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Natural Deodorants vs. Anti-Perspirants. Is Aluminum as bad as THEY say it is?

If you don’t like aluminum, you may have to move to another planet!

Aluminum is so abundant on the earth’s crust (third after oxygen and silicon) that the only way to avoid it is to leave Earth altogether. It is present in our water and food along with most common items, like your shoes…it’s everywhere. And yet, some people will continue eating and drinking and living on earth, but avoid antiperspirants because they are scared of aluminum.

Don’t be. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where the quality of your water and food is monitored, there will be little aluminum found in them. Your body is already excellent at dealing with aluminum. Because we grew up in an environment that is so rich in this metal, our body very easily excretes aluminum and our skin is bad at absorbing it in the first place.

Should you worry about the aluminum in your antiperspirant? No, unless you have a serious health problem that interferes with the elimination of this very abundant metal.  Even then, skin absorption is the least of your problems because most of the aluminum in your body comes from ingestion or breathing our air.

The next logical question is: Why so many “natural” deodorants in the market? Fear, however silly, is heavily used in advertising. I will not expand here on this advertising but just wanted to stress that sellers of “natural” products take advantage of fears that THEY create to sell you stuff that is really not safe.

What is my interest in this subject? A Skin Actives team member (Jess) informed me about a friend that had acquired a chronic skin irritation/infection after one month of using a new natural deodorant. For decades I have been using the same “classic” aluminum-containing antiperspirant without a hint of irritation. Naturally, I wanted to look further into this issue. We even bought a couple natural deodorant brands and Jess volunteered to be the product tester for this experiment.

Sweat is not naturally smelly, it becomes smelly because of the bacteria that flourish naturally in the armpit. Aluminium chlorohydrate may work by decreasing sweat production at the pore level.

What about the “natural” approach? I looked into several brands. As usual, nothing natural about them, because most of the ingredients are obtained using laboratory chemistry. We even found one brand who had a suspicious looking ingredient- Zeolite. When you look up the definition for Zeolite: Zeolites are microporous, aluminosilicate minerals commonly used as commercial adsorbents and catalysts. Aluminosilicate minerals are minerals composed of aluminum, silicon, and oxygen. NATURAL aluminum?

These natural deodorants claim to combat smell, but many claim to contain no aluminum. So, how do they do their job? Some work by increasing the pH of the armpit so that it becomes inhospitable for the usual bacterial flora. If the “smelly” bacteria are not there, the sweat is not transformed into a smelly mess. This is an ingenious approach, but there is a fundamental flaw: bacteria that do like the higher pH may not be safe for your skin. One of these bacteria is Propionibacterium, involved in acne, and a slightly increased pH leads to its rapid growth.

Another strategy is the use of fragrances to hide the smell of perspiration, what would be called a true deodorant. No problem with this approach unless the user is allergic to the fragrances used.

So, where are we left? If the reason why you were looking for ‘natural” was the avoidance of aluminum, just forget about it. Your skin is great at excluding aluminum, so the only effect will be the prevention of smelly armpits. If the reason was that “natural” sounds good, please remember that natural is a word devoid of any meaning thanks to marketing professionals and that natural may not be good for you.

Jess turned out to be even more sensitive than her friend. After only 6 days of using a natural deodorant (with arrowroot powder and baking soda base) her armpit broke out in a painful red rash. She happily returned to using her antiperspirant after several days of using Restoration Cream to repair the damage done by the natural deodorant.

-Dr. Hannah Sivak