts “including an oncologist, an epidemiologist, a skin microbiome expert and several dermatologists,” and they all agree that regular deodorants are perfectly safe. All the stuff you hear about harmful chemicals and the alleged dangers of aluminum and even those thirty-year-old claims that deodorant might contribute to breast cancer? Rumor or marketing ploys. Literally none of it backed up by solid, sound scientific evidence.

Allow me to hit you with some direct quotes from the experts.

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Let’s start with the big, scary claim: Deodorants cause breast cancer?

“’To date, there’s absolutely no evidence that breast cancer is caused by exposure to anything in antiperspirants or deodorants, full stop,’ said Dr. Harold Burstein, a breast oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.”

Deodorant-induced breast cancer: Not a thing.

How about aluminum, a metal which has also gotten a bad rap in the anti-vaccine community?

Apparently, for a while, scientists researched a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s, but, “‘The evidence is of poor quality, generally speaking,’ said Amy Borenstein, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Diego, who studies the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. ‘The whole topic has kind of been abandoned.’”

Deodorant-induced Alzheimer’s: Not a thing.

Don’t those scary chemicals disrupt all the good bacteria on your skin and wreak havoc on your microbiome?

Jack Gilbert, a skin microbiology expert at the University of California, San Diego, said that he wasn’t aware of any rigorous studies that have borne this out. ‘There’s a lot of associative work, but nothing that definitively links deodorant or antiperspirant disruption of the skin microbiome to skin health.’

Deodorant-induced screwy microbiome: Probably not a thing. Definitely not a proven thing.

Well, aren’t natural deodorants at least gentler on the skin?

Dr. Nina Botto, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, “said that while she still sees allergic reactions to synthetic fragrances, she’s been getting more and more patients who are dealing with allergic contact dermatitis after using products with natural fragrance, like those containing linalool and limonene — natural compounds extracted from certain plants, like citrus fruit peels, which are commonly used in natural deodorants.”

Gentler on the armpits: Not a thing.

The expert conclusion all around is that the best deodorant for you is one that works for the purpose you’re seeking and doesn’t irritate your skin.

They do recommend unscented products. They also made it clear that the biggest risk with scent is a skin-only allergic reaction, not cancer or any other dreaded illness.

If you love your natural deodorant, awesome. Keep it. If it ain’t broke and all that.

If you’ve been wearing the same powder-scented bar of Secret anti-perspirant since high school, good news! There’s no need to change your routine. Experts agree: your pits are safe.

If you use natural deodorant because you’ve been scared by rumors and marketing, but it’s really out of your budget, and you don’t even like it that much, feel free to go back to the cheaper stuff if you want. The experts have concluded that it’s a safe choice.

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