Ancient Egyptians were known to apply fragrance to mask body odor, and used used perfumed oils such as cinnamon and citrus. The Romans would use Alum stone (potassium alum) for deodorizing purposes. Over time, these solutions evolved into complex chemical compounds containing aluminum and zirconium salts which help reducing sweating (in antiperspirants).
Removing underarm hair helps reduce odors by limiting the surface area for bacteria to grow.
Sweating regulates body temperature and removes toxins and by-products from the body. We have several million sweat glands distributed over our body. Sweat glands can be classified into two different types: Eccrine glands and Apocrine glands.
- Function continuously, main purpose is to control body temperature and electrolyte balance
- Found all over the body, start working from birth
- Limited to certain body parts: airmpit, anus, breast
- Exist at birth, but become functional at puberty
- Triggered by emotions like excitement, anger, fear
Sweat by itself is odorless. Odor develops due to the by-products created when bacteria break down chemicals in sweat.
Deodorant: Reduces or masks body odor through antibacterial or reodorization. Does not have any therapeutic effect and is considered a cosmetic in the US.
Antiperspirant: Reduces underarm wetness by limiting body transpiration. Because they inhibit perspiration, and therefore affect the structure and function of the body, they are classified as “over the counter” drugs in the US.
Hyperhidrosis is a condition where excessive sweating occurs. Special prescription antiperspirants with high doses of aluminum chloride may be prescribed to treat this condition. In 2004 the FDA approved Botox to treat severe underarm sweating.
Skin irritation is a commonly reported side effect of using deodorants, often due to applying the product to broken skin caused by shaving. As with most cosmetic products, the majority of allergic reactions are due to fragrance. Antiperspirants have a tendency to stain clothing.
Most experts agree that use of antiperspirants will not lead to body overheating, as underarm sweat is mostly apocrine sweat which is triggered by emotional arousal than eccrine sweating, which regulates body temperature.
Breast Cancer Concerns
The National Cancer Institute & American Cancer Society agree there has been no credible scientific evidence to support the claim that aluminum in deodorants may lead to breast cancer:
As for concerns about not being able to sweat out toxins due to antiperspirant use, see above… most sweating comes from eccrine glands which are located all over the body. While our underarms do sweat, they are not the workhorse for removing toxins and regulating body temperature. Underarm sweat is mostly an emotional
Before having a mammogram you may be asked to stop using antiperspirant when you go for your exam. Because aluminum is a metal ion, it can show up on a mammogram as a microcalcification which is one of the features doctors look for when examining possible signs of cancer.
There appears to be a link between Aluminum accumulation in the brain and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), though no one is sure how the accumulation develops.
Some speculate the disease is genetic, while others speculate it’s due to a chronic exposure through canned goods and beverages, deodorant, treated drinking water, cookware, etc., but there have been no studies which have demonstrated how the Aluminum actually accumulates in the brain. People who have genetic markers for AD may wish to limit their exposure to Aluminum.
There is no official designation for what makes a deodorant natural, it’s up to the consumer to decide what ingredients they do or do not want to use for odor or sweat control. However, most contain one of the following:
Baking Soda - Neutralizes odors but can be irritating to pH sensitive skin
Essential Oils - Tea tree, rosemary. Exhibit anti-bacterial properties but may not be effective for everyone
Mineral Salts - Contain aluminum, which some people may want to avoid
Hops Extract - Anti-bacterial
Witch Hazel - Anti-bacterial, may need to be combined with other ingredients
Alcohol - The most effective anti-bacterial