In the morning, between brushing your teeth and getting dressed, it’s basically a reflex: one armpit then the other, deodorant is a fixed part of your routine. However, choosing your deodorant shouldn’t be done randomly. How about we take a closer look at the ingredients we put onto this very sensitive area of skin everyday.
Sweating, a vital natural process.
Do you know why we sweat? Heat, stress, physical exertion, fever etc… our temperature regularly rises and strays from the 37°C required for optimal function. So what’s responsible for our temperature control? Our internal thermostat, the hypothalamus, which continuously controls our body temperature via sensors all over our bodies. As soon as it’s needed, it mobilizes the millions of sweat glands in our skin: sweat, made up of water and mineral salts, is then secreted via pores and evaporates, transferring our excess heat to the air. It’s a sort of natural air con!
Sweat helps our body get rid of toxins and waste produced by our metabolism whilst helping to moisturize our skin by contributing to the hydrolipidic film. It’s an incredibly important physiological process!
Our sweat also plays an important social role, and not just in a negative with unwanted odors – in fact it’s completely the opposite! There’s a second category of sweat glands, apocrine glands, situated in the armpits, genitals, groin and nipples, which release a different kind of sweat. Rich in pheromones, it creates an olfactory signature that is unique to each person. It’s decisive in our social relationships, love life and sexual attraction. It’s also the scent that comforts newborns, who can recognize the smell of their mothers.
Deodorant: an important choice
If our sweat is so important, why do we try and mask it or even get rid of it entirely? Perspiration is a natural phenomenon, but its aroma isn’t so popular in our society… A long time ago, it was difficult to blame people for smelling bad: nobody smelt very good. Then came the hygienist movement of the 19th century which associated bad smells with a lack of hygiene and a risk of getting ill. The 70s left us completely intolerant to strong body odors, either from others or from ourselves, with the development of bathrooms in homes and of course, deodorants. It became a social norm: today, not masking one’s natural scent when you have the possibility to seems very strange.
That being said, our sweat begins being odorous after puberty. This is caused by our apocrine glands which activate when triggered by our hormones and secrete a sweat that is richer in lipids and proteins – a feast for the bacteria on our skin, which are particularly concentrated in the folds of our armpits. These bacteria have a digestion process which releases a strong scent, which is responsible for our body odour. This means a simple hot flush or a strong emotion can cause odors very quickly, even if you follow a very effective hygiene routine. In an elevator, on a bus, on the metro even in open space, it can be difficult to deal with.
Deodorant has therefore become an essential, but which one you choose is an important decision. Perspiration is an important physiological process and we apply deodorant to an area of skin that is particularly sensitive. Under our arms, mammary glands, lymph nodes and numerous blood vessels are all exposed to the substances that we apply to the fine skin that’s often left permeable by hair removal, so be wary!
What should be my requirements for deodorant?
With or without alcohol, 48 hour effectiveness or intense freshness, excess sweating or sensitive skin, guaranteed to leave no marks, roll on, a spray, antiperspirant or even a de-perspirant… The shelves of deodorants can leave you feeling dizzy. How do you choose?
1st requirement: be kind to your body!
To counteract the unpleasantness of sweating, we can act on 2 fronts.
The first solution: block the secretion of sweat entirely – this is what antiperspirants do. By attacking it at the source, we can get rid of all the effects, smells and feelings of dampness that sweating brings. So what’s the problem? It blocks a vital natural process, as we mentioned before, and this requires the use of ingredients that aren’t very good for you: aluminium salts which are both neurotoxic and suspected of being carcinogens. Is a deodorant promising you 24 or 48 hours sweat free? Beware! Is avoiding a few sweat patches really worth the risk to your health?
However we can still effectively fight against unwanted smells whilst still allowing the body to naturally release sweat. This is what deodorants do. They can mask the unwanted odors with strong perfumes or even prevent them entirely by stopping the development of bacteria. An effective deodorant absorbs humidity and lightly regulates excessive sweating by being lightly astringent.
To look further into this question, see our article : Antiperspirants and deodorants: what’s the difference?
2nd requirement: active ingredients that are effective AND healthy.
What is at stake when it comes to choosing active ingredients? Your deodorant’s effectiveness of course, and there are several ingredients that can make it effective. However, your skin, health and the environment are also at risk, and when it comes to these factors there are a lot fewer ingredients that meet the criteria.
You can already add all conventional deodorants to your product blacklist. It’s a waste of time studying any of them any deeper since a lot of them use toxic aluminium salts. Even those that don’t use them use synthetic perfumes that are allergens or even endocrine disruptors, drying and toxic denatured alcohol as well as toxic and polluting synthetic preservatives.
So should we be looking for natural active ingredients then? Yes yes yes! But remember, natural is not a synonym for harmless… We’re forgetting alum stone which exposes us to aluminium salts, alcohol which is an irritant even in its natural form and the notorious palm oil, which hides behind the name of triethyl citrate. However, there are still numerous effective and safe natural active ingredients for deodorants, for example plant oils, plant powders, hydrolats and other plant extracts. Make your choice according to how you sweat and how sensitive your skin is – you can play with different combinations for maximum efficiency. You can always add strong and perfumed essential oils to this mix, unless you have sensitive skin, are allergic to perfume, or are pregnant/currently breastfeeding. If made with high quality active ingredients, a natural deodorant without perfume can be just as effective as a fragranced one.
3rd requirement: a gentle, practical and ecological galenic for your skin
Your deodorant’s form (its galenic) is an essential criteria, and not just for practicality reasons. The most common are aerosols, sprays, roll ons, pots and sticks. How do you choose?
You can immediately exclude aerosols, with their solvents and inflammable gas propellants which release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). They are pollutant, contribute to global warming and contain substances that are irritants for our respiratory tracts and eyes. They can cause headaches, nausea and cardiac or nervous problems with some even being carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. So what about sprays without gas propellants? They may give you a pleasant and fresh feeling, but they’re still not very ecological or economical: with every spray you lose some product through evaporation. They’re effective for a shorter amount of time, often leave marks on your clothes and frequently contain alcohol.
When it comes to practicality, it depends on your specific needs: do you often take your deodorant with you or does it stay in your bathroom? Do you regularly have to go through airport security? If so, a compact, non-liquid stick or solid deodorant sounds like it’s best suited to you. More personal criteria can be taken into account: do you prefer the dry sensation of a stick or the more liquid feeling of a roll on? Are you looking for a strong or discrete fragrance?3rd requirement: a practical, ecological and gentle galenic for my skin
Solid deodorants, in sticks or pots, are the best ecologically and for our health and skin. They’re made without water so they don’t need strong preservatives that can often be toxic. A massive advantage! They also have a gentle texture, a discrete fragrance and the best effectiveness/skin health relationship of all deodorants. The best solid deodorant option is a balm that is rich in plant oils and butters that not only perfectly plays its role as a deodorant, but soothes and nourishes the delicate skin that it’s applied to. If it’s made well, a balm can even be applied straight after after hair removal. If you’ve got sensitive skin, don’t wait any longer! It’s a balm that you need!
To summarize, to choose a deodorant that isn’t harmful to your body, skin or the environment:
- Say no to antiperspirants that are harmful for your health, and opt for a simple deodorant that is free from aluminium salts.
- Look for the most natural composition, but don’t forget to check the label to avoid problematic or irritant ingredients.
- Favor solid deodorants, ideally a balm if you have sensitive skin.
This post is also available in french.