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Posted on October 24, 2017 by Beatrice Jocom

#ReadtheLabel: Can Stink-Free be Risk-Free?

Humankind has long been obsessed with trying to smell good. Today on #ReadTheLabel, we'll take a brief look at the history of deodorants - and find out what's good - and bad - about masking, preventing, fighting and sweetening body odor.

So why do we stink? Contrary to common perception, it isn't sweat that stinks. Sweat cools down our body by evaporating off the skin, and that doesn't leave a smell at all. But in places like the armpits and groin, sweat doesn't fully evaporate, creating a moist environment where bacteria thrive. And where bacteria multiply, a not-so-pleasant aroma abounds.

smell armpit 

Throughout history, humans have invented many ways to cut down on B.O.

Baths and perfume
Ancient Egyptians bathed in perfume and women placed perfumed wax on their heads that melted throughout the day, covering up unsavory smells. The Greeks and Romans ushered about a golden age of bathing, which was even a daily communal activity. When Rome fell, though, so did baths. In fact, from the middle ages until the 19th century, perfume was almost exclusively the weapon of choice against stink.


Early aluminum-based deodorants
The earliest patented deodorants came out in the late 19th century, one of which was an acidic solution of aluminum chloride which stung the skin and ate through clothing!

smell armpit 

Modern sticks, roll-ons and sprays

Modern deos and antiperspirants come in different formats and work in a number of ways to prevent odor. As science has progressed, we've learned to take safer measures with controlling smell. The first aluminum chloride formulation fell out of favor because it damaged skin. Ozone-destroying CFC aerosol sprays were banned. But many deodorant products still have hidden health risks.

smell armpit 

Most antiperspirants use an aluminum compound which acts like a plug, stopping sweat right at the sweat glands. However, since these compounds do not break down, daily use can contribute to the body's aluminum burden, which may tax the kidneys in the long run.

Strong fragrances are almost always present, to help mask odor. These are frequently paired with phthalates, scent plasticizers that make the fragrance last longer but are suspected endocrine disruptors.

Because of the risk of bacterial contamination from repeated skin contact, many roll-on formats have parabens (often propylparaben, butylparaben or methylparaben) to extend the deo's shelf life. These are preservatives that mimic hormones, which may lead to cancer, and are linked to reproductive health issues.

It ain't the pits

Don't despair, though! Fortunately, the science of stopping stink has never stopped advancing - and there are plenty of natural alternatives available.


We repeat: sweat doesn't stink - and it's one of the body's natural ways of eliminating waste, so why stop it with aluminum compounds? Look for deos that are aluminum-free and instead have safe, plant-based antibacterial actives to halt the stink from bacteria.

Natural fragrances from essential oils are also a safer alternative to phthalate-laden odor masks. (There's one thing the ancient Egyptians got right!)

And finally, parabens aren't the only way to go to keep your deo fresh. Look instead for anise- and rice-derived preservativeslike anisic acid.


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