The stinky truth about under-arm products

Perspire, glisten or sweat—whatever you call it, let’s face it: we all do it! And as we roll into the warmer months, it’s time to talk about it. We can all benefit from a good healthy sweat—but it doesn’t have to cramp your style.

Here’s the stinky truth: antiperspirants and deodorants are not the same thing. In fact, the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates them separately:


  • Over-the-counter drug
  • Reduces sweat
  • Plugs sweat ducts and interferes with body function
  • Often contains aluminum compounds


  • Personal care product
  • Reduces odor
  • May mask odor with strong fragrance
  • Often contains poorly regulated ingredients

Unfortunately, both products—or single products that serve both purposes—may contain ingredients that are either poorly tested for health and safety or known to be hazardous to your health. When it’s a product that you apply directly to your skin, day after day and year after year for most of your life, it makes good sense to know what you’re using and to practice precaution.

Parents: Is it time to talk to your teen? Now’s the time, as they initiate choices that will become life-long habits. What’s more, young people may be more vulnerable to the subtle effects of hormone disrupting chemicals and other hazardous substances that can be found in deodorant.

OEC’s health and safety tips for everyone with armpits:

1. Ditch the antiperspirant

Despite it’s bad reputation, sweat serves as our body’s natural coolant, playing a vital role in regulating our body temperature and protecting us from overheating. Antiperspirants prevent our body’s natural cooling mechanisms from kicking in by temporarily plugging sweat ducts. Instead, opt for a deodorant that will allow your body to sweat out toxins and cool itself while naturally masking odor.

2. Switch to a simpler deodorant

Look for products that list all of their ingredients (not just “active” ones!) and contain ingredients you recognize. Stay away from parabens, triclosan and fragrance (parfum). Avoid aluminum compounds; as the FDA says, we don’t yet know whether aluminum exposure over a lifetime can contribute to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or breast cancer. The official word from FDA is that evidence “remains controversial and is not resolved.” We recommend practicing precaution: In a world where we can’t control all the hazards around us, here is one that you can choose to avoid.  Read more in this report on Alzheimer’s and another on breast cancer.  If you get overwhelmed by ingredients, you might let EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database do the work for you. The site rates popular body products for health hazards and health concerns.

3. Stay away from the spray

Even if an aerosol spray promises “all natural” components, it’s worth thinking twice before purchasing aerosol. Why? Because even “all natural” ingredients don’t belong deep in your lungs. Aerosol sprays are designed to make droplets so tiny that they hang in the air. Unfortunately, that also means they can be sucked deep into lungs. Breathe easier with a pump bottle, lotion or stick. Pro tip: Don’t shy away from products that aren’t in stick form! Deodorant products in glass jars are a great option to reduce plastic use and typically contain more product.

4. Smell oh-so-fresh without fragrance

On a list of ingredients, the words fragrance and parfum aren’t one single ingredient. Rather, fragrance can contain any mixture of more than a thousand different chemicals—some that we know can disrupt hormones and cause people to develop sensitivities. And because fragrance is a “trade secret,” it allows manufacturers to keep secrets about ingredients.  If you like scent, look for products that list “essential oil” as the ingredient. 

5. Make your own!

Seriously, it’s not that difficult. Body-safe ingredients that absorb odors include baking soda, dietary magnesium, corn starch and arrowroot powder. Shea butter will nourish the skin while holding your mixture together. Coconut oil and tea tree essential oil both work to kill odor-causing bacteria.  Other essential oils like lavender and rosemary, when used with caution in small amounts, can keep you smelling fresh. You can re-use an old twistable stick container, or consider a glass jar to cut back on plastic around the home. Check out this recipe from a blogger who tried, and rejected, many safer alternatives before settling on the “perfect recipe.”


For more: Click here to read OEC’s report on Oregon women and their exposure to toxic ingredients from personal care products.

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1 Reply to "The stinky truth about under-arm products"

  • Brenda Hanson
    May 23, 2017 (2:08 am)

    Tried for 30 years to find an effective natural deodorant. Recently tried Native Deodorant and it is all natural and actually works. So pleased that I wanted to pass it on. Only down side is you have to order it online, but the plus is that you can get your money back if not satisfied.