Natural deodorants

Looking for new ways to save the environment, money, cut down on waste and avoid nasty chemicals while still smelling fresh? Kery Saegert tests a variety of organic natural deodorants

Kery Saegert, 16 March 2004

Is switching to organic pit protection just a knee-jerk reaction to alarmist studies in the media that have given women yet another thing to be afraid of? According to recent articles and government warnings we seem to be harming ourselves simply by defining our own lifestyle and doing all the things from which we used to be prohibited. Certain reports imply that drinking, having a successful career, enjoying sexual freedom and exploration and leaving an unhappy marriage or relationship are all detrimental to our health and those with whom we spend our lives. But let's step away from the mass media hysteria and try to examine the facts.

it is best to use natural and organic products as often as we can

Several studies in the last few years, including a recent study by the University of Reading in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, have discovered the synthetic chemical parabens (a preservative) in tissue taken from women with breast cancer. Parabens mimic the female hormone oestrogen, abnormal levels of which are linked to the growth of cancer. Another study highlighted an increased risk for people who shave and use anti-perspirants[1]. The cosmetics industry insists that their ingredients are regulated and safe and that most deodorants no longer contain parabens. These results were taken from small sample size groups and are as inconclusive as people want them to be. However, research has also highlighted concerns over the chemicals used in hair dyes and other products. The fact that these synthetic products are appearing in our bodies - whether it causes cancer or not - is cause for concern. Although urination and excretion remove more waste produce than perspiration, the argument against anti-perspirants posits that using unnatural substances interferes with the one of the nature's normal procedures for ridding the body of toxins. We already take many chemicals into our bodies from the environment, so it is best to use natural and organic products as often as we can. Of course this depends upon availability and our finances. Fortunately that there are some very economical and environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional anti-perspirants (see table below).

Natural deodorants offer an organic and economical alternative to anti-perspirants. We perspire to balance salt levels, regulate the body's temperature and eliminate waste produce. Body odour is caused by bacteria dissolving the waste material in our perspiration[2]. Conventional anti-perspirants contain aluminium salts to prevent perspiration. In contrast, ammonium alum-based deodorants work through bacteriostatic action, which means they inhibit bacterial growth while allowing the elimination of toxins without clogging pores. These products come in spray, roll-on, cream or the original crystallized rock form. They are hypoallergenic without alcohol, aluminium or perfume (optional), can offer twenty-four hour protection and tend to last for six to twelve months. Best applied to a wet pit, crystallized deodorants are just as effective in hot temperatures and for people who play sports. To use the rock or spray you douche the underarm and apply; it usually dries within a minute. The layer of mineral salts is non-sticky, does not leave stains on clothing and can be used on a hairy or naked pit. It is also possible to purchase a rock in minimal recycled packaging.

Organic deodorants come in spray, roll-on, cream or the original crystallized rock form

One of the main organic[3]. ingredients in natural deodorants is ammonium alum. Alum has been used in China and Egypt for over two thousand years. Production began in England in the seventeenth century[4]. Because alum is a compound found in nature we ingest between 20 to 60 milligrams of alum per day through the water we drink, the foods we eat and the air we breathe. In its natural form, alum is the third most abundant element in nature, after oxygen and silicon. It has been part of our environment since the beginning of time and is one of the basic building blocks of our universe. It makes up almost 8% of the earth's crust, surpassed in quantity only by oxygen at 47% and silicon at 28%. It is found in soil and clays that only produce metallic aluminum products when processed. Even so, the alunite molecules are too large for the body to absorb physically. This is confirmed by the fact that alum weighs over 36 times as much as water and it is impossible through natural means to get water to permeate the skin[5].

We need further research into the harmful effects of using synthetic chemicals to stop the body's natural removal of toxins. For research to be conclusive it needs to be carried out over a period of time, with sample groups of women who have suffered from breast cancer and women who have not. We know that chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, as this is often used as a form of medication[6]. As far as I can ascertain there are no risks associated with using mineral salts to neutralize odour.

