The Pitfalls of Antiperspirants

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Every few years, my antiperspirant quits on me. All of a sudden, things just start to get a titch funky. I assume something in my body chemistry shifts slightly, and I’ll catch a whiff of something slightly pit-ricious after a hard workout or a long day. As soon as it happens, that’s it: I’m on the hunt for the next product that will keep me smelling so fresh and so clean…at least until it doesn’t. And so it goes. I’m not alone in being tuned in to what’s happening in these hollows: Women tend to have a better sense of smell than men when it comes to body odor.

In these instances where I have a chance to make a switch, I usually try a number of natural options first — I’ve been through my phase with the crystal rock, and spritzed on fruity sprays. Like fitness writer Gina DeMillo Wagner, I’m aware of the discrepancy between my choice of antiperspirant and the choices I make regarding nearly every other product I use.

Then, I hate to say it, but thus far, I’ve always returned to aluminum.

That’s right, aluminum, which has been linked to cancer, estrogenic effects, and Alzheimer’s. This isn’t something I’m proud of, and after a recent conversation with Gina made me break out in a sweat, I might make the switch voluntarily, pre-funk, to her first choice, Soapwalla Deodorant Cream.

The following is her story, and her recommendations (plus a recipe for homemade deo!). Tell us yours in the comments section.

Until recently, I didn’t give a stink about what kind of deodorant I used. I only had two criteria — it had to smell nice and keep my pits dry.

But then I moved to Phoenix, Ariz., in the dead of summer, and everything changed. As the thermometer cruised into triple digits, my deodorant consumption nearly tripled, too. I switched to a “clinical-strength” antiperspirant, which kept me drier, but it also left horrible stains on my shirts and a rash on my skin.

This got me thinking. I eat mostly organic, unprocessed food. I use lotions, shampoos and cosmetics that are all-natural, free from hormone disruptors like parabens. I care a lot about what I put into my body. But I’d never once looked at the ingredient list on my antiperspirant/deodorant. When I did, I was shocked.

Although research is inconclusive, there is growing concern over some of the main ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants. Namely: aluminum, triclosan and phthalates. Antiperspirants use aluminum-based compounds to temporarily plug sweat ducts. Aside from staining your shirts, aluminum is suspected to play a role in neurological diseases like Alzheimers. Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical which may affect muscle function.

In animal studies, phthalates have been linked to birth defects and fertility problems.

Bottom line: The USDA doesn’t heavily regulate cosmetics or require full disclosure of ingredients on their labels. I wondered: Is it such a good idea to apply questionable products to my armpits…close to my breasts and lymph nodes?

So began my quest to discover a natural antiperspirant/deodorant that ACTUALLY WORKS. I tried several, and forced my husband, gym buddy and closest friends to sniff my pits throughout the process. What I found: A lot has improved since the fad deodorant rocks or crystals of yore. Here are two brands that I now swear by. Bonus: If you’re crafty, you can make your own for pennies.

Disclaimer: As I weaned myself off the aluminum-based stuff, I noticed my pits actually sweat much more than normal. I assume after plugging my sweat glands for decades, my body was overcompensating. But after a few days of using natural products, the sweat subsided, and I noticed I actually sweat much less now, even during workouts.  Everyone’s body is different, of course, and you may respond better to different brands of natural products. Keep experimenting until you find the best for you.

My favorite:

Soapwalla Deodorant Cream ($14;

I love this product so much, I’d wear it during a job interview. It passed the sniff test for more than 24 hours, even after a rigorous workout. At first it’s odd applying a cream to your armpits, but it smells divine and disappears into your skin, leaving no trace on your clothing. Ingredients include clays, essential oils like lavender, peppermint and tea tree, which absorb moisture and inhibit bacteria.

Runner Up:

Weleda Citrus Deodorant Spray ($12;

Alcohol and lemon peel oils work together to fight bacteria and keep odor at bay. I found that I smelled fresh all day with this deodorant, but it didn’t do much to curb sweating. Because it contains alcohol, you’ll want to avoid applying it immediately after shaving.

