Underarm odor happens when we sweat: the bacteria that are always present on the skin break the sweat secretions down into odor-causing fatty acids. Because sweating is one of the body’s four main emunctories (routes of excretion) for toxins, it is definitely true that body odor is a function of toxicity; however, even the cleanest of us still want something to ward off the occasional untoward smell.

Aluminum-Based Antiperspirants and Deodorants

Most of the commercial antiperspirant and deodorant products are aluminum-based. Aluminum works by plugging the sweat glands; less sweat means less odor.

Unfortunately, while aluminum’s role in breast cancer is still disputed, this article shows that aluminum does concentrate in breast tissue. This article further shows that aluminum can cause gene instability in breast tissue, which can lead to cancerous growths, and this study shows that it can alter cell division (a possible precursor for cancer). This study also shows that aluminum levels in the breast are higher in patients with breast cancer than in those without.

Correlation is not causation, but the evidence seems strong enough to me to suggest that there at least might be a link.

If that weren’t enough, aluminum has also been associated with both Alzheimer’s Disease and autism, both due to increasing the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6. (Children at risk for autism are not generally using antiperspirants yet, but to me, this is another good reason for women who might wish to become pregnant to avoid it.)

Natural Deodorant Alternatives

Even many of the so-called “natural” deodorants may have aluminum as active ingredients, under the name “alum.” A common culprit for this are the crystal rock deodorants.

Some of the natural ingredients to look for that work well include:

  • Coconut oil. Coconut oil is antimicrobial, which makes it great for all kinds of things, including oil pulling and fighting odor-causing bacteria.
  • Baking soda. Well known for its alkalinizing and odor-fighting properties, baking soda acts as both an antibacterial and antiperspirant.
  • Zinc oxide. Zinc oxide actually converts the odor-causing fatty acids into a different, odor-free compound.
  • Witch hazel. An excellent astringent, witch hazel causes pores to constrict, thereby decreasing sweat as well.
  • Milk of Magnesia: this compound absorbs the lipids in the skin—including those odor-causing fatty acids produced from sweat. (Some pour the laxative into a spray bottle or a roll-on applicator and use this as a deodorant by itself!)

The Upshot

You can find recipes online to make your own deodorants including the above ingredients. If you choose to purchase one, I’d recommend avoiding any deodorant containing aluminum, even if it’s disguised as the seemingly safe “alum.” (Read your labels and also avoid any deodorants that contain the list of chemicals posted here.)