Everything you need to know about the contentious beauty category
If you’ve been paying attention as you stroll down the beauty aisles in your local supermarket over recent years, chances are you’ve seen a range of different aluminium-free, natural deodorants popping up. It’s also likely you’ve seen your favourite beauty blogs or magazines recommend various natural options for those looking to avoid antiperspirants formulated with aluminium. But what’s wrong with aluminium? And why are more and more brands coming out with ‘safer’ natural formulations? To find out, we wanted to source expert advice from both sides of the argument. That’s why we spoke to Saimma Miller, a naturopath who’s working with natural deodorant brand, MyAura Organics, and NIVEA skin care expert Robyn Hutch.
The difference between deodorants and antiperspirants
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is in fact a difference between antiperspirants and deodorants. Ultimately, antiperspirants limit how much you sweat, which reduces bacterial activity that’s responsible for odour. Deodorants on the other hand simply mask odour with antibacterial ingredients or fragrances.
How antiperspirants work
“When we perspire, we produce bacteria that digests the fats and proteins in our sweat. This can result in an unpleasant smell that we have come to associate with sweat, also known as body odour,” explains Miller. Hutch adds, “antiperspirants contain antiperspirant actives – usually aluminium salts, which reduce the release of sweat from the sweat glands by forming temporary ‘gel plugs’ in the most upper parts of the sweat pores”.
Why aluminium has received such a bad rap
There are two main health risks cited when aluminium is concerned: Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer. Initial concerns about Alzheimer’s originated after a study conducted more than 50 years ago, where aluminium was identified as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. This suspicion led to concerns regarding everyday exposure to aluminium via pots and pans, soft drinks, antacids and antiperspirants.
Fears were further amplified after an additional study in 1985 found Alzheimer’s patients had high levels of aluminium in their brains. Since then there have been a number of other studies indicating tenuous links between aluminium and certain diseases, however, those links aren’t completely accepted in the scientific and medical communities. In fact, several studies indicating a connection between aluminium and Alzheimer’s have been discredited (mainly due to a lack of reliability) and there have actually been more reliable studies indicating the opposite. Essentially, as it currently stands, there is no concrete evidence suggesting significant health concerns associated with aluminium use in antiperspirants.
As for the talk of a potential link to breast cancer, concerns largely have to do with the proximity of the underarms to the breasts and a fear that aluminium is being absorbed into the skin, before travelling to the lymph nodes and to the breasts. Additional fears involve the fact that aluminium plugs sweat ducts, which hinders the body’s ability to rid itself of potentially harmful toxins.
Although that sounds all very doom and gloom, it’s essential to point out that experts – including the Australian Cancer Council – have found there is no increased risk of breast cancer in women who use antiperspirants. Instead, they note, “research shows that breast cancers start in the breast and later spread to lymph glands,” not the other way around. And the argument about antiperspirants not allowing the body to excrete toxins? The Cancer Council notes, “toxins are not released from the body via sweating but are largely excreted by the liver and kidneys”.
What to keep in mind when using a natural deodorant
While there have been no concrete findings to say antiperspirants containing aluminium will cause you any harm, aluminium-free deodorants have become increasingly popular for those who’d rather go down an au naturel route just in case. If you decide to do the same, it is important to remember that while your deodorant will work to counteract any odour, without an antiperspirant active like aluminium they won’t prevent sweating. As such, you may have to get used to slightly wetter underarms. Miller adds, “because there are no preservatives [in My Aura Organics deodorants], one must allow for slight inconveniences, such as melting in high temperatures or braking in cold temperatures”.
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Do you prefer antiperspirants or deodorants? Have you tried and loved any natural deodorants? Let us know in the comments below.
Main image credit: Getty
Kate started working for BEAUTYcrew in early 2016, first as a contributor, and was then named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine, and she now works in PR.