Effective and safe deodorant with natural active ingredients : Is it possible to avoid aluminium salts ?

By the 04 November 2019

Modifié le 04 November 2019

Aluminium salts don’t belong on our armpits – end of story. When it comes to choosing a deodorant, it’s natural products you should be looking at. Sounds pretty easy doesn’t it! Unfortunately it’s not that simple… To naturally and effectively control sweat whilst being kind to yourself and the environment, follow this simple guide!


Aluminium salts : What’s the problem ?


We’ve been talking about them for years, but what do you really know about aluminium salts? Aluminium chlorhydrate, aluminium zirconium pentachlorohydrate…. you’ll find that these are very commonly used in deodorants. They’re chosen for their astringency and their ability to absorb dampness, since they can reduce sweating and leave you dry with effectiveness that’s hard to match with other ingredients.

However, they aren’t without disadvantages… Their particles are small enough to penetrate through skin tissue, and they can accumulate inside of you – something the body can’t get rid of. They are even thought to contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimers and Parkinsons, bone lesions, and anemia… 80% of cases of breast cancer begin in the armpit cavity – that’s the same place we apply deodorant. Coincidence ? I’m not so sure.
Of course, the doses of aluminium we get through deodorants are small, but they’re daily. They’re applied to skin that is particularly fine and often made fragile by shaving, leaving them hyper-permeable to these tiny particles. Deodorant isn’t the only way we are exposed to aluminium either : additives, food containers, other cosmetics and water are sources of aluminium too. In the end, a little + a little + a little = a lot ! Even if there is no definite answer when it comes to aluminium’s toxicity threshold , one thing’s for certain : it’s constantly being lowered. To what point though?

In short, don’t use aluminium salts on your armpits ! If you’re pregnant, you should be twice as cautious : aluminium salts can pass the placental barrier…


How can you avoid them ?


In shops, you’ll generally find two types of products : simple deodorants or antiperspirants which reduce or even completely stop your ability to sweat. To avoid sweat patches, they prevent our bodies from getting rid of toxins and regulating our temperature ! Which active ingredients do you think are used to disrupt this vital natural progress? That’s right, aluminium salts, which can make up up to 25% of these products. Therefore, here is our first bit of advice : don’t use antiperspirants.

Getting rid of every drop of sweat is completely useless and bad for our health. In actual fact, it’s not our sweat that smells bad, it’s the bacteria present on our skin that feasts on the proteins in our sweat and release (bad) smells whilst digesting them. This means we can counteract it in two ways : by masking the odors and/or fighting against the growth of this bacteria. All this whilst still letting the body sweat – that’s what a deodorant does. 

Yet another obstacle: the word “deodorant” isn’t a sufficient guarantee. Does it promise you x amount of hours of dryness? That probably means your deodorant contains aluminium salts or other problematic ingredients like synthetic perfumes, which are used to mask odors. They are irritants and allergenic (Can cause skin rashes and respiratory difficulties etc.), they often contain phtalates or synthetic musk which are endocrine disruptors. They also commonly contain other classic conventional cosmetics ingredients : preservatives, parabens, silicones… Want to know more ? See our article: Deodorants, why should you switch to natural? 


So I need a natural deodorant – but which one?


So you’ve found a deodorant that’s natural, free from synthetic ingredients and is even labelled organic: you can finally relax! Unfortunately this isn’t the case – not everything that’s labelled natural is necessarily good for you… So, which active ingredients should you be looking out for?


Triethyl citrate : effective, but at what cost? 


Deodorants (notably organic ones) that don’t use aluminium salts often replace them with triethyl citrate. It does have its advantages: antibacterial, inhibits the decomposition of sweat by bacteria without stopping you sweating, a neutral order and doesn’t irritate the skin. A dream come true for your armpits!

Unfortunately, it does have one enormous fault : it’s one of the several pseudonyms for palm oil, the environmental and social catastrophe that isn’t often spoken about. No thank you! We’d rather smell than contribute to the extinction of orangutans. (To find out more, see our article on saying no to palm oil)


Alum stone : the false friend


Alum stone was thought to be a natural and healthy solution for perspiration. Practical, antibacterial and lightly astringent, it regulates sweating without completely stopping it or lasting for years. Sounds great doesn’t it? Again, it has a major fault. Alum stone is made up (amongst other ingredients) from aluminium salts. It’s considered to be safer when it is natural (Potassium alum) than when it’s totally synthetic (Aluminium alum), but the manufacturers themselves advise against using it after shaving as a “precaution”. To put it into other words: whether it’s on its own or an ingredient in a composition, don’t use Alum stone. 


