Whether we are working out at the gym or preparing for a stressful interview, we put a lot of trust in our deodorant to keep us smelling fresh throughout the day. Although applying deodorant has likely been a part of our daily regimen since puberty (or even before), it is common for most people to be a bit confused when reading the labels of the hundreds of deodorants that line the walls of a drugstore. If you are anything like me, you’ve likely found yourself in a situation where you’re asking:
Do I want a flowery scent or fragrance free?
Should I go for a gel or a powder?
Does the aluminum in my deodorant cause cancer?
There are so many questions when it comes to deodorant and taking care of your underarms to remain as fresh as possible. In this article, we are addressing smells, breaking down ingredients, and helping you make the best choice for the next time you find yourself in need of a new deodorant.
What’s that smell?
If you’ve ever wondered why the sweat that comes out of your armpits smells worse than the sweat that drips down your face, you have a valid reason to think so. The truth is, it is not necessarily the sweat that smells, but it is actually the bacteria the exists in our underarms. The sweat that leaves our armpits is typically neutral and without order. Once sweat comes in contact with the bacteria in our underarms, it creates a product known as a thioalcohol. According to an interview conducted by National Public Radio (NPR), the thioalcohol is what causes the stinky smell “comparable to sulfur, onions, or meat”—not the freshly picked flowers we imagined! The interesting aspect of this research is that not everyone produces the foul order associated with this bacteria.
After learning this, many people may assume it would be best to find a product to destroy this bacteria, but not all bacteria (even the stinky ones) may be bad. More research has to be done to determine if the underarm bacteria that causes this smell has any benefits to our bodies before we try to get rid of it for good. For example, you wouldn’t want to get rid of the healthy bacteria in your gut knowing that it’s helping with your digestion.
How does deodorant work?
Now that we know what is causing the smell, the question now turns to: How does deodorant work? For starters, there is a difference between antiperspirants and deodorants.
- Deodorants do exactly as their name states—they protect against odors. These can keep you smelling fresh and eliminate some of the odor-producing bacteria.
- Antiperspirants can protect against both odor and sweat by controlling the wet feeling you may experience as you sweat and creating a more pleasant smell. Often times, aluminum will be found in antiperspirants as the ingredient that prevents excess wetness.
A lot of deodorant use is attributed to societal norms and good marketing. There are some individuals who use deodorant every day who likely produce no odor. On the other hand, there are many people who produce body odor and sweat in large amounts. It is up to you to determine what type, or even if, you should be using deodorant.
Is deodorant toxic?
Following the rise in the natural and organic industries, many people have began questioning the ingredients that are in the products they use every day, particularly aluminum and parabens in deodorant.
The aluminum in antiperspirants is working to block your sweat glands so that the sweat never actually reaches the surface of your skin. The research in this area is a bit foggy because although some research has shown the absorbance of aluminum causing a change in estrogen levels, it is not clear how much aluminum has to be absorbed to see these changes. This is of concern because the hormone estrogen can lead to a rise in both normal and potentially cancerous breast cells. In studies that looked at links between cancerous vs. normal breast tissue and aluminum, the cancerous tissue did not appear to have a significant difference in concentration. This is not to say that aluminum is completely safe, but more research must be done before any assumptions are made.
Parabens are chemical preservatives that are often found in makeup and skincare products. The American Cancer Society notes that parabens can be absorbed through the skin and can be a possible concern because of their “estrogen-like properties”. Although it is a possible concern, more research needs to be done to determine if there a direct link between parabens and cancer. The good news is that most deodorants and antiperspirants on the market today do not contain parabens. Although this is true, it is still good to take a look at the ingredient list if you want to avoid parabens entering your system.
Types of Deodorants
There are many types of deodorants that you’ll often see walking down an aisle, from gels to sprays to powders. The truth is, all of these work the same and the main difference is the method in which they are applied. In this case, it’s best to feel which type of application you like best. The same goes for scent – whatever you like is a personal preference! Keep in mind that if you have sensitive skin, it may be best to avoid scented products and opt for fragrance-free options to reduce irritation and possible inflammation.
The primary differences in deodorant comes down to the clinical strength. You have probably seen this designation of “clinical strength” on certain deodorant containers. This term is recognizing an increase in the percentage of aluminum salts used to block the sweat glands and is typically more effective than regular deodorant. People experience hyperhidrosis and experience extreme sweating will likely find this option more beneficial.
Keeping this information in mind, remember that some people can go their whole lives without using deodorant and not produce a bad smell, while others may need to apply deodorant multiple times a day. Everyone is different and one isn’t necessarily better than the other, but it is important to find what works best for you. Using this information, you can know head to the drug store and pick up your favorite deodorant – whether it be natural with no aluminum or clinical strength. Be sure to consult with your dermatologist if you experience any significant changes in your underarm area and to seek advice on what option may be best for you.