Cosmetics – Digging deeper: Natural & Conventional Deodorant

In our last post, we explored natural products. In this post, we check out deodorant, a product that now comes in natural and conventional variations. 

What is the difference between a natural and conventional product?  

Typically, the term “natural” implies manufacturers do not use synthetically derived chemical ingredients when creating their products. Instead, scientists design the formula using naturally occurring chemical ingredients. 
 
Regardless of the ingredient source, manufacturers formulate cosmetics using chemical ingredients. It’s important to remember that chemicals make up everything.go.msu.edu/cris-connect

What is deodorant? 

Strictly speaking, deodorant is a product that helps mask body odor caused by healthy bacteria naturally found on our bodies breaking down perspiration. 
 
However, most products marketed as deodorants also contain antiperspirant ingredients.  

Is deodorant different than antiperspirant?  

Yes, antiperspirants work to prevent or block perspiration. Deodorants mask or prevent smells caused by the bacteria breaking down sweat.  

Are deodorants and antiperspirants regulated? 

Yes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates deodorants as a cosmetic product because they do not impact any bodily function. 
 
Any product containing antiperspirant is regulated as an over-the-counter drug, meaning they're governed by the same FDA rules and regulations applicable to any over-the-counter pharmaceutical medication (1,2).  

What is the difference between natural and conventional deodorants? 

Conventional deodorant brands are typically deodorant and antiperspirant combination products; meaning, they contain an active ingredient that helps prevent people from sweating, as well as a deodorant to help mask any unwanted smells. 
 
Natural deodorants typically do not contain an antiperspirant component, meaning they do not prevent perspiration; instead, they help mask body odors. 

What is the active ingredient found in most conventional deodorants and antiperspirants?  

Ingredients from the aluminum family such as aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum zirconium, aluminum dichlorohydrex, and more work as antiperspirants by blocking sweat-producing pores and preventing perspiration.  

Are the active ingredients found in most conventional deodorants and antiperspirants safe?   

If used as recommended and at standard dosages, deodorants and antiperspirants are safe to use (1,2). 

Is the active ingredient in conventional antiperspirants synthetic?    

Aluminum ingredients are metals and salts found naturally and abundantly in soil. While aluminum is not synthetic, it may be combined with other synthetic and processed ingredients to form the compound used to prevent perspiration.

What kinds of natural deodorants are available? 

There are many types of natural deodorants on the market that use different ingredients to prevent body odor. These include prebiotic deodorant, probiotic deodorant, crystal deodorant, and standard natural deodorants.

How do prebiotic and probiotic deodorants work? 

We know that bacteria breaking down perspiration causes body odor. In theory, prebiotic deodorants contain ingredients that feed bacteria that break down sweat without causing foul smells. In theory, the wanted bacteria will eventually outnumber the unwanted bacteria, and odors will be reduced or eliminated. 
 
Probiotic deodorants contain the wanted active bacteria, and these active bacteria are applied to the area to encourage wanted bacterial growth. Again, the goal is to outnumber unwanted bacteria.

How does crystal deodorant work? 

Crystal deodorants are made up of a mineral salt called potassium alum. Alum is an aluminum salt. There is limited evidence to support that alum can inhibit the bacterial growth that can cause foul odors (1,2). However, alum doesn’t prevent perspiration. 
 
It is also a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) ingredient by the FDA.

How do natural deodorants work? 

Many natural deodorants contain GRAS ingredients that help absorb moisture (e.g., corn starch), prevent unwanted bacterial growth (alum), or provide fragrance (e.g., tea tree oillavender oil).  
 
In theory, they work together to help prevent unwanted odors.

Do natural deodorants work as well as conventional deodorants, and are they safe? 

Natural deodorants only contain GRAS ingredients unless otherwise noted on the packaging.
 
While there is anecdotal evidence that suggests that some natural deodorants may work, we could not find any reliable reports evaluating the effectiveness of natural deodorants.

The good news. 

We continue to learn more about ingredient safety, and manufacturers and researchers continue to develop new products with consumer needs and desires in mind.

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