That’s how much American’s are coughing up every single year on antiperspirants and deodorants alone.1 And yes, that is billion with a “B.”
We’re basically obsessed with covering up any trace of a natural body odor and squashing the normal perspiration process.
For most of us covering our underarms in an antiperspirant is as much a part of our daily routine as brushing our teeth or putting on our socks. We couldn’t imagine it any other way, but in our not so distance past nobody had even heard of the stuff.
In fact the first deodorant designed to slay offensive body odor didn’t appear until 1888. It was another 15 years before we were introduced to antiperspirants that were created both to kill odor-producing bugs and stop us from sweating at the same time.
But most folks rejected them as both an unneeded expense and likely unhealthy according to the Smithsonian.2
So it wasn’t until the early to mid-1900s that people started using deodorants with any sort of regularity. Ladies were the first to pick up the habit hoodwinked by clever advertising into worrying about how their underarms smelled.antiperspirant
The strategy of exploiting female insecurity worked, the Smithsonian reported, with sales of one deodorant reaching $1 million by 1927.3
Now, decades later, people are once again starting to ponder if this daily habit might actually be unhealthy. Wondering, “How dangerous IS using antiperspirant?”
Antiperspirants can knock off bacterial balance
We’ve begun to understand what an important role our body’s microbes play in our health. Trying to rid our bodies of them completely isn’t just a bad idea, it’s dangerous.
We literally can’t survive without them. In fact. we should be doing things like eating more fermented foods and avoiding antibacterial soaps in order to preserve their delicate balance.
That’s why a recent revelation is so disturbing. Researchers say the regular use of deodorants and antiperspirants has a significant effect on armpit bacterial density and variation.
When people stop using these body flora killers there’s a remarkable increase in bacterial density, an increase that nearly matches those who don’t regularly slather or spray on antiperspirants or deodorants.
When antiperspirants were applied, bacterial density dramatically declined and differences in the types of bacteria were also noted. According to the study, which was published in the journal PeerJ:4
” … [I]ndividuals who used antiperspirants or deodorants long-term, but who stopped using product for two or more days as part of this study, had armpit communities dominated by Staphylococcaceae, whereas those of individuals in our study who habitually used no products were dominated by Corynebacterium.
Collectively these results suggest a strong effect of product use on the bacterial composition of armpits.
Although stopping the use of deodorant and antiperspirant similarly favors presence of Staphylococcaceae over Corynebacterium, their differential modes of action exert strikingly different effects on the richness of other bacteria living in armpit communities.”
There’s still a lot to learn about what health effects this microbial tweaking may cause, although it’s known that Corynebacterium bacteria, which produce body odor, may help protect against pathogens while Staphylococcaceae bacteria can be beneficial or dangerous.5
Antiperspirants backfire producing MORE foul-smelling bugs
The reason your sweat smells is because the bacteria living in your armpits break down lipids and amino acids found in your sweat into substances that have a distinct odor.
Antiperspirants address this by using antimicrobial agents to kill bacteria and other ingredients such as aluminum that block your sweat glands. However, separate research has revealed antiperspirants affect the bacterial balance in your armpits, leading to an even more foul-smelling sweat problem.6
Those who used antiperspirants saw a definitive increase in Actinobacteria, which are largely responsible for foul-smelling armpit odor. Other bacteria found living in people’s armpits include Firmicutes and Staphylococcus, but the odors they produce are milder, and they’re not produced quite as readily.
It turned out the less odor-causing bacteria may be killed off by the aluminum compounds (the active ingredient in most antiperspirants), allowing bacteria that produce more pungent odors to thrive instead.
In some participants, abstaining from antiperspirant caused the population of Actinobacteria to dwindle into virtual nonexistence.
This means using an antiperspirant may make the stink from your armpits more pronounced, while quitting antiperspirants may eventually mellow the smell. The researchers explained in Archives of Dermatological Research:7
“A distinct community difference was seen when the habits were changed from daily use to no use of deodorant/antiperspirant and vice versa … Antiperspirant usage led toward an increase of Actinobacteria, which is an unfavorable situation with respect to body odor development.
These initial results show that axillary cosmetics modify the microbial community and can stimulate odor-producing bacteria.”
How are aluminum and cancer linked?
If you look at the ingredients in your antiperspirant, you’ll likely find that it contains aluminum, which acts as a “plug” in your sweat ducts to reduce sweating.
Aluminum antiperspirants may act as a long-term source of exposure to aluminum, which research suggests may accumulate in breast tissue in women.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, as aluminum may cause alterations to DNA as well as epigenetic effects that could potentially support cancer development.8
Aluminum (specifically aluminum chloride and aluminum chlorohydrate) is also known to interfere with estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells, and estrogen plays a well-known role in breast cancer.
Studies also show a high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, nearest to where antiperspirants are applied, together with “genomic instability.”9 Back in 2005, researchers concluded:
“Given the wide exposure of the human population to antiperspirants, it will be important to establish dermal absorption in the local area of the breast and whether long term low level absorption could play a role in the increasing incidence of breast cancer.”
