The battle against body odor has been going on since the dawn of society.
Ancient Egyptians have been depicted as wearing incense in their wigs to ward off body odor, and the oldest perfumeries date back to the Roman Empire.
Since the advent of antiperspirants in 1903, they have skyrocketed as a hygiene essential. However, as simple as it may seem to wipe a bit of product under the armpit where sweat glands live, there are actually a number of ways that you can do it “wrong.”
While most of us reach for our antiperspirant after our morning shower, this may not always be the most effective option. As it turns out, residual dampness after showering can cause the active chemicals in antiperspirant to float above the skin rather than absorbing and activating properly. If you’re using an antiperspirant with aluminum, experts advise applying before bedtime when you are less likely to sweat and pores are able to absorb more of the chemical to block sweating.
Once properly absorbed, many antiperspirants are strong enough to last up to 48 hours and can irritate skin if applied too often. So it’s important to check the label and test out how often you REALLY need to be reapplying.
However, it’s worth noting that the use of aluminum is quite controversial when it comes to your health. Aluminum is the most common active ingredient in antiperspirants. It is aluminum, not the sweat itself, that is actually to blame for yellow stains in your clothing. Even more serious than stained clothing, is that by blocking your pores from sweating, antiperspirants are stopping your body from its most effective way of detoxing and regulating body temperature.
So sweating less may actually make you feel hotter and retain toxins longer, which can also make you smell worse. So the more antiperspirant you use, the more you tend to need. The less you use, the less you actually need.
Aluminum has also been rumored to increase breast cancer risk, although it’s yet to be proven. What is more widely acknowledged is the effects aluminum can have on your kidneys, your body’s filtration system. According to Benjamin Chan, DO at Penn Family Medicine Phoenixville, “Too much aluminum in your body can cause bone diseases or dementia… So those with weakened kidney function can’t filter aluminum fast enough.” This is why the FDA requires a warning on antiperspirants for those with compromised kidneys, and is worth considering for anyone concerned with maintaining general health.
It’s important to note that the cause of body odor is not actually the sweat itself, but bacteria on the skin. Therefore, unless you have hyperhidrosis or abnormal sweating, you may not even need to be using an antiperspirant.
So, why do so many of us feel that it’s necessary? The answer may be socio cultural programming dating back to the very first antiperspirant of the 1900s. Struggling to convince the public of the necessity of this new product, advertisers launched a campaign implying that body odor was something you wouldn’t know you had, but was the source of judgement from others. The advertisers targeted women, saying that secret smells may be the reason they were single.
This US Census study makes the correlation between self-esteem and type of product used, showing that those who view themselves in a more positive light seem to reach for more natural methods while those who consider themselves less attractive tend to go with stronger synthetics. These findings suggest that many Americans may be buying into a fear implanted in our culture decades ago, rather than an actual need.
While quitting underarm protection altogether is not likely for most, a natural deodorant may be all you need. This one from Public Goods is free not only of aluminum, but also of many known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, like parabens and phthalates, often found in mainstream deodorants.
If you are transitioning to an aluminum-free deodorant, it may take your body anywhere from one to five weeks to fully purge the toxins previously trapped by your antiperspirant. Don’t be discouraged! Typically, body odor self regulates as it balances, and sweating practices like infrared sauna could potentially speed the detox process along. Other factors, including diet and alcohol consumption, can also affect body odor.
To ensure efficacy, always wash and properly dry armpits before applying deodorant of any kind. Contrary to popular belief, layering will not provide another barrier of protection, but will just sit atop any residual odors — possibly even locking them in.
According to the FDA, aluminum salts are the only approved ingredient to classify as an antiperspirant. However, if you prefer to use an antiperspirant without aluminum, there are a handful of brands billing themselves as natural alternatives by using peptides in place of aluminum:
- Kilma Hyper-Dri Antiperspirant serum
- Green Beaver Aluminum-Free Antiperspirant
- Pepsi-Dry Maximum Strength Antiperspirant
We’re also curious to know what you have to say. Have you ever gone through the transition from aluminum antiperspirant to a more natural deodorant? What was your experience?
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.Get Your Free Guide