Alcohol – good in the short run


See Denat alcohol written on a cosmetics label? Avoid it: it means the product contains alcohol that has been denatured by agents that are generally polluting and allergenic and sometimes even toxic. However, an organic and natural deodorant can still contain ethyl alcohol (alcohol) produced from plant fermentation (just like for wine ;)). Antiseptic and antibacterial, it dries quickly leaving a fresh and pleasant sensation. Lightly astringent, it’s also excellent at masking unwanted smells. Not bad!


The issue: it’s oil removing action, which attacks the lipids in the skin barrier. The result: dry skin that eventually becomes irritated. You should avoid alcohol if you have sensitive skin or after shaving (the burning sensation this would give you should help you to remember…). You should also be aware of its photosensitizing action.


Sodium bicarbonate : use in moderation


Economical, biodegradable and very effective: sodium bicarbonate is a serious candidate. A small pinch of it under each armpit is enough to absorb any dampness and neutralize the acidity of sweat, which triggers the development of bacteria – say goodbye to bad smells! It’s incredibly effective, and can even overcome the smell of your sports equipment. It sounds like a magic powder! However it does have one drawback: it can be an irritant. Choose an ultra-fine sodium bicarbonate, apply it in small quantities without rubbing it in, get rid of any excess powder and avoid applying it after shaving. You can use a large makeup brush to apply it or even mix it with coconut oil. Even if you take all these precautions, those with sensitive skin still might not be able to use it. Sometimes, your skin can have a delayed reaction to sodium bicarbonate even after several weeks of using it with no problems. As soon as you feel even the slightest bit of irritation, stop using it immediately, avoiding shaving and deodorant. Once things have returned to normal for your skin, opt for a deodorant without bicarbonate.  


Magnesium hydroxide : effective but expensive


Want the effectiveness of bicarbonate without the irritation? We know how! Magnesium hydroxide is odorless, lets the body sweat naturally and neutralizes acidity, therefore inhibiting the development of bacteria. Its liquid form, milk of magnesia, is hyper-practical (One drop on each of your armpits should be enough).

Although it’s commonly used in the USA, in France, magnesium hydroxide is generally seen as an ingredient in medicines (laxatives and painkillers for digestive pains) or as a powder to help climbers avoid sweaty hands. But don’t go running to your nearest sports shop just yet : in this ultra-fine form, it exposes you to tiny particles that are dangerous for your respiratory tract. This leaves you the option of ordering it from the internet… as long as you’re willing to pay the price and look into the product’s origin and composition. Of course, this isn’t the best option for your carbon footprint! However, more and more natural deodorants are using magnesium hydroxide as an ingredient. To be continued ! 


Clays, powders and plant oils : an option for those who don’t sweat a lot. 


Don’t sweat a lot? Being respectful of your skin and the planet, clays, powders and plant oils might be the solution for you 

Clay (particularly white clay), bamboo and arrowroot powder, cornstarch or tapioca flour absorb sweat to get rid of dampness and mitigate odors. Apply them to dry skin to avoid them forming lumps. Even though it’s from the clay family, stop using talc! It can contain fibres of asbestos and be carcinogenic. 

Light and non-greasy antiseptic and antifungal plant oils are also worth thinking about : examples are coconut oil (practical as it’s solid at room temperature) or sweet almond oil, if you are not allergic to nuts, with the advantage of being good for your skin !

One downside : these products aren’t so effective when it comes to stress, strenuous activity or when it gets very hot. However, you can reinforce them by mixing them with essential oils and/or sodium bicarbonate, whilst reducing their negative side-effects. Good allies! 


Essential oils : use with precaution


Essential oils also have a role to play when it comes to deodorants : Palmarosa essential oil, the most well known – but also geranium, witch hazel and tea tree essential oils… Capable of inhibiting the development of bacteria and regulating sweating with their astringent action, they are very effective. That is of course if you don’t mind their strong scents!

Above all, make sure you stick to these 2 rules :

  • Never put pure essential oils onto your armpits as you can burn yourself! Mix them with a few drops of plant oils and apply them lightly.
  • Never use essential oils without reliable information and/or advice from a professional, particularly when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some essential oils have unwanted hormonal effects and others can increase your risk of miscarriage. Do not use any palmarosa, lavender, mint, sage or geranium oils if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have any doubt at all as to whether you can use a particular oil, don’t use it. 


Finding a way to live in harmony with your sweat is essential: bad odors and sweat patches at 9am on your morning commute, isn’t the best way to start your day. But not at any price! Try these options, on their own or in your own homemade mixtures, look for them in 100% natural deodorants (ideally solid and zero waste), and above all, (re)learn how to live with your sweat – your body needs it! No natural solution that respects your health will stop you sweating completely 😉

This post is also available in french.


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