Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” deodorant, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.
Deodorant is (hopefully) something that we’re using daily in order to protect the olfactory well-being of those around us. Given that this is a $5.17 billion market, it seems like we’re all doing our part to combat B.O., but is using deodorant creating other perils that our bodies and environment will have to overcome?
WHAT TO BE WISE ON
Whether you’re an ultra-marathoner, a workaholic, or you’re just binging a particularly suspenseful Netflix show, deodorant can make life a little more manageable. Recently, “natural” deodorant has been gaining momentum, but that doesn’t mean it’s more “sustainable”. Before you buy deodorant, you should carefully consider how the ingredients will impact your body and the environment, which packaging type can reduce waste, and whether or not the product is tested on animals (protect our furry friends!).
THE FACTORS TO CONSIDER
Aluminum is found in antiperspirants to reduce wetness by blocking our underarm sweat ducts and to minimize body odor by inhibiting the bacteria that feed on sweat. But, aluminum has gotten a bad rap because it has *supposedly* been linked to Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. Turns out, the connection to Alzheimer’s has been discredited since the 1990s and experts (like the American Cancer Society) cite that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest a link between breast cancer and aluminum in antiperspirants. The sheer proximity from underarms to breasts doesn’t mean our Spring Rain scent is causing serious cancer risk.
If you still want to know if there’s aluminum in your deodorant, the active ingredient could be listed as aluminum chlorohydrate or aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly. That said, there’s no regulatory definition for “natural,” so just because a deodorant is made without aluminum doesn’t mean it’s made of ingredients that are more safe for people or the planet. Many crystal deodorants, which have been touted as “natural”, use alum crystals, which still contain aluminum.
Parabens are cheap preservatives that are used to prevent the growth of mold and harmful bacteria. They have been associated with endocrine disruption in humans, and certain kinds can kill coral, even at low levels of exposure. After a 2004 study concluded that the presence of parabens may spur the growth of breast cancer cells, public backlash led some cosmetic companies to start removing parabens from their products. However, additional studies of the effect of parabens on our health have proved inconclusive, and the FDA currently approves the use of parabens in cosmetic products. Still, we recommend avoiding them (and luckily many great deodorants are paraben-free).
The most elusive ingredient of all might be fragrances, and that’s because fragrances are protected from disclosure. While “fragrance” might appear to be one ingredient on the label, that word could potentially comprise hundreds of chemical compounds just for one scent! While fragrance should help us smell better, it can also come with a host of unwelcome consequences. In particular, phthalates, which enable fragrances to become soluble, are known endocrine disruptors in both humans and aquatic life. They can even lower the production of testosterone. Studies have found that prenatal exposure to phthalates can decrease mental and motor development in children. Yikes. Always double-check the label to make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re putting on your body.
What about non-synthetic fragrances? Essential oils, botanicals, and plant extracts – while naturally occurring – can still cause skin irritation. Enter: contact dermatitis. Fragrances like linalool and limonene, fragrances extracted from citrus fruit peels, can cause allergic reactions in the armpits because the delicate skin is so sensitive. However, if your skin can handle these non-synthetic fragrances, go for it.
Magnesium hydroxide is an inorganic compound, commonly found in antacids like Milk of Magnesia (which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever had tummy troubles). Magnesium hydroxide is also commonly used as a deodorant. Remember, deodorant is not synonymous with antiperspirant. However, this compound has antibacterial qualities and can inhibit perspiration odor in humans. Magnesium hydroxide is an alternative to aluminum salts as a deodorant, but it won’t stop you from sweating in the same way. According to the EPA Safer Choice list, magnesium hydroxide is verified to be of low concern to human and environmental health based on experimental and modeled data. As far as ingredients go, Finch gives this one a thumbs up.
When we’re in a bind or overwhelmed by greenwashy-messaging, certifications can help us make choices that keep the environment and social good in mind. Here are some certifications to look out for on deodorant.
