Once found mostly in specialty stores alongside organic and plant-based products, aluminum-free deodorants (commonly called natural deodorants) have made their way into mainstream retail stores and online shopping sites.
In the early 2000s, rumors began to spread online and via email that linked aluminum compounds in antiperspirant products to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Though studies have since shown these rumors to be false, they continued to spread online, leading to a greater demand for aluminum-free products.
Today, there are dozens of natural deodorants on the market in a variety of forms including sticks, sprays, gels, creams — even stones that you moisten and rub on your skin.
Both deodorants and antiperspirants help reduce body odor caused by underarm perspiration, but they work differently.
Deodorants neutralize or mask body odor, but do not prevent or reduce sweating. Antiperspirants contain an aluminum-based compound, which interacts with moisture to form a plug that blocks the surface of the sweat ducts in the armpit. This prevents the release of perspiration and, consequently, reduces odor and keeps you dry. Like deodorant, antiperspirant wears off over time and washes off when you bathe, so the plugs dissolve.
“Aluminum is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment and is found in many health and beauty products. There is no evidence that it causes cancer,” says Brittney Ulupinar, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley. “For aluminum or another metal to cause disease, it would have to be absorbed into the bloodstream in large amounts, and your sweat ducts don’t absorb chemicals.”
While there is no scientific evidence that aluminum in antiperspirants is harmful to your health, some people simply prefer products that are free of metals or artificial ingredients, or align with their environmental values.
Natural deodorants may offer several benefits:
Aluminum-free deodorants do not block perspiration, so your sweat flows freely with no blockages or interruption to your natural body function.
If aluminum irritates your skin, you may find aluminum-free deodorants more comfortable. (However, many natural deodorants contain baking soda and/or fragrances designed to help mask odor, which also can irritate sensitive skin and cause itching or rash.)
Natural deodorants are designed to reduce body odor, which means you’ll have plenty of scents to try: floral, spice, fruit, wood and many more.
Many brands use organic or plant-based ingredients and do not test their products on animals.
Natural deodorants also may have some cons:
While natural deodorants may contain ingredients designed to absorb sweat, only aluminum is effective is preventing it. Expect to be sweatier than you would be with an aluminum-based product. Moreover, some people report being especially sweaty (and smelly) for a week or so while their body adjusts to the switch.
Depending on your individual body chemistry, some products may work better than others. What works great for a friend may not work for you.
Again, depending on your body chemistry, as well as your environment and activity level, you may need to reapply natural deodorant every few hours to effectively control odor.
Aluminum-free deodorants tend to be double or even triple the price of antiperspirants.
“The type of antiperspirant or deodorant you use really comes down to personal preference,” says Dr. Ulupinar. “There’s no medical reason to avoid using an aluminum-based product, but there’s no reason not to use a natural deodorant if that’s what you like. If you have any questions about these products, talk to your primary care physician.”