In the end, it is a matter of personal choice. I switched to using a crystal a few years ago when I stayed over with a friend, forgot my deodorant, and had to use her pit rock. It was refreshing and lasted all day. I was jubilant when I decided to stop shaving my pits and my rock was even more efficient. I am delighted to admit that my crystal even copes with the aftermath of a curry and wine session.

I also believe that depilation (shaving) is a completely unnatural and socially oppressive process. The stigma attached to the natural state of hairiness is ridiculous - think of the reactions when a well-known female public figure is spotted with hair on her arms or legs. Anyway, I know that when I joyfully gave up this subjugation years ago I felt more comfortable in my body. I certainly don't miss those ankle or pit nips or the sharp screeching feel of having my eyebrows waxed. I don't believe it makes any difference to one's personal hygiene; my work colleagues reliably inform me that they haven't been able to detect any malodours emanating from my person! I think it's about trusting your body and going with what feels right for you, knowing that personal choice is acceptable. I have only had the one comment when lying in the park with friends, but it wasn't unkind, just a young man's surprised exclamation at the forest growing in my pits. As a young woman seeking a natural and more organic lifestyle, using natural deodorants has been a happy transition.

I have tested all of the following myself.

Crystal Spring Deodorant
Ingredients:Pure Ammonium Alum
Price:£4.49 in shops, £4.99 mail order (includes p&p)
Where to buy:Holland & Barrett, independent health food stores and independent pharmacies. Through their website: www.crystalspringltd.co.uk. 10% discount (mail-order) for people who order over the phone 023 8069 5550 or by post or fax and mention The F-Word website.
Comments:100% alum so should not cause irritation. Simple recyclable packaging. Good postage rate. Easy to pack in bag.
PitRok
Ingrediants:Aqua, Ammonium Alum, Aloe Vera Gel, Polysorbate 20, calendula and grapefruit seed extract, Vitamin E
Price:£4-6
Where to buy:www.pitrok.co.uk, Boots, most chemists
Comments:Recyclable packaging. Can get fragranced version. Take care not to drop the crystal.
Green People Deodorants
Ingredients:Pure Ammonium Alum with optional Rosemary and Grapeseed extract
Price:£6-7 + p&p
Where to buy:www.greenpeople.co.uk
Where to buy:10% of net profit donated to charity Optional essential oils. Expensive with postage if only ordering one item
Talc
Ingredients:Talc, Magnesium Carbonate, Parfum
Price:£1-2
Where to buy:Everywhere
Where to buy:Cheap though messy to apply and wore off after a few hours.
Oranges and Lemons
Ingredients:Oranges and lemons. Preferably organic.
Price:30p each
Where to buy:Everywhere
Comments:Lasted well all day and smelt lovely and fruity. Bit sticky and smelt odd at first. Could sting a sensitive and naked pit if you shave

Other options

Alcohol, oak and myrrh were also recommended to me but for reasons of availability and concern over the implications of smelling of vodka or like a stick of incense I decided not to test them. I would love to hear if anybody has any other natural recommendations for body care.

Notes

  1. US study, by Chicago doctor Kris McGrath of Northwestern University, reported in New Scientist
  2. www.pitrok.co.uk/works.html
  3. In my original article I used the word organic to describe ammonium alum. I tend to use the word organic to describe anything that is natural as I think of the earth as a living organism. However, it has been drawn to my attention that this is inaccurate as the strict definition of organic means of, relating to or derived from living matter. The Green People website has a more detailed explanation of the quantity of aluminium in crystal deodorants. Thanks to the reader who brought this to my attention.
  4. www.biznet1.com/deodorant/history.html
  5. www.thecrystal.com/DeodorantStones.htm
  6. www.greenpeople.co.uk/Organics_Your_Questions.htm

About the author

Kery Saegert

Kery Saegert is 24 and is a trainee yoga therapist. She would like to thank the members of the Eco-feminism Group

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