If you’ve been wondering whether the hype around natural deodorants is legit, then join the club sista. We’ve all read those petrifying claims that our regular deodorant might be giving us cancer – but should we actually be worried?
The prospect of sweaty pits and being named the BO culprit has meant we’ve kinda resisted researching this further until now. But, it’s time to withdraw our heads from the sand…
We’ve done some investigation into the pros and cons of natural deo, and whether we should say bye Felisha to the bottle of Rexona.
Why is natural better?
Before you start to worry, we’re not about to claim that you should gobble your placenta or flush your colon with coffee. Natural deodorant can sound a little hippy at first, but there might actually be some scientific evidence behind it’s push to popularity.
The reason these natural deodorants have climbed the ranks is because it’s believed that aluminium, the active ingredient in most of our regular antiperspirants, could increase the risk of breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Before we look at these claims in more detail, let’s start with wtf deodorant actually is.
Why do we stink?
Body odour is produced when the proteins and fat in our sweat mingle with bacteria on our skin (ew). The parts of our body that stank more when sweaty (like the pits and groin) have more bacterial growth (also ew).
How does commercial deo work?
Deodorant and antiperspirant are two different things. Deodorant controls odour, not sweat. Antiperspirant controls sweat by blocking the sweat glands. The aluminium in commercial antiperspirants is the key ingredient that blocks the sweat glands, so the bacteria on top of the skin never sees the sweat, and therefore never creates the odour. Most commercial deodorants are actually a combination of deodorant and antiperspirant.
What’s the evidence?
Firstly, this is still a grey area. Leading dermatologists have generally agreed that there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that aluminium-containing deo’s are linked to either breast cancer or Alzheimer’s. If this is enough for you, then stop reading gal and spray to your heart’s content.
However, the issue for us is that the reason dermatologists are unable to come to a conclusion on this is simply because there isn’t enough research in the area. So, if you’re a little more sceptical (like us), we’d suggest reading on.
There have been a few early studies which have looked at the link between breast cancer and aluminium. These aren’t exactly high quality and should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.
This link first came to light when oncologists started to observe the majority of breast cancer tumours occurring in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. It was therefore hypothesised that antiperspirant deodorant application to the underarm might be associated with this. The obvious flaw in this argument is that aluminium-containing deodorants have been available on the market since the 1950’s, so they definitely preceded the recent rise in breast cancer rates.
We do know that aluminium applied to the underarms is absorbed through the skin. This has been proven in a number of studies which have taken biopsy’s of breast tissue and found accumulation of aluminium in the breast tissue, nipple fluid and breast cyst fluid (eeek). The question then remains what the aluminium does to our cells when absorbed.
One study did report that patients who used antiperspirant deodorants more frequently and applied this after shaving were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age. However, this was a really shit quality study and they basically just surveyed a small cohort of breast cancer survivors on their underarm hygiene habits. But what it may allude to is that aluminium could be involved in the spread of breast cancer, rather than initial development.
This observation was also supported by a recent study that looked at the impact of aluminium on breast tissue in a lab. So basically, they look a sample of breast tissue, put it in a dish and observed the impacts of aluminium on that tissue. They found that long-term exposure to aluminium (>32 weeks) influenced metastatic processes of the tissue by increasing the invasive properties of MCF-7 cells (cells linked to breast cancer). So they found these MCF-7 cells were more migratory and invasive with aluminium. This is significant as mortality from breast cancer arises mainly from tumour spread rather than presence of a primary tumour in the breast. So basically, the aluminium may not cause the initial tumour, but it may contribute to the spread of the cancer.
But we obviously need to acknowledge that a lab dish is a very different condition to our body. We also have no idea how aluminium acts in the body, so it’s really difficult to recreate a similar environment in the lab. For example, the lab tissue may have been injected with a heap more aluminium than would ever be found in breast tissue from an antiperspirant. We also have heaps of processes in the body to identify and remove potential carcinogens, which obviously aren’t present in a lab dish.
Also, if there is a confirmed link between breast cancer and antiperspirant deodorant in the future, we then need to consider that there might be other carcinogenic ingredients in our deodorant as well. For example, my current deodorant has 24 ingredients, of which I can pronounce one: aqua (water). However, at the same time, there might be no link at all, and instead increasing rates might be related to using cheap razors, wearing Primark bras or getting punched in the boob one too many times.
The point is, we’re not entirely sure of what’s causing this increase in breast cancer and we can never be 100% certain until a heap of research studies have been funded and conducted. However, if you’re not willing to wait until that happens and want to reduce the amount of unnatural chemicals going into your body, then natural deo might be the way to go.
The evidence for aluminium and Alzheimer’s is more hazy again. This hypothesis initially came about in the 1960’s when some observational studies found high levels of aluminium in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, we have no idea whether or not aluminium has any function in the development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and scientists haven’t found a physiological mechanism for this either.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any studies which have looked at the direct link between aluminium-containing antiperspirants and Alzheimer’s risk. So this one I’m definitely less convinced about.
Basically, there may be some link between aluminium and breast cancer, but we don’t know how strong this is, or whether using natural deodorants will lower your risk of the development or spread of breast cancer.
Most importantly, there are a few scientifically proven breast cancer risks that we really should be focusing on, such as healthy eating, regular exercise, limiting alcohol, and our genetics. We know these factors will actually lower risk, while natural deo is a bit of a gamble. On this note, checking your boobies regularly is seriously so important and it’s never too early to start.
So, after all that, we’re still going to give natural deo a go. I think mainly because we’re wary of not putting more chemicals in our body if we can help it. Although we don’t know exactly what these chemicals may be doing at the moment, surely reducing them has got to be a good thing.
But if you want to go halfway, you could try natural deo after shaving or before bed, and just apply antiperspirant once a day.
Stay tuned for our upcoming article on our review of which natural deodorants have been recommended most by you guys, and also our top tips on how to ease the transition into natural deo.
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