female scientists sniffing the armpits of topless middle-aged men

A long time ago, my college roommate went shopping with me to get new deodorant/antiperspirant.  As I reached for the pH-balanced Secret, thinking it was a pretty healthy choice, a look of horror came across her face. She yelled, “You’re buying that?” like I was purchasing heroin or something.  She went on to tell me why I should stop using antiperspirant and I’ve been using natural deodorant ever since.

1) Antiperspirants contain aluminum-based compounds, which may cause dementia or cancer.

stop using antiperspirant
Aluminum-based compounds such as aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly (the active ingredient in antiperspirants) have been linked to breast cancer, kidney damage, and dementia.  Some scientists argue that the aluminum only causes forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s in large quantities.  Even though the aluminum compound only amounts to about 20% of most antiperspirants themselves, when used every day, the compounds can build up in the body and may cause harm.

It’s important to note that topical applications of anything can end up directly into your blood stream if it passes the skin barrier. These studies are largely debated. Some scientists agree that aluminum can be incredibly harmful at large amounts whereas others think it’s perfectly safe. When it comes to debates such as these, I try to read the actual primary sources, the actual studies, before immediately trusting the clickbait on your favorite newspaper. Not all journalists thoroughly understand scientific studies.

Scientific evidence

According to the authors of this study, “For aluminum welders and workers in the aluminum industry, declining performance in neuropsychological tests (attention, learning, memory) has been found only with aluminum concentrations exceeding 100 μg/g creatinine in the urine; manifest encephalopathy with dementia was not found. Elevated aluminum content has been found in the brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease.”

That means that people with dementia do have elevated aluminum content (and a lot of white matter) in their brains. Aluminum workers do experience cognitive decline when they are exposed to a certain amount of aluminum. Therefore, according to this study (and many others), there is a statistically significant health risk to aluminum.

Aluminum is also found in certain vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs, foods, baking pans, and of course people who work with aluminum have a much higher exposure than others. It’s pretty hard to avoid at large, but thankfully, you can decrease your own exposure and stay pretty safe.

2) You don’t sweat nearly as much as you think you do.

boy sweating profusely, antiperspirant can make you sweat more
As a naïve fifth grader, my health class immediately exposed me to information about periods, safe sex, and proper hygiene such as shaving my legs regularly and using antiperspirant daily.  At the time, I knew my body was about to change and produce more sweat, so instead of waiting for my armpits to get sweaty, I just started using antiperspirant every day.

My preference was Secret, since it was shinier and more colorful compared to other brands and I also saw the most ads for Secret at the time in the teen magazines I read.

Every now and then, I forgot to wear antiperspirant and my pits would sweat like crazy, sweatier than I had ever sweated before. Sometimes, it would get so bad that I had to go into the bathroom and blot them with paper towels before I could go out in public.  Don’t even get me started on middle school dances. I’m so grateful for decades of adulthood since those dark times.

As it turns out, when you forget to wear antiperspirant, you don’t sweat more because you need the antiperspirant, but because your body reacts to the lack of antiperspirant by producing more sweat. The aluminum compounds mentioned earlier block your sweat ducts. When those properties are not present, your body will work to expel it, and therefore you will sweat a lot more. This extra sweating can make you think that you need antiperspirant, when you actually don’t.

If you work out a lot and you’re generally a very sweaty person, you should probably stop reading and at least know that aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly is super bad for you.  I don’t suggest you stop using antiperspirant if you really do need it because there isn’t really an alternate option besides lots of towels.  However, for those of you like me, who sweat very little and/or participate in sports where sweat does not matter (kayaking, swimming, rock climbing, skiing, skydiving), read on. Also, what you do with your body is absolutely your choice.

3) It doesn’t hurt after shaving

woman in blue shower raising her arm to show hairy armpit
Photo by Billie on Unsplash

Applying antiperspirant after shaving in the shower (this only applies to people who shave their armpits, by the way) can be painful, especially if you accidentally nicked yourself or have razor burn.  If you use a natural deodorant that doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, you shouldn’t feel pain after applying the deodorant in any case…Unless, of course, you make your own and do an awful job.

4) You’ll save money.

a cup of coins with a plant sprouting from above
Photo by Billie on Unsplash

It’s always great to save money!

What to Do Instead of Using Aluminum Compounds

Instead of avoiding deodorants altogether, you can use natural deodorants or even make your own using household products such as baking soda and coconut oil.

I tried making my own deodorant only once and it did not go well. However, I rarely use deodorant at all now. Instead, I use a rose-water scented alcohol spray on my pits if I ever get too smelly and don’t have time to take a shower.

1) Natural Deodorants

woman stretching in bed revealing her armpits antiperspirant
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

You can buy natural deodorants at most stores.  My favorite is the Arm & Hammer one pictured here.  Not only is it wonderfully pH balanced and free of harmful chemicals, but it also has a nice scent. You can buy it online here.  Other loved aluminum-free deodorants include Tom’s of Maine, which just made a prebiotic version (very cool) and EO essential oil deodorant. I’m currently using Weleda’s Wild Rose spray deodorant. It is my favorite so far. I always get compliments and it dries ridiculously fast. There are so many other good brands out there, so definitely keep trying until you find one you like!

2) Make Your Own!

homemade deodorant instead of antiperspirant
Although I haven’t tried it yet, my natural blog buddies swear by making your own deodorant.  This recipe involves coconut oil, arrowroot powder, cornstarch, and baking soda.  There are a bunch of other recipes out there and you can experiment to find what’s best for you.  You can even make up your own recipe!  Whatever you do, make sure you don’t overpower on the baking soda.  I’ve heard this can cause rashes and from my own experience using it to wash my hair or make my own toothpaste, it can burn.  You should always balance the baking soda with an oil (coconut oil, jojoba oil).

3) No Deodorant / Reliance on Showering

woman in a natural spring, bathing in water
Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

It took me a long time to let go of using deodorant. I’ll probably always have some in my medicine cabinet, but to be fair, I haven’t regularly used deodorant for years now and I haven’t had any issues. Sometimes I will use the Weleda spray deodorant, but I’ve had the same bottle for about four years now and it’s only half-empty.

How to Adjust

Warning:  After you stop using antiperspirant, you’re going to sweat A LOT while your body adjusts.  This adjustment period can last about a week.  Don’t let this stop you.  The benefits are well worth it!

While I went through this phase, I seriously considered switching back to regular antiperspirant.  However, after about 5-7 days, my body had adjusted to the natural method and I barely sweat at all.

In order to deal with this period, you should regularly check up on your pits and dab them with a towel or shower more regularly than usual.  I reapplied my natural deodorant about three times a day to make sure I wasn’t smelly.  After you’ve made it through the adjustment phase, you should be home free!

Have you used any of these methods with success?  Failure?  Comment below.
Also, here’s a yak: