Sweat the Small Stuff
Our "underarms are akin to lush rain forests brimming with diversity..."i
Science has recently elevated the modest underarm to a unique and vital body micro-climate. Its dark, warm dampness is the ideal environment for thousands of unique dermal bacteria, many of which are important for our health and immunity. Sweat is the body's precious and cooling dew of fun play, heart- pumping movement and steamy soaks in the sauna. Some of the bacteria that thrive in the underarm feast on sweat, and one of the by-products of this banquet is scent or odor.
The Aphrodisiac in Your Armpit
Our sweat-scent is as original as our fingerprint, revealing our gender, fertility, health and diet and diffusing our personal pheromone calling-card. In the 16th century, long before the Age of Deodorant, people were intoxicated by the scent of a loved one moist with fresh sweat. Victorian women would hold peeled apples in their armpits until saturated with sweat, and then wrap ribbons around the apples and present them to their sweethearts to savor. Young gentlemen also learned to use their scent to attract young ladies by tucking kerchiefs in their armpits and waving these cloth scent-holders in the air near the ladies, releasing their pheromones to excite female interest.
While Napoleon Bonaparte begged his beloved Josephine not to bathe for three days so he could revel in her natural aroma, the lovers' noses of today are led astray by "aromatic paranoia,"ii conditioned by the cosmetics industry to prefer a sterilized and artificial scent over a natural scent.
Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived... Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away. ~ Helen Keller
The Small Stuff
The armpit is an organ, cradling life-essential lymph nodes and glands. Unbefitting for an organ, the ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants are largely formulated for corporate profit over consumer health. In an article entitled, "Underarm cosmetics and breast cancer," The Journal of Applied Toxicology reported that there are "...unexplained clinical observations showing a
disproportionately high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, just the local area to which these cosmetics [deodorants/antiperspirants] are applied."iii
Before we spray, roll and rub lotions and potions under our arms, perhaps we should sweat the small stuff by first considering the chemical substances that comprise antiperspirant deodorants.
Here is the ingredient list of a well-known deodorant-antiperspirant:iv
Cyclomethicone and dimethicone: Silicone oil. While the molecules are too big to absorb into the skin, silicone oil's "staying power" holds undesirable chemicals next to the skin longer.
Aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY: Plugs the pores preventing sweat from escaping. Aluminum has been associated with disease and cancer for many years. A study conducted by Penn State University on dermal absorption of aluminum concluded that 0.12% (4 micrograms) of aluminum applied to the armpit is absorbed into the body.v Aluminum is a metalloestrogen, a substance that mimics estrogen and is linked to increased breast cancer risk. Dr. Chris Exley, of Keele University in the United Kingdom, has charted a correlation between the occurrence and location of breast cancer tumors with the rise of aluminum- based antiperspirants.vi Women who shave under their arms may absorb more of the metal through micro-abrasions in the skin. Aluminum accumulates in body tissue over time, so if you multiply 4 micrograms of daily deodorant application by a lifetime of use, you have a serious toxic exposure.
Dr. Exley advises people to avoid aluminum in food and cosmetics, and to drink silica-rich water to leach aluminum that has accumulated in the body.
Stearyl alcohol: Emulsifier. It is a non-irritating, fatty alcohol derived from animal or vegetable fats.
C12-15 alkyl benzoate: This is a paraben, a hormone disrupter. A 2004 study found paraben in over 90% of human breast cancer tumors.
PPG-14 butyl ether (polypropylene glycol): Penetration enhancer. PPG is the polymer of propylene glycol – essentially, it is bonded chains of propylene glycol. Propylene is produced from fossil fuels during the oil refining process. It can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. PPG is yet to be concluded as safe by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel.
Hydrogenated castor oil: A hard wax made from the castor plant seeds. It is heat and water resistant. Castor oil has a long tradition as a home-remedy. Issues arise from how the plant is grown and how the seeds are handled. Today, it is planted in depleted soil, covered with pesticides, extracted by a chemical solvent, bleached and then heavily processed stripping the beneficial elements from the oil. Then the oil is hydrogenated, and this process may introduce even more impurities. Hydrogenation involves a chemical reaction between hydrogen and the oil with the help of a chemical catalyst, overall modifying the castor oil's molecular structure.
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) and Steareth 100: Both are processed with ethylene oxide derived from petroleum. One of the byproducts of ethoxylation is 1.4 dioxane, a known carcinogen, which remains in the PEG and Steareth 100 unless it is intentionally removed. Though inexpensive to remove, most companies avoid that step. 1.4 dioxane is considered a secondary-ingredient and will be absent from ingredient lists.
Helianthus annuus seed oil: Sunflower oil. It is used for its smoothing properties. The oil is heavily refined for cosmetic use; it is solvent-extracted with hexane, degummed, neutralized and bleached. The resulting oil is tainted by a variety of chemical toxins in the refining process, and the color and scent resembles very little the freshly expelled sunflower oil.
BHT: A preservative. A hotly contested food and cosmetic additive, the metabolites of BHT are suspected to cause tumors and malignancies. Multiple studies have concluded that BHT accumulates in the tissue, may cause liver enlargement and damage cell development. Since the 1970's, there have been reports of BHT causing hyperactivity in children.
