Green Living: How to sniff out safer deodorants

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      Take a look at the ingredient list printed on your deodorant or antiperspirant, and you’re likely faced with a catalogue of unpronounceable names that sound ripped from an upper-level chemistry course. Sure, substances like siloxanes, fragrance, and polyethylene glycols may be keeping your pits fresh, but they could have adverse effects on your health, too.

      “There are a bunch of things that you can find in store-bought deodorants that are just really nasty for you,” says Kristen Brown, founder of Vancouver-based natural deodorant line Hippy Pits.

      A former biologist at the Vancouver Aquarium, Brown now runs Hippy Pits from her West End home. There, she handcrafts a range of organic stench-fighters that forgo the use of potentially harmful elements like aluminum, phthalates, formaldehyde, propylene glycol, and parabens. And while the common claim that antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer remains inconclusive, it’s still worth protecting your body from these toxic substances.

      The Portland-based Schmidt's formulates its deodorants with candelilla wax for non-greasy application.
      Schmidt's Deodorant

      Aluminum-based compounds may irritate the skin, while phthalates and parabens have been shown to disrupt the functioning of hormones. Formaldehyde, meanwhile, has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a human carcinogen, and propylene glycol—also known as antifreeze—allows hazardous chemicals to more easily penetrate the body.

      In addition, Brown identifies triclosan—a suspected endocrine disrupter that poses a threat to marine algae—as a top component to avoid. “When you have something that’s really affecting the bottom of the food chain, there’s possible destruction of the balance of the entire ecosystem,” she explains.

      Instead, look for deodorants that use ingredients derived from Mother Nature. Shea butter, coconut oil, moisture-wicking arrowroot powder, and essential oils are all commonly found in organic pit sticks, which absorb or mask B.O. rather than eliminating sweating—“something you’re supposed to do”, stresses Brown—altogether.

      Dom’s Deodorant from Salt Spring Island, for example, uses finely ground baking soda in its products ($16 at Home on the Range Organics [235 East Broadway]) to prevent the growth of odour-causing bacteria, and the Portland-based Schmidt’s formulates its deodorants ($9.99 at Welk’s General Store [3511 Main Street]) with candelilla wax for a nongreasy application.

      Founder Kristen Brown handcrafts Hippy Pits' all-natural deodorants from her West End home.
      Hippy Pits

      Here in Vancouver, Lush makes a selection of solid and powder deodorants (from $7.95 for 80 grams at Lush [various locations]) using natural ingredients like tea tree oil, chamomile vinegar, and patchouli oil, while Brown reveals that bacteria-killing grapeseed fruit oil, diatomaceous earth, and B.C.–sourced marine glacial clay are behind Hippy Pits’ highly successful line (from $12.99 at the Hippy Pits website).

      “What we want to do is spread the message of knowing what you’re putting on your body and where it’s coming from, and having it be natural and safe and okay for the environment,” she says.

      Like many of the aforementioned brands, Hippy Pits produces stench-busting pastes that are vegan and gluten-, GMO-, and cruelty-free. Because everyone’s biochemistry is different, however, Brown encourages both men and women to shop around until they find something that works for them—and first and foremost, to always read the ingredients.

      “It’s not something that everyone does, but it’s really important,” she says.

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.