The Deodorant Debate

The Deodorant Debate

When it comes to going ‘au naturel’, choosing an antiperspirant/deodorant is a tricky area. For a start, there is much scaremongering and conflicting information out there – most worryingly have been the headlines suggesting a link with breast cancer. The good news is that so far, no studies (and there have been many) have conclusively proved any links. One of the ‘scares’ which last bubbled up in the late 00s concerned aluminium salts – the ‘actives’ commonly used in antiperspirant products. It’s a confusing picture because while they are deemed safe to use at controlled levels in cosmetics by the CTPA (Cosmetics Toiletries and Perfumeries Association in the UK) Breast Cancer UK cite reports which conclude that there are gaps in knowledge to date, deeming them unsafe.

Taking a wider view, think about the number of products we apply every day before we even leave the house in the morning. So even if studies show that an ingredient in isolation isn’t harmful, and of course, our excretory system filters out ‘toxins’ all the time, still, no one knows for sure what effect layers of products and their endless combinations of ingredients have over years of continual use. So, alongside being conscious of what’s in our food (such as unnecessary additives, pesticides), cleaning up and simplifying our beauty regimes is another way we can cut down the chemical load on our bodies. At the very least, we’re reducing the risk of irritating our skin at a superficial level.

I wouldn’t claim to be a greener than green eco-warrior, but over the years, I’ve made an effort to use products with fewer ingredients, as close to natural as possible. The first things I switched were daily essentials including shower gel, shampoo and conditioner (I figured better to go with the things I’m habitually using a lot of). But I always hit a brick wall when it came to antiperspirant/deodorant – the ‘cleaner’ versions never seemed to live up to my old favourite, mainstream brands with long, indecipherable ingredient lists I’d been using for years. So I carried on using them – until recently – that is. Through trial and error, I have now found some solutions.

First of all, it helps to go back and understand the basics. Body odour is a result of sweat mingling with natural bacteria on skin, the sweat itself does not smell. Of course, some of us naturally sweat more than others, often impacted by activity, stress levels as well as what we eat and drink, and any medication we may take. We can’t control some of those things, but being aware of what we’re ingesting will make a difference. For example, Integrative health expert, Dr Andrew Weil suggests that one simple way we can reduce body odour is by cutting down on caffeine which, he says on his website, ‘increases activity of apocrine sweat glands (those most likely to cause it)’.

In terms of products, remember that a deodorant simply masks odour, and an anti-perspirant prevents wetness, and that some are a combination of both. How do they work? Aluminium salts in antiperspirants form insoluble polymer gel ‘plugs’ in the sweat ducts to temporarily prevent wetness reaching the surface of the skin, thereby avoiding odour too. Alum, a salt of aluminium, is the crystal widely used in ‘natural’ deodorants/antiperspirants, works along similar lines. Zinc ricinoleate is another ingredient being used in natural deodorants. Extracted from castor seed oil, it works by trapping and absorbing odour molecules rather than preventing sweating.

With this all this in mind, I’ve decided to stop using antiperspirants. Perhaps its a combination of things that made me finally commit to making the shift. Certainly the health ‘scares’ play a part, but it’s just as much about being aware of what we are putting onto our skin, so we can make conscious choices. Also, maybe I’m less paranoid about sweating these days, and surely all the yoga and meditation I do has made me more relaxed (!). Above all, I’ve found a deodorant which I find suits me now. It’s by the natural/organic brand, Weleda and is a spray on formulation full of essential oils which are organically sourced where possible. It looks pure and elegant in its clear glass bottle – the liquid is more like a natural scent and the smells really make you feel good as well as keeping odors at bay. There are three varieties – the sparkling, sharp Citrus and delicate, floral Wild Rose are my favourites. On an average day one application’s enough – although if I’m out and about or it’s very hot, I take the mini size to re-fresh with a top up. Available here at VH.