Citric acid: A preservative that also balances the pH in cosmetic products.
Benzyl benzoate: Preservative and fixative. Like many ingredients, benzyl benzoate was initially derived naturally and used as a whole-source from cinnamon essential oil. Those days are past. It is now made in a laboratory and associated with itchy skin, blistering and nervous system problems.
Benzyl alcohol: Acts as an antibacterial and antifungal agent. Alcohols are very drying and irritating solvents made from propylene, a petroleum derivative. They strip the skin's natural acid mantle which dehydrates the cells and makes the body more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses.
Moreover, the people responsible for harvesting the castor seed are exposed to a serious health risk; castor contains highly toxic ricin that can cause permanent nerve damage.
Frequently, PEG is added to hydrogenated castor oil, and is listed as PEG#
Hydrogenated Castor Oil. PEG introduces a whole new set of concerns...
Some studies have linked PEG to leukemia as well as uterine, breast and brain cancers.
• These are all fake fragrances in the antiperspirant: Alpha isomethyl ionone, Benzyl salicylate, Butylphenyl methylpropional, Citronellol, Geraniol, Hexyl cinnamal, Hydroxycitronellal, Isoeugenol, Limonene and Linalool.
Touted as a safe alternative to antiperspirants, crystal deodorant stones have gained popularity over the last few years and are readily available in health food stores. Unbeknownst to consumers, these crystal deodorants are made from alum, and the alum most widely used in the cosmetics industry is potassium aluminum sulfate. Aluminum, again!
Embrace the Sweetness of Your Sweat
Sweat is a vital bodily process, and the quality of the odor of our sweat may be an indicator of health. The kidneys, liver and gut are designed to eliminate toxins and waste products from the body. Sluggish digestion, improper hydration as well as impaired kidney or liver function causes a back-up of waste in the body that is then released in the sweat, giving it an unpleasant odor. A great first step to sweet smelling sweat is to keep the digestive system cleared out by eating a colorful, organic whole-foods diet including probiotics and fermented food.
Also, unbalanced hormones stemming from issues with the adrenal gland may increase sweat and body odor. By passing on birth control pills and limiting exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, like fluoride, the adrenal gland will be free to regulate the natural flow of hormones.
Instead of masking odor or plugging up sweat glands, we can rely on nature's beautiful plant botanicals to charm, not harm, the underarm. Essential oils harmonize with our bodies, our sweat, and our natural skin bacteria. Sandalwood essential oil, distilled from the inner bark of the sandalwood tree, is especially beautiful; it has an affinity for the armpit because it contains phyto-androgen, a substance similar to the androgen exuded by our armpits. Its warm scent smells beautiful on people, and it is the inspiration for Poetic Pits, our underarm libation that turns your sweat into sensual aroma.
Baking soda, a staple in every kitchen pantry, is also a wonderful body freshener. Dust a clean armpit with baking soda, or tune in to your inner mixologist, and make your own sweat-sweetening balm.
According to the FDA, synthetic fragrances may cause headaches, dizziness, allergic rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing, vomiting and skin irritation. Clinical observation shows fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity and irritability. Some of these chemicals are used in pesticides. Others are proven estrogenic and potential carcinogens, especially for the breast.
Combine in a lidded glass jar:
2 ounces baking soda
1 ounce melted virgin coconut oil
25 drops of one, or a combination of these essential oils: sandalwood, frankincense, lavender, palo santo, cape chamomile, rosemary, cardamom, or white fir
• Shake and pop in the fridge to solidify and store at room temperature.
Another option: simply use a drop of pure undiluted sandalwood for each armpit.
An even more simple solution, especially appealing for sun-lovers, is to give your pits a daily sunbath. The golden rays of the sun are effective anti-bacterial agents, cleaning the armpits while also raising your daily vitamin D intake.
We can liberate our sweat from the "small stuff" and free our noses to enjoy exquisitely natural scents. In doing so, we keep ourselves and our loved ones in harmony and health.
Nadine Artemis is author of Renegade Beauty: Reveal and Revive Your Natural Radiance and Holistic Dental Care: The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums, a frequent commentator on health and beauty for media outlets, and her products have received rave reviews in the New York Times, the National Post, and the Hollywood Reporter. Described by Alanis Morissette as “a true-sense visionary,” Nadine has formulated a stunning collection of rare and special botanical compounds. Her healing creations, along with her concept of Renegade Beauty, encourage effortlessness and inspire people to rethink conventional notions of beauty and wellness.
i Handwerk, Brian. "Armpits Are "Rain Forests" for Bacteria, Skin Map Shows."National Geographic News. May 28, 2009. news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/05/090528-armpits-bacteria-rainforests.html
ii Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of the Senses. Random House. 1990. pg. 24
iii Darbre, PD. Journal of Applied Toxicology. 2003 Mar-Apr; 23(2):89-95.
v Flarend R, Bin T, Elmore D, Hem SL. Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Pennsylvania State University Altoona. "A preliminary study of the dermal absorption of aluminium from antiperspirants using aluminium-26." Food Chemistry Toxicology. 2001 Feb; 39 (2):163-8.