Can aluminum-based deodorant cause cancer? The (dreadful) quest for the perfect deodorant

“Naturally protects against odor for up to 24 hours.”

How could you, deodorant? How could you just come onto my armpit and tell lies?

This the claim on 99% of natural deodorants I’ve tried, and let me tell you, I haven’t found a single one that doesn’t leave me smelling like a 13-year-old boy who just came home from track and field practice. Frankly, any self-respecting 20-something-year-old girl shouldn’t want to smell like that while she’s at work, in class, or awkwardly bringing in a hug with that guy she didn’t really want to run into but had to pretend like she was thrilled to see him anyways.

Being anchored out in the real world without any access to armpit-saving resources can cause a great deal of unneeded anxiety and awkward positioning of your arms. Don’t tell me you’ve never avoided certain movements where your pit problem could potentially be revealed to the world. So what’s the fix?

To be clear, there are two kinds of deodorant. The purpose of an antiperspirant, of course, is to stop perspiration altogether. Then there’s normal deodorant, which is just there to mask odors. I’m mostly holding beef against the antiperspirants being marketed to us, as those are the ones with aluminum in them.

Let me tell you quickly why even today’s western medicine recommends that breast cancer patients stray away from aluminum-based deodorants. According to the National Cancer Institute, several studies have suggested that because underarm products are applied near breast tissue, there may be a possible connection. Aluminum acts as a “plug” to your sweat duct (think that gloriously terrible Flex Tape infomercial; same concept), and it has been suggested that our skin can absorb this and have hormonal effects.

I’ll be honest and tell you there’s no 100% proof that these deodorants have been linked to breast cancer. The NIH states there needs to be more research done. But I don’t take that as a free pass to use whatever the hell kind of deodorant I want. Being the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, I’d rather be safe than sorry. So, what have I tried?

"Several studies have suggested that because underarm products are applied near breast tissue, there may be a possible connection. Aluminum acts as a “plug” to your sweat duct, and it has been suggested that our skin can absorb this and have hormonal effects."

1. LaVanila “The Healthy Deodorant”

The term “vanilla” should be taken lightly when it comes to this scent, it’s more like vanilla with notes of medicine and Quaker Oats. Though they claim on their website it’s made with “breakthrough natural technology with pure essential oils and antioxidants”, if you plan on sweating for more than 60 seconds in a day, you’re sh** out of luck. Break out your boogie boards, folks, because sweat combined with the oiliness of the product will lead to the high tide Pacific Ocean under your arms. But the scent will mask any sweat for around an hour, so if you’re down with excessively running to the bathroom to reapply, this could work.

2. Tom’s of Maine Natural Deodorant Stick (Unscented)

I’ll give it to you Tom, you got me with your promising-looking label that reads “LONG-LASTING” in big capital letters. But why must you fib? Aside from the brand being very ethical (they don’t test on animals and are 100% vegan), this stuff just isn’t worth it. Again, if you plan on sweating, at all, you’re doomed. It concerns me that they claim the product is “clinically proven 24-hour odor protection”. What in God’s name, may I ask, did they clinically test this on to be able to make that claim?

3. Schmidt’s Lavender + Sage Deodorant

The old saying goes, “same sh**, different day.” This time, though, with an added lavender and sage scent. Nice, right? Who doesn’t love herbal-infused sweat?

4. Arm and Hammer Essentials Natural Deodorant (Unscented)

It’s Arm and Hammer, so you guessed it, the active ingredient in this is baking soda, a natural odor eliminator (trust me, it really is, we own their cat litter). It sort of smells like those candles you put out on your deck to make mosquitoes go away, but other than that, it’s pretty inoffensive. Truly, this is the best deodorant I’ve tried that does not contain aluminum. Baking soda really does the trick when it comes to controlling sweat. Is it perfect? Of course not, or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Nevertheless, it’s $2.62 on Amazon


At the end of the day, I realize many of these deodorants actually work for people. Maybe I’m an exceptionally sweaty person, but I can’t be the only one. While I’m dumbfounded that it’s 2017 and we still don’t have a “bomb” natural deodorant, I do have hope for the future. For now, I can just promise you I will never stop looking and will continue my quest for the best pit solution.