Natural Deodorants: Are They Worth It?

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“All-natural.” “No parabens.” “Aluminum-free.” Buying deodorant seems to have gotten a lot more complicated. Certain products claim to help your body “detox,” while others boast they have the best natural fragrances.

With more natural deodorant products on the market than ever before, it can be hard to make sense of what product is best. By understanding how the natural products compare to other deodorants, you can make the decision about which option might work for you.

Natural Deodorants vs. Antiperspirants

When comparing natural deodorants with other commercial products on the market, it is important to remember that deodorants are not the same as antiperspirants.

“In general, most deodorants you buy at the store contain a deodorant – which works to neutralize bad odors that come with perspiration – and an antiperspirant,” says Anna Axelson, M.D., a dermatologist with Henry Ford Health System. “Antiperspirants usually use an aluminum product to block the pores and reduce sweat production.”

“Natural” deodorants, on the other hand, do not contain that antiperspirant element, so they are often branded as “all-natural” or “aluminum-free.” These products are solely deodorants and may use a variety of ingredients such as cocoa and shea butter, baking soda, charcoal, mint or lavender to cover up the bad-smelling bacteria from your underarms.

Why Do People Switch To Natural Deodorants?

There are several reasons why people seek out alternative deodorant products. While some reasons are understandable – like wanting to use products that contain recognizable ingredients – people are also making the decision to switch because of outdated studies or false information about antiperspirants.

Some of the top reasons people turn to natural deodorant are because:

  1. They want to avoid sweat stains. One of the downsides of using aluminum-containing products is that the aluminum mixes with your sweat to leave yellowy stains in the underarms of your shirts. Natural deodorants or aluminum-free products don’t have this side effect. However, you should avoid natural deodorants that are high in oils (like coconut oil), as they may lead to some discoloration as well.
  2. They worry antiperspirants cause cancer. Though this is a debunked myth, the biggest reason people switch to natural deodorants is because many fear the repeated use of aluminum in antiperspirants can cause cancer, particularly breast cancer. “There is no conclusive evidence that aluminum-containing products are in any way dangerous,” says Dr. Axelson. “While there were some studies in the 1960s that showed increased aluminum in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, recent studies and extensive research have found no evidence to support a link between aluminum products and serious health conditions.”
  3. They are looking for paraben-free products. “Paraben” is a buzzword often associated with chemical-containing products. What many people don’t realize is that parabens are preservatives found in numerous cosmetic (and non-cosmetic) products, and there is no evidence of a direct link between parabens and any health conditions.

Picking The Best Product For You

Ultimately, making the choice to use natural deodorant is a personal decision. “If you are at higher risk or carry risk factors for certain medical conditions, you may feel more motivated to avoid products that contain more chemicals,” says Dr. Axelson. “However, there is no medical reason to switch from an antiperspirant to a natural deodorant.”

If you are thinking of making the switch, use these tips in choosing the best product for you:

  • Be ready to sweat more. Because natural deodorants don’t have a sweat-blocking element, it may seem like you are sweating more when you use them. In fact, many natural deodorant companies warn that you may notice increased sweating for the first several weeks. It takes time for your body to adjust to using a new product as your sweat glands return to a baseline for sweat production. It can be frustrating, or even embarrassing, if you are not used to dealing with increased perspiration during the transition to natural deodorant. Sweat is usually odorless when secreted from the sweat glands and only has an odor as your body sheds dead skin cells. Make sure you are showering and keeping yourself clean throughout the process to help minimize odor.
  • Do your research. Like many personal care products, what works for one person, might not work for you. Dr. Axelson suggests reading online reviews and learning about the differences in products and their ingredients.
  • Start with a test spot. If you have sensitive skin, try your chosen product on a small spot on your skin to make sure it won’t cause an allergic reaction. “Just because a product is natural doesn’t mean it won’t cause an allergy,” says Dr. Axelson. “The example I often give my patients is poison ivy – though it is ‘natural,’ it can certainly cause a skin rash!”

In summary, over-the-counter deodorants and antiperspirants are safe to use and are an effective first-line treatment for sweating and the associated odor. If your sweating is not controlled with these products or you have questions, it may be worth seeing a dermatologist to discuss other treatment or management options.


To find a doctor or dermatologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Dr. Anna Axelson is a board-certified dermatologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Detroit and Grosse Pointe Farms.

Categories: FeelWell

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