Bare arms are welcome in summer's heat but the odor that can waft from beneath them, be it au so naturel, is generally not. Witness the $2.3 billion Americans spent on underarm antiperspirants and deodorants in 2006. But we needn't nuke absorptive underarm skin with products containing suspect ingredients. First, our perspiration is naturally odor-free. The bacteria that collect on skin (and feed on, ick, our secretions) are the smellers. Regular washing with regular soap, which gives pathogens the slip, blotting wetness or dabbing on a little non-talc powder (see DIY, below) should help keep things pretty fresh.
Sometimes, of course, one simply feels more secure with a little preventive coating, and here's where the ingredient watch comes in. Because the underarm is close to the breast, the estrogen-like behavior of some conventional ingredients has given rise to concern. Foremost among these dastardly and unnecessary chemicals are preservatives known as parabens (prefaced by methyl-, propyl-, ethyl- and butyl-). Parabens have been found in human breast cancer tumors, and have also provoked the growth of human breast-cancer cells in lab tests. Next are aluminum-based compounds, the active ingredients in antiperspirants, which temporarily block wetness by, wouldn't you know it, clogging sweat ducts (think, thousands of microscopic nanofingers stuck in dikes). We must stress that no studies link deodorants or antiperspirants to higher risk of breast cancer. But The National Cancer Institute's comments on these ingredients give us pause.
Following are third-party-certified organic or natural deodorants that are better for the environment and by definition free of parabens, aluminum compounds, and other suspect synthetic petrochemicals such as propylene glycol (PEG), quaternium 15 (skin irritant and allergen) and "fragrance," which often includes toxic phthalate plasticizers.
Can't find a green product in a pinch? Occasional use of a conventional one won't kill you, obviously. But do read labels and choose products without the baddies in the short list above.
Or try this quick D.I.Y: Mix a little baking soda (natural deodorizer, it works for your fridge, so why not you?) and some cornstarch (to absorb moisture) and pat it on. Having done your bit, forget about it, because anxiety makes one perspire.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008. The story was moved to MNN.com.