Deodorants are having a bit of a resurgence, after a study at the beginning of the century suggested potential links between the use of antiperspirants containing aluminium and cancer.
Always late to the party, some months ago I began to consider a switch in my underarm product of choice. I quickly realised I’d been using antiperspirants most of my adult life.
Before we delve into the world of natural deodorants, a quick disclaimer: some of the products below include affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase based on these I may receive a small financial benefit. Having said that, I have personally tried each of these products, out of my own pocket (ouch), and my views are very much my own (and those of my underarms).
why did I make the switch?
Antiperspirants stop your body producing sweat. I get it, the clue is in the name. Naively, somewhat blindly, I hadn’t really thought about it until now. For years, actually decades, I had used the same antiperspirant because it worked. I didn’t really perspire and I was reasonably fresh all day. It did the job, but I never really stopped to consider how that job got done.
The vast majority of antiperspirants on the market today contain aluminium salts that block sweat ducts. When I started to look into it, the prospect of not allowing my body a perfectly normal function like sweating seemed irrational.
the scientific bit
Here is where it gets complicated: there is no hard scientific evidence that antiperspirants are bad, or good, for you. The aforementioned study has been both supported and debunked by later experts and debates.
In short, it’s a very personal choice. I’m not writing this to convince anyone to make the switch to aluminium-free deodorants because, honestly, even the basis for my own switch is questionable. It’s mainly driven by wanting to allow my body to do its natural function, but in reality I avail myself of other products that stop other perfectly normal functions – I use the contraceptive pill, for example.
The point of this is really to share my experience so far. Making the switch can be bewildering and expensive. Aluminium-free deodorants are not readily available and you can spend a fair amount of money experimenting. There are also some facts I wish I’d known at the start of my journey. Here they come ...
the cold, hard (and sweaty) truth
No matter how determined you are to letting your pits live the aluminium-free life, here are some points to consider:
- It will take commitment. There will come a time when antiperspirants will seem again alluring. It’s uncharacteristically warm, perhaps, or you’ve got an important meeting or event. Because there is no hard evidence either way (unlike, say, giving up tobacco), it’s easy to revert to aluminium if the going gets tough.
- You will smell. Once your pits start to sweat again, that sweat will breed bacteria and that bacteria will have its own, perhaps by now unfamiliar, odour. The only way to stop that effectively is … aluminium … so, once you get your head around the fact that in an aluminium-free life you will smell, and that it’s all good and natural, you can move on and focus on how to handle that smell.
- Your body will initially get a little sweat-happy. This is what I really wish I’d known at the start. About four months into my journey and about as many aluminium-free deodorants in, a very helpful assistant at Space NK shone a light on it: in the first few weeks you will sweat more. Like, a lot more. Then your body will get into the groove of it, the sweating will level out.
- You will probably have to wash your clothes more often. If you’re eco conscious this presents its own set of problems, but the good news is that underarm bacteria and its associated scents are perfectly natural and easily banished on a cool or 30 degree wash. Silver linings all around.
Still reading? Great! Let’s get to the good bits …
some general tips
Before we talk products, let’s consider some everyday tips for success:
- Don’t start your pit journey in hot weather. Because of the aforementioned initial sweat-happy period your body will go through, making the switch to aluminium-free in the hotter part of the year is challenging. I know, because that’s what I did. Big mistake.
- Take a hard look at what you wear. Natural fibres let your body breathe more than synthetics. Every little helps in pit management.
- Take pit stops (pun intended). I find that if I take five minutes in the middle of my day to clean and reapply deodorant then I’m generally fresh until the evening. Some days if I’ve had a particularly tough commute into work I’ll reapply as soon as I get to the office. This is easier to do if you’ve built exercise into your daily routine but no sweat (haha) if you haven’t, like me – I have an actual reminder set on my phone for 12:30 every working day. I know, this is way more glamourous than you expected …
I tried a lot of different deodorants in my aluminium-free quest. I’m going to caveat my reviews by saying you should not judge a deodorant too harshly in the first few weeks after you give up aluminium. I’m not sure anything can stand up to your body’s sudden newfound bacteria haven.
But here are the ones I tried and the one I stuck with:
I wanted to love all the Lush options because they are packaging-free but in reality it didn’t happen for me. The first product I tried was the Aromaco, which comes in a little 'naked' bar you apply directly to the skin. It did a good job but it had, to my sensitive nostrils, a strange underlying scent. It might have been the patchouli. So it was a no from me.
The second product I tried was the T'eo, another bar option. An improvement on the scent but the partly powdery composition meant I sometimes felt I hadn’t really applied any. Maybe my mind is conditioned to expect a gel or liquid of some sort.
Neal’s Yard Remedies
The Neal’s Yard offering in the aluminium-free market comes in three lovely scents: rose and geranium; lavender and aloe vera; and lemon and coriander. They come as roll-ons or sprays; I tried the latter in lemon and coriander. It smells very nice and applies quite well. With hindsight if I’d bought the roll-on version I might have stuck with it longer but I don’t completely rule out going back to the spray, especially in cooler months.
Possibly the most accessible and wallet-friendly option, the Bionsen deodorant can be found in a lot of high street shops and supermarkets. I tried both the roll-on and stick versions. The scent is very pleasant and fresh, a sound unisex choice in our house. However, I found the 'protection' didn’t last very long and unless you are very diligent in reapplication it could let you down.
Malin + Goetz
At first you might worry that rubbing eucalyptus into your pits will make you a target for zealous koalas but fear not, the scent of this deodorant is very subtle. It’s also alcohol-free (and cruelty-free, except maybe for those starving koalas.) It has a pretty substantial price tag and it was my last ditch attempt at aluminium-free.
I stuck with it for two reasons: 1) with some diligence in reapplication it works well; and 2) to facilitate said reapplication it comes in a handy travel size too, which I keep in my handbag.
So, is the aluminium-free life for you? Pit stop anyone?
Thanks for reading! Laura xx
photo credit: Georgia de Lotz at Unsplash.com