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What’s the deal with natural deodorant?

What it is, why it's popular and if you should be trying it out.

Caroline Roberts Digital Editorial Intern
Caroline Roberts writes articles and notifications for CNET. She studies English at Cal Poly, and loves philosophy, Karl the Fog and a strong cup of black coffee.
Caroline Roberts
5 min read

There's no doubt about it -- cancer and Alzheimer's are terrifying diseases. In the search to make sense of these horrible afflictions, many turn to investigating products they use in everyday life to try to uncover if they could be the culprit. 

One such rumored cause is the aluminum in conventional antiperspirant, which is said to cause abnormal cell growth that turns into cancerous tumors. In response to these widespread fears, brands like Native, Schmidt's and Tom's are selling natural, aluminum-free deodorants that have likely taken over the shelves of your local Target or drugstore. These products are typically also made without parabens --  preservatives that are said to indirectly cause cancer.

With all of the confusing and conflicting information swirling around aluminum-based antiperspirant, I wanted to give you the rundown on what's true, what's hogwash, and if there's any compelling reasons to switch over to natural deodorant. 

Deodorant vs. antiperspirant

First, I want to clear up some confusion around the terms "antiperspirant" and "deodorant." The defining feature of antiperspirant is that it contains aluminum, which blocks the sweat glands and keeps anything from coming out. Deodorant just neutralizes the bacteria in sweat, helping with the bad smell. So, aluminum-free antiperspirant is a misnomer, and these products are instead called natural deodorant. 

What does science say about aluminum-based antiperspirant?

You've likely heard all sorts of claims on why you should use natural deodorant. Let's debunk some of the most common arguments.

Colgate To Eneter "Natural" Market With Deal To Buy Tom's Of Maine

Tom's of Maine has been making natural deodorants for decades.

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There's no conclusive evidence showing a link between cancer and aluminum-based antiperspirant.

Although almost all scientists are in agreement with the absence of a link, some fringe users of the Internet say that there exists a definitive relationship between aluminum-based antiperspirant and cancer, specifically breast cancer. The rumors spread by word of mouth and email chain, and before you know it, thousands of people are wary of antiperspirant. 

Breast cancer does occur most commonly in the upper outer tissue that's geographically very close to where people apply antiperspirant. The logic is that the tissue absorbs the chemicals, which can't be sweated out (because duh, you're wearing antiperspirant) and then it causes cell mutations, which then turns into cancer. However, a systematic review of the relationship between breast cancer and antiperspirants discovered that there was no evidence for this link.

People are also worried that if they nick themselves shaving then apply antiperspirant, the aluminum will be more easily absorbed into the lymph nodes, causing cancer. Fortunately, the American Cancer Society reports that this claim is unfounded.

No, the aluminum probably won't give you Alzheimer's either.

Some studies from the 1960s found increased levels of aluminum in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease, leading people to postulate that antiperspirant could be a cause of the condition. However, this link has been debunked as well, as there is no consistent and reputable science to back it up. 


Parabens are preservatives found in most cosmetic products.

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The parabens in antiperspirant are most likely not of concern.

Parabens are in most cosmetic products, like lipstick, lotion and sunscreen, acting as preservatives. Some studies have shown that they have weak estrogen-like properties, so some people fear that they can contribute to the increase of breast cell division and eventually breast cancer. However, the estrogen made in the body is hundreds or even thousands of times stronger than parabens, so this is also most likely not a significant cause of breast cancer.

In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that there's no clear evidence of a direct link between parabens and any particular health problems.

What are some reasons to try natural deodorant?

OK, hopefully I've put your mind at rest: there's no compelling evidence that wearing aluminum-based antiperspirant will cause you to develop cancer or any other horrible disease. However, there's a number of anecdotal and cosmetic reasons that may convince you to give natural deodorant a try.

Put your mind completely at rest.

Although there's no evidence that proves any sort of link between aluminum and breast cancer, Alzheimer's or any other significant health problem, it's also hard to demonstrate that such a relationship is impossible. If you're already at a higher predisposition to any of these illnesses and wearing natural deodorant helps you sleep better at night, by all means use it. 

Neutralize your sweat in a more natural way.

It's false to say that natural deodorant contains no chemicals -- everything you touch is made out of chemicals, including the apple I'm eating as I write this. However, a lot of people feel better using products with ingredients you can actually pronounce or recognize. Instead of using aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum zirconium to block your pores, natural deodorants use coconut oil, cornstarch, arrowroot powder and other recognizable components. 

These ingredients neutralize bad-smelling bacteria, and different powders can help absorb excess wetness. They're recognizable, generally regarded as safe, and it's always comforting to know what you're putting on your body.

However, just because a product is made of "natural ingredients" that doesn't mean your body won't react to it. If you have sensitive skin, look for natural deodorants that are free of dyes and scents.

Woman applying underarm deodorant

If you don't mind a little bit of sweat, natural deodorants can be effective at keeping you smell fresh.

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Natural deodorants may be easier on your skin.

Although the chemicals in antiperspirant don't pose a serious health risk, if you already have sensitive skin, they may simply be irritating. CNET's Sarah Mitroff said that she switched away from aluminum-based deodorant years ago after realizing it was bothering her skin. I have a family member that is slightly allergic to most fragrances, and the smell-free natural deodorant works best for her (along with fragrance-free laundry detergent and a whole host of products). 

Fewer yellow stains on your clothes.

It's been demonstrated that when your sweat mixes with the aluminum in antiperspirant, it can cause those dreaded yellow stains on your shirts. Switching to an aluminum-free deodorant can help avoid them.

You might not sweat as much as you think

Once I stopped wearing clear gel deodorant and switched to vanilla Dove, I started sweating a lot less. Sometimes our bodies just respond differently to separate products. If you are afraid of making the switch to deodorant because you feel like you already sweat too much, it's worth giving it shot.

Natural deodorants to try out

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Some people swear by baking-soda-based deodorant. It doesn't contain aluminum, parabens, colorants or animal-derived ingredients, and you can buy an unscented version. It also claims to not stain your clothes, so say goodbye to those awkward yellow marks on the armpits of your shirt. 

Shark Tank popularized this activated-charcoal deodorant, and I have to say it looks pretty cool. It has organic coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, and pure vitamin E oil, so it's great for sensitive skin. While wearing it you'll smell like a spa, so there's really a lot to love with this natural product. 

If you still want something scented, here's an aluminum-free product that smells like lavender. It's also gluten-free, if you're into that.

Some people encounter skin rashes when they use deodorants with baking soda. If you're one of these people but still want to avoid aluminum, there's a magnesium-based deodorant that could fit your niche. It's also alcohol- and paraben-free.

If the idea of aluminum in your pores is freaking you out but you still love the deodorant you wear, there's a solution for you. Many popular brands, like Old Spice and Dove, now sell aluminum-free versions.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.