DIY Deodorant:

My gym buddy Sarah developed the following recipe and swears by it. She mixes it up and stores it in an old deodorant container in her refrigerator so it stays solid. She always smells nice.


6 tablespoons coconut oil

¼ cup baking soda

¼ cup arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)

Essential oils (peppermint, lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, or tea tree work well)


  1. Mix baking soda and arrowroot together in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Mash in coconut oil with a fork until well mixed (warm it up a little if necessary)
  3. Add oils, a few drops at a time, until desired fragrance is achieved
  4. Store in small glass jar or old deodorant container

Still can’t make the leap to natural? Some good news: Some manufacturers are reforming their products to remove some toxins. For instance, Johnson & Johnson (maker of brands such as Aveeno, RoC, and Neutrogena) recently announced it will remove all “chemicals of concern” from its adult toiletries and cosmetics by 2015. Hopefully, other companies will follow.

Gina DeMillo Wagner
 is an award-winning magazine writer and editor, specializing in fitness, travel and parenting. For more of her work, visit For adventures in parenting two toddlers, stop by


Author:Jen Sinkler

Fitness writer and editor, workout connoisseur, meditator, proponent of spandex, former rugby player; never, ever without lip gloss.
Comments: 16

16 Responses to “The Pitfalls of Antiperspirants”

  1. My mom has never in her life used antiperspirant and I haven’t ever smelled her! I wonder how she does that. I feel like I have to, so I use Rexona.

  2. Colin

    Anything for the guys…..?

  3. I actually… don’t wear deodorant…. I sometimes smell myself, like when I’m at the gym, doing OHP. But I think a lot of people would be surprised about how much they don’t actually stink if they went sans deodorant. I personally go by the philosophy that you shouldn’t be able to smell someone (deodorant, stank, after shave, perfume, cologne) unless you are hugging them/in their personal space anyways.

  4. Cynthia

    Your articles are always so timely. I’m in the same boat as you where I always seem to go back to aluminum….I just ordered some Soapwalla AND after reading the comments section here I was further taxed and decided to order some from as well. I’m also trying some tinctures from that site too. Here’s to healthier pits! 🙂

  5. Baja

    I tested the DIY Deodorant recipe this past week. It works really well and was super easy to make! Thanks for posting Jen!

  6. Being a breast cancer survivor, I am off deodorant altogether, I admit that I would like to try this cream now that you mention it.

  7. Saburah

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks so much for this article. To be perfectly honest, my siblings and I have always tried to avoid deodorant with aluminum. It can be really tough at times, especially when I want to smell good and have dry pits. We have ALL (brothers and sisters alike) used Old Spice deodorant for YEARS. The FRESH scent is the best and it doesn’t have any aluminum.

    I would actually love a list of companies for lotions, hair products and cosmetics that are all-natural? I think my friend sent something to me years ago but I can’t find it. I love my herbal essences products for my hair and that seems to do the trick but I’m sure that there are chemicals in my shampoo/conditioner and mousse.

    Thanks and love!

  8. I really like Soapwalla, once I got over touching my pits it was smooth sailing!

  9. I too tried many natural products. They left me very disappointed. Then I came across Soapwalla. This product is amazing!

  10. This is a great read! I lived in PHX for a few years, but nothing beats the stink of a Houston summer. 🙂 I am constantly switching deodorants because they stop working or make me break out. All the natural ones I’ve tried just don’t do the job.

    I am so glad to have this option. Will def check it out.

    • I’m with you — I *want* the natural ones to work. I’ve got high hopes for Soapwalla here.:)

  11. Gabriela

    This is my absolute favorite, and it has gotten me through some intense workouts without a problem :

  12. My favorite is (warning, the website autoplays music). Keeps me stink-free for two days.

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