The Best Unscented And Natural Deodorants That Actually Work

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Most people get to know the personal hygiene product known as deodorant around the time of puberty, and are expected to use them pretty much forever after.

As a ’90s kid, I got my first powder fresh solid in a goody bag from a health talk around 2004. Over a decade later, although BO is no more acceptable than before, the narrative on antiperspirants and deodorants have shifted a bit. (An antiperspirant stops you from sweating, a deodorant blocks odor with fragrance and antimicrobials, and some products combine both.)

Some people consider at least certain types of these products as potentially dangerous, toxin-releasing sticks you should avoid at all costs, particularly if you have breasts.

This type of thinking has primed the market for a new era of “natural” deodorant that doesn’t contain ingredients found in traditional deodorants. However, some of these supposedly chemical-free products may not have the health benefits you’d expect and may actually irritate your skin.

Here’s a look at the research on traditional deodorant and antiperspirant ingredients, what to know about natural deodorants, and a selection of products you may want to consider trying if you are looking for alternatives or new options.

Does deodorant cause cancer?

The short answer is no, there is no data to suggest that deodorants cause cancer, specifically breast cancer.

This bit of misinformation is mostly likely based on the presence of aluminum, the active compound in many antiperspirants, said Dr. Harold Burstein, a clinician and clinical investigator in the Breast Oncology Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Aluminum blocks sweat glands to limit wetness.

Mammogram technicians ask people to wipe off deodorant before having a breast scan because if it contains aluminum, it could cause white spots to appear on the scan that could be read as a false positive. However, that does not mean that the ingredient causes breast cancer.

“It’s one of those things that probably goes back to the ’70s if not before, that using deodorants or antiperspirants or shaving the underarms or using other skin products somehow affects the risk of breast cancer,” Burstein said. “The simple answer is that there’s absolutely no epidemiologic evidence that that’s the case.”

What about parabens and sulfates?

There has also been concern over ingredients like parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and triclosan.

Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor that has been removed from many personal hygiene products due to safety concerns, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.

Triclosan was banned from antibacterial soaps and hand washes by the FDA in 2017 because it was ineffective and may have encouraged antimicrobial-resistant germs. The ban doesn’t extend to deodorants, but it’s not likely that they’ll contain the ingredient, said Jamie Alan, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.

Deodorant and skin irritation

Parabens are preservatives that can mimic the effects of estrogen in our bodies, King said, which has made them one of the more controversial ingredients in personal care products. She and Alan both suggested avoiding parabens if possible due to potential for endocrine disruption, which Alan said also applies to phthalates.

However, products that are free of parabens and aluminum may raise other concerns.

A review of product disclaimers by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) found that an increase in the use of alternative preservatives (most notably methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone), which are more allergenic than parabens, may have caused an “epidemic” of allergic contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash that can be caused by jewelry, skin care products, or other irritants.

People with sensitive skin or who are prone to allergic reactions may need to look more carefully into products with paraben-free disclaimers to consider whether replacement preservatives could be a greater risk. The same could be said for aluminum-free options, according to the JAAD study authors.

Natural or antiperspirant-free deodorants (sans aluminum) may also irritate skin. Those products often contain botanicals and essential oils to mask odor, which are common triggers for allergic reactions. Allergic contact dermatitis often improves when people go back to using traditional, fragrance-free antiperspirants, according to the authors of the JAAD study.

Those with easily irritated or allergic reaction–prone skin should avoid deodorants with fragrances. Although most people will be OK with fragrance formulas, they may be a problem for those with eczema or an allergy to certain essential oils, Alan said.

Some natural deodorants use baking soda to absorb moisture and neutralize odor, but “too much baking soda can cause skin irritation in some people,” King said. While manufacturers may put “hypoallergenic” on a label, it only means that the product may exclude some common allergens, but the risk depends on what you’re allergic to, King said.

Should you use a natural deodorant?

There are many antiperspirants and deodorants on the market that are free of parabens, phthalates, or other ingredients besides aluminum that you might be looking to avoid. But for most people, any deodorant is probably going to be safe to use.

“You’d be amazed at the amount of insults your body receives every day from the environment,” Alan said. “A deodorant is a very small bit of this, and generally your traditional deodorants are very safe. If it’s going to ease your mind or if you like [natural deodorants], go for it, but I wouldn’t worry.”

This list has a little bit of everything to meet your needs, whether you want to go fully natural, traditional, or somewhere in between.

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