In 2013, researchers found increased levels of aluminum in nipple aspirate fluid from women with breast cancer compared to women without the disease. They also detected increased levels of inflammation and oxidative stress, noting:10
” … [O]ur results support the possible involvement of aluminum ions in oxidative and inflammatory status perturbations of breast cancer microenvironment, suggesting aluminum accumulation in breast microenvironment as a possible risk factor for oxidative/inflammatory phenotype of breast cells.”
The link between parabens & breast cancer
Parabens are preservatives that are found in many antiperspirants and deodorants. These chemicals have estrogenic activity in human breast cancer cells, and research published in 2012 found one or more parabens in 99 percent of the 160 tissue samples collected from 40 mastectomies.11
Separate research also detected parabens in 18 of 20 tissue samples from human breast tumors.12
While a definitive link hasn’t been made, the growing collection of research suggests caution is warranted. Considering chemical antiperspirants and deodorants are an optional product, it may be a risk that’s not worth taking.
How dangerous is using antiperspirant? Should I go natural?
In general, deodorants may be somewhat safer than antiperspirants simply because they don’t typically contain aluminum. There are many brands of aluminum-free antiperspirants on the market, as well, and some of these are safer alternatives.
However, be aware that aluminum is just one of the toxic ingredients in personal care products — you can find other chemical toxins to avoid in your personal care products here.
Alternatively, just use plain soap and water. This is what I use, typically in the morning and after I exercise.
A paste made from baking soda and water also works as a natural deodorant.
Reduce body odor the natural way
Body odor certainly isn’t dangerous, but it can be offensive to others.
Not everyone produces smelly sweat under their arms, by the way. About 2 percent of people have a single gene variation that leaves their underarms sweat- and odor-free. It’s the same gene variation that causes dry flaky earwax as opposed to “wet” sticky earwax. But research shows these odor-free people typically use deodorants and antiperspirants anyway, even though they don’t need to.13
If you have foul body odor, this is typically related to toxins being expelled; it’s probably not your “natural” scent. If you’re living a “clean” lifestyle, meaning a lifestyle in which you’re minimally exposed to dietary and environmental toxins and therefore have a low toxic burden, your sweat will be close to odorless.
Please don’t attempt to stop your body’s natural sweating by using antiperspirants. Profuse sweating can actually help decrease body odor. Your body releases sweat to help regulate its body temperature to prevent you from overheating, and there are many other benefits to it as well.
Sweating helps your body to eliminate toxins, which supports proper immune function and helps prevent diseases related to toxic overload. Sweating may also help kill viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as on the surface of your skin.
Interestingly, research involving bacterial transplants to stop excessive body odor is being conducted. The idea is to fight odor-causing bacteria with their own kind: more bacteria.
“We have done transplants with about 15 people, and most of them have been successful … All have had an effect short term, but the bad odor comes back after a few months for some people.”
Another option for eliminating body odor, aside from washing regularly with soap and water, is exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet light, specifically UVB, is a very potent germicidal.
I’ve noticed that by tanning my armpits it eliminates armpit odor nearly completely, probably because the UVB kills any odor-causing bacteria.
As mentioned, a paste of baking soda and water is an effective deodorant for some people. You can also try dabbing a bit of apple cider vinegar under your arms. If you want a deodorant that smells great and can be put into “stick” form like you may be used to, try Tree Hugger’s natural recipe below:
|Homemade Natural Deodorant With Coconut Oil(15)|
• 3 tbsp virgin coconut oil
• 2 tbsp shea butter
• 3 tbsp baking soda
• 2 tbsp cornstarch
• 5 drops essential oil (lavender, orange, etc.)Directions:
1. Make a double boiler by placing a half-pint glass jar in the middle of a small pot of water. Bring water to a simmer. Add coconut oil and shea butter to the jar and let melt.
2. Turn off the heat, add baking soda and cornstarch, and stir until completely smooth. Mix in the essential oil of your choice. Let cool.
3. At room temperature, the deodorant is hard. You can scrape out a small ball and apply it directly to your armpits, or transfer it to an old deodorant tube for easier application.*Note: In warmer months, you’ll need to keep this deodorant in your refrigerator to prevent the coconut oil from liquefying.
PeerJ February 2, 2016
The Guardian February 3, 2016
TIME February 4, 2016
1, 2, 3 Smithsonian August 2, 2012
4 PeerJ February 2, 2016
5 TIME February 4, 2016
6, 7 Arch Dermatol Res. 2014 Oct;306(8):701-10
8, 9 J Inorg Biochem. 2005 Sep;99(9):1912-9
10 J Inorg Biochem. 2013 Nov;128:250-6
11 Journal of Applied Toxicology January 12, 2012: 32(3); 219-232
12 J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):5-13
13 J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Jul;133(7):1760-7
14 NPR September 5, 2014
15, 16 Tree Hugger March 4, 2014
New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mercola graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1982. And while osteopaths or D.O.s are licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery just like medical doctors (M.D.s), they bring something extra to the practice of medicine.
Osteopathic physicians practice a "whole person" approach to medicine, treating the entire person — rather than just the symptoms. Focusing on preventive health care, D.O.s help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it too.
Dr. Mercola is passionate about natural medicine and strongly believes that the current medical system is largely manipulated and controlled by large corporations whose primary focus is profit. His website, Mercola.com, which started as a small hobby interest in 1997, has now grown to today’s number one natural health website educating and empowering millions to take back the control over their own health.
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