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The Stinky Truth About Deodorants


On these cold winter mornings there’s nothing as nice as stepping into a glorious hot shower. And if you’re anything like most of us, the next thing you’ll reach for (after your towel) will be your deodorant.

We all want to stay fresh and dry throughout the day, and most of all, we don’t want to smell bad. But have you ever wondered what’s in that roll-on or spray can you liberally apply every day?

There’s no denying it – body odour is one of those embarrassing bodily functions that comes with being human. We all get it, we all want to avoid it. But like it or not, the sweating that leads to body odour is a completely natural process of your body’s cooling system.

Sweat itself has no smell but when the bacteria from our skin start to break down the fatty acids and protein produced in our sweat, the end result is body odour. So what could be strong enough to stand in the way of nature?

There are a number of nasty and powerful chemicals lurking in many commercial deodorants and antiperspirants:

Aluminium (aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum sulfate, potassium aluminum sulfate): This is probably the ingredient you’ve heard most about when it comes to anti-perspirants. For years there have been suspected links between aluminium and Alzhiemer’s Disease and breast cancer. But while no direct links have been scientifically proven, you have to wonder at the benefits of applying a metal to your skin everyday.

The aluminium in anti-perspirants works by blocking and shrinking the pores in your skin, and actually stopping you from sweating or perspiring wherever it’s applied. A recent media release from consumer group Choice reveals that with the reclassification of antiperspirants as cosmetics, rather than medicines in 2007, manufacturers are no longer required to list the percentage of aluminum in their products. So you have no way of knowing which anti-perspirants contains the highest levels.

Data volunteered to Choice by some manufacturers indicates the level of aluminium in some popular deodorant brands:

Mitchum: 21.4%
Driclor, Rexona and Dove Clinical Protection range: 20%
Nivea Silver Protect for Men Roll Roll-On: 15%
Garnier Mineral Roll-On range: 10%

Triclosan: Triclosan is used in anti-perspirants and deodorants for its bacteria fighting properties. Triclosan can pass through the skin, into your bloodstream and it’s also suspected of interfering with hormone function. It can irritate the skin and eyes, and builds up in the natural environment without easily breaking down. Many doctors and scientists are calling for Triclosan to be banned as a result.

Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl and butyl). Parabens are most commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. They are derived from toluene — a toxic petrochemical derivative. They can interfere with hormone function, which has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive toxicity.

Steareth-n (n may be also be a number). This may be a vegetable derived chemical but it is commonly processed with ethylene oxide (ethoxylated), a known human carcinogen.

Propylene Glycol: A chemical used to optimise how quickly your skin absorbs a product. When used in an anti-perspirant it helps to draw the aluminium into your pores. The more aluminium salts you have in your pores, the less you’ll sweat, but who would want those chemicals going further into your body or blood stream? It can also irritate your skin and eyes.

What's the difference between an anti-perspirant and a deodorant?
An anti-perspirant blocks your pores to prevent you sweating.
A deodorant won’t stop you sweating, but will mask and suppress odour.

So what’s the alternative? These days there are lots of natural deodorant products on the market. While they won’t stop you sweating, they will act to combat the bacteria which cause body odour.

Look for deodorants which are aluminium-free and contain essential oils such as tea-tree, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon myrtle and peppermint which naturally inhibit bacteria.

If you prefer something simple you could try a mineral salt crystal deodorant from your local health food shop. A large clear salt crystal, you simply moisten it with water and roll under your arms. These crystal deodorants work by leaving a thin layer of mineral salts on your skin, which act to combat bacteria.

And if you’re really adventurous why not have a go at making your own deodorant? Simply make up a smooth paste in the palm of your hand using bicarbonate of soda (from the baking aisle at the supermarket) and water. Then smooth a layer of the paste in your armpits. And hey presto - the bicarb will neutralise any armpit odour. A quick word of caution though - bicarb has been known to irritate some skin types, so for a gentle alternative mix in some corn starch when you make the paste.

Hairy armpits can also give bacteria more places to hide, so consider shaving or waxing regularly to reduce the surface area where bacteria can thrive.

About the author

Carol Warwick moved to Australia from Scotland as a child and her love of the beautiful Australian outdoors has kept her firmly within these shores. From the first ‘Save the Trees’ t-shirt she wore as a 12-year-old, protecting the environment and trying to live a green life has been her passion.

She believes that we are smart enough to change the world for the benefit of the planet. All it takes is a little education and a lot of commitment to make sure the Earth’s natural beauty and resources are here for generations to come.



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    Hester says:

    I'll try to put this to good use imemidately.

    9th November 2011 . 12 years ago
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    Eileen Mackie says:

    Great article, lots of research to support healthy choices and well written with good information.

    6th August 2011 . 12 years ago