Do Natural Deodorants Really Work?

A woman spraying deodorant

Katleho Seisa / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Antiperspirants mostly use aluminum-based salts to block the sweat glands from releasing sweat, while deodorants use ingredients that help neutralize odor.
  • Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to prove that aluminum can cause Alzheimer’s disease or breast cancer.
  • Deodorants don't have aluminum, but experts say it's still a good idea to opt for natural options because deodorants often contain additives like artificial fragrances or parabens.

Many deodorants on the market are now advertised as “natural” and “aluminum-free” because of consumer fears about the health risks associated with aluminum.

But there are a lot of details to unpack. Aluminum is only used in antiperspirants, but not in deodorants. And there’s been no evidence to prove that it causes Alzheimer’s disease or breast cancer, the two main concerns about aluminum.

Antiperspirants mostly use aluminum-based salts to temporarily block the opening of the sweat glands from releasing sweat, and they usually also include ingredients that help reduce odor, according to Kristina Collins, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Austin, TX.

Deodorants, on the other hand, use ingredients that help neutralize the odor that occurs as bacteria metabolize sweat. Some people prefer using “natural deodorants” to minimize the risk of coming in contact with harmful ingredients, but do these products work?

“Natural deodorant reduces the scent of the sweat, but does not reduce the amount of sweat the body produces,” Collins told Verywell. “So if your main concern is the appearance of sweat in the armpit area of your shirt, deodorant will be completely ineffective in reducing the dreaded armpit sweat marks.”

Does Aluminum in Antiperspirants Really Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?

The theory about aluminum in antiperspirants causing Alzheimer’s disease came about in the ’60s and ’70s, when researchers found increased levels of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, according to Mark Mapstone, PhD, the vice chair for research in neurology at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.

“Because aluminum is toxic to brain cells, scientists speculated that the aluminum present in the brains of these people was acquired from the environment and may be responsible for the death of brain cells,” Mapstone told Verywell.

While research has found that exposure to aluminum is associated with neurological symptoms, Mapstone said these studies exposed their subjects to much higher concentrations of the metal than what is found in antiperspirants.

And, according to Collins, there have been no substantiated or randomized studies demonstrating that antiperspirant use specifically causes Alzheimer’s disease.

“There is a small amount of absorption of aluminum into the skin and circulation when applied to the skin as an antiperspirant,” Collins said. “However, because of the limited body surface for topical application of these products, that absorption is incredibly small—much smaller, in fact, than the absorption of aluminum in food products.”

Do Aluminum-Based Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer?

Some studies early in this century suggested that an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis was associated with frequent use of aluminum-based antiperspirants or deodorants, but other studies found no such association. A 2016 study found an apparent association, but only among women who had used antiperspirants or deodorants several times daily before the age of 30. It didn’t provide clear evidence of causation.

No studies have successfully found a link between an increased risk of breast cancer and antiperspirant use, according to Jennifer Hartman, NP, a nurse practitioner specializing in surgical breast oncology.

“It is often mistakenly associated with breast cancer especially because the location of use is close to the location of most breast cancers—upper outer quadrant of the breasts—but products applied anywhere on the body or ingested could impact breast tissue regardless of location,” she said. 

Should You Use Natural Deodorants? How Do You Pick the Right One?

While the evidence about the health risks associated with antiperspirants and deodorants is lacking, Collins said there’s still good reason to opt for the more natural option.

Many antiperspirants and some deodorants contain additives like artificial fragrances or parabens that can cause irritation or skin concerns, such as contact dermatitis, she said. Aerosolized spray antiperspirants also sometimes contain a harmful chemical called benzene.

“If a person doesn’t sweat very much and they just want to control their body odor, a natural deodorant would be a great choice,” Collins said.

The most effective ingredients to look for when selecting a natural deodorant, according to Collins, are ones that help to reduce bacteria on the skin in the armpit.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid or mandelic acid, can be used to reduce the dead skin cells in the armpit that bacteria feed off of and encourage healthy cell turnover, Collins said. Tea tree oil is another useful ingredient thanks to its natural antibacterial capabilities, and some deodorants also include probiotics to help boost “good” bacteria and encourage a healthy microbiome balance.

Does Coconut Oil Work as a Natural Deodorant?

Coconut oil is another popular choice for those committed to using natural products on their pits, especially on TikTok. Collins said coconut oil contains natural antibacterial properties and is a common ingredient in a variety of natural deodorants, but it’s unlikely to work as effectively on its own. It would also likely rub off faster or absorb faster than an actual deodorant.

“It wouldn’t hurt you, but I think this TikTok trend is probably going to leave a lot of people with some stinky armpits,” Collins said.

And no matter what ingredients your deodorant includes, it won’t work for an indefinite amount of time.

“As the sweat continues to build up, the product is washed away and odor resumes,” Collins said. “The solution for those who are really committed to use of natural deodorants may be to use antibacterial soap in the armpit area and to reapply deodorant twice a day."

What This Means For You

When you're choosing a natural deodorant, look for one that contains AHAs—such as glycolic acid or mandelic acid—tea tree oil, and/or probiotics for best results. And if you tend to sweat a lot, it’s a good idea to use antibacterial soap in the armpit area and reapply deodorant twice a day.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lukiw WJ, Kruck TPA, Percy ME, et al. Aluminum in neurological disease - a 36 year multicenter study. J Alzheimers Dis Parkinsonism. 2019;8(6):457. doi:10.4172/2161-0460.1000457

  2. Linhart C, Talasz H, Morandi EM, et al. Use of underarm cosmetic products in relation to risk of breast cancer: a case-control study. EBioMedicine. 2017;21:79-85. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2017.06.005

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.