Leaping Bunny is an internationally recognized symbol that guarantees no new animal tests were conducted on any of the ingredients in a product. It’s the most stringent animal rights standard, so prioritize this one if you want to alleviate your animal welfare concerns.
PETA Cruelty-Free Certified
PETA’s Cruelty-Free offers a searchable database of companies and denotes whether they conduct, commission, or test their products on animals. It’s a great tool to use when vetting face washes and other personal care products.
Much of today’s deodorant comes in plastic packaging, and unfortunately, they’re usually made with several types of plastic. This makes it difficult to recycle the entire unit through curbside pick-up programs in one piece. Luckily, Tom’s of Maine teamed up with Terracycle to create a deodorant recycling program that allows people to send in any brand’s used product via mail or drop-off – check the website for any nearby locations.
Plastic is made of carbon atoms provided by petroleum and other fossil fuels, which we extract from the earth’s crust by drilling and fracking. Drilling and fracking have a host of negative environmental consequences that can devastate already fragile wildlife populations. Because plastic is such a strong material, products made from plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade or decompose. The only sprinkle of sugar is that plastic provides a lighter-weight, durable option that can lessen emissions associated with transportation and distribution. But when plastic is only used once, those potential savings still leave us with a pretty bitter taste.
Other deodorants come as spray in aerosol cans, which are usually made from aluminum or steel. Producing just 1 kilogram of either material can emit the equivalent of driving 30 miles in your car. Plus, to get their misting effect, aerosol cans require hydrocarbons or compressed gases that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are prevalent in asthma-inducing smog. While some recycling programs accept empty aerosol cans (that also have their plastic caps removed!), many still don’t due to the dangers of pressurized cans exploding in the sorting facility. Sadly, this means that plenty end up in landfills, where aluminum and steel can take centuries to decompose. Again, Terracycle has a fix for this! Their Loop line of reusable packaging creates deodorant containers that can be less impactful than single-use. If you desire spray-on deodorant, this could be a better alternative.
A FEW TAKEAWAYS
The good news is that there are ways to crush FOBO (fear of body odor) while reducing unnecessary harm to human and environmental health. The overwhelming medical opinion is that aluminum doesn’t come with significant health concerns, but if it’s used in your packaging, make sure it can be reused or recycled to help offset its production emissions. While nearly all of our recommended options are packaged in recyclable containers, we still think deodorants in reusable or plastic-free packaging are the best options. Avoid fragrances and parabens, and look out for certifications to ensure no animals were harmed in the making of the product.
COMMON QUESTIONS WE GET
“What kind of deodorant is the most sustainable?”
While there’s really no such thing as “sustainable” deodorant because using it will always come with resource tolls and associated waste, we came up with this list of more sustainable deodorants based on what they’re made of.
“Which deodorant is zero-waste?”
When it comes to deodorant, there really is no true “zero-waste” product, since all options come in some form of packaging. However, choosing a deodorant with refillable packaging can significantly cut down on waste, especially if you’re committed to using that packaging for a lifetime. There are some subscription brands that allow you to choose a reusable case and they’ll send you refills each month. Some mainstay brands have similar reusable options without the ability to subscribe for refills. In either case, you should still consider the ingredients to reduce the overall impact of the product on environmental and human health.
“What is considered a natural deodorant?”
If you were to check out our handy-dandy glossary, you’d see that based on Finch’s definition, “natural” isn’t useful in choosing personal care products. And, if we’re defining natural as not made or caused by people, then natural products just don’t exist – you likely won’t just stumble across a stick of deodorant in the wild. Individual ingredients or materials might be natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily better. If you’re on the hunt for products that are “natural”, we encourage you to ask yourself what you’re really looking for. Are you interested in purchasing a product that is minimally processed or includes the least amount of artificial ingredients possible? Are you interested in purchasing a product with a lower carbon footprint? Once you find out what matters most to you, use this guide to help you make the right decision.