Although a normal part of life, menopause can be challenging for any woman. The hormone shifts during this time can cause hot flashes, night sweats, and other discomforting symptoms, which can contribute to secondary issues such as a more pungent BO. While antiperspirants and deodorants may seem like the natural go-to solution, recent studies have questioned their safety after finding carcinogenic benzene in over 50% of the tested products. Even more concerning is that the symptoms of certain benzene-related cancers strongly resemble those commonly encountered during menopause.
Benzene’s Carcinogenic Potential
The independent pharmacy Valisure presented the results of its research in November 2021, noting that 59 of the 108 batches of deodorants and antiperspirants it analyzed contained benzene to differing degrees. Even though benzene isn’t an ingredient and contamination is attributed to petroleum-based propellants used in aerosol sprays, the substance’s presence in personal hygiene products is a serious health hazard.
The FDA lists benzene as a “class 1 carcinogen” with no safe level of exposure, which has been clinically linked to cancers like acute myeloid leukemia (AML for short). To put it into perspective, the FDA allows small amounts of benzene of just 2 parts per million (ppm) in a narrow range of drugs for therapeutic advancement, and the safety limit for people working with the substance ranges between 0.1 and 1 ppm – in contrast, the highest level detected by Valisure measured 17.7 ppm or almost 9 times what the FDA tolerates.
Middle-aged women may find other risks associated with benzene-contaminated deodorants, given the toxin’s link to AML. The condition is far more common in people over 40 and is accompanied by symptoms also reported by menopausal women, including fatigue, hot flashes, and night sweats. In the bleakest scenario, symptom misinterpretation could inadvertently mask a cancer diagnosis, but even secondary effects like stronger body odors caused by profuse perspiration could make it more likely that women give into chemical deodorants whose contents may include toxic contaminants.
Selecting Safer Substitutes
The presence of benzene in personal-care products, which are sometimes used multiple times a day to stay dry and fresh, is only the latest in a long line of questionable chemicals commonly found in deodorant formulations, with other problematic substances including aluminum, phthalates, parabens, artificial fragrances, and propylene glycol.
Unsurprisingly, consumers have been increasingly searching for safer options that won’t jeopardize their health or require future visits to diagnosticians. Fortunately, individuals transitioning to non-toxic alternatives have several options and approaches at their disposal.
Patience Pays Off
Whether using unfamiliar products or going cold turkey, it could take some time before the body adjusts to the new alternative. Odors could seem stronger during this period, but the issue will subside within weeks as the body gradually adapts.
Reading labels is fundamental, but even the savviest consumer could be thrown off by the unconventional ingredient names that manufacturers sometimes use. Moreover, substance percentages aren’t always clearly indicated, and unintentional contaminants obviously wouldn’t be listed.
Several household staples can offer an affordable degree of protection against foul smells and sweating. Baking soda and cornstarch have long been used to ward off bad BO and keep the armpits dry, while lemon juice can actively fend off problematic underarm bacteria. Still, baking soda’s higher alkalinity and the citric acid in lemon juice can be irritating for more delicate skin.
Crystal deodorants are based on a type of mineral salt called potassium alum, known for centuries for its unique antiseptic and antibacterial properties. As opposed to regular deodorants that use artificial fragrances to mask unpleasant smells, potassium alum (most commonly used in the form of alum stone) prevents odor-causing bacteria from reproducing and thriving.
Choosing Ethical Deo Brands
Ethically responsible manufacturers aware of the health risks that chemical deodorants pose offer a wide selection of natural alternatives that use safe and nourishing ingredients like Shea butter, coconut oil, arrowroot powder, activated charcoal, beeswax, herb, plant, and fruit extracts, and various essential oils. Individuals can request all-natural deodorants through the Benzene Deodorant Replacement Initiative which seeks to replace benzene-contaminated deodorants with carcinogen-free substitutes.
Jonathan Sharp is the CFO of Environmental Litigation Group P.C, in Birmingham, Alabama, a law firm specializing in toxic exposure
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