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SPOTLESS MAMA: Deodorant dangers

by Anne on July 11th, 2011

Did you know that the dangers inherent in using most deodorants and antiperspirants, are particularly pertinent for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers? One of the potential hazards of deo I’ve written about, is parabens. But, sadly, parabens are just one of the nasty ingredients that these products typically contain. Almost every deodorant on the supermarket shelves – as well as many in health shops – contain one or more aluminium compounds, and / or triclosan, synthetic fragrances and stabilisers. Those advertised as healthier often contain the same dangerous chemicals in smaller quantities, or replace them with other hazardous additives. My experience of truly harmless alternatives has been that these can often be expensive and pretty ineffective.

Fortunately, the spotless alternative is neither. I’ve seen this same recipe (with minor differences) published in several places now. That’s because it works. It’s gentle, silky, easy to apply, and highly effective. I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already.

So what exactly are the dangers of using deodorants (and other personal care products)? For pregnant women and mothers of young babies, there are two main areas of concern:

  • passing the toxins in them to your baby, and
  • the way that they interfere with attachment.

Toxins in breast milk and the womb

Some of the most dangerous chemicals are those known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These resist environmental degradation, and instead accumulate in the environment. They tend to bind easily to animal fat, and so concentrate in animal foods, in human fat, and in breast milk. An example is triclosan, one hazardous chemical commonly found in deodorants (and several other personal care products). POPs accumulate specifically in breast adipose tissue and in milk, and are passed to nursing babies at many times the levels of the mother’s exposure. Breastfeeding is undoubtedly best for babies, but the fact that toxic chemicals are turning up in breast milk samples shows we need to take this issue seriously.

Along with triclosan, many deodorants and all antiperspirants contain aluminium, which works by blocking the sweat glands and so stopping the skin (our biggest organ of elimination) from respiring and getting rid of toxins. Exposure to aluminium has repeatedly been linked to neurological problems, notably Alzheimer’s disease.

Deodorants and antiperspirants are of particular concern, both because of their ingredients and because of the area they are applied to. Much of what we apply to the skin is absorbed directly, and our armpits have many blood vessels close to the surface, as well as the important underarm lymph nodes. Once in the bloodstream, the blood vessels provide a direct route to the brain, where aluminium and other harmful substances can accumulate. (Many toxins, including aluminium and triclosan, can cross the blood-brain barrier.) Likewise, the lymph nodes provide access to the entire lymphatic system, ensuring that whatever is absorbed is spread throughout the body. Along with this, and the potential link between parabens and breast cancer, applying synthetic chemical compounds to skin so close to the breast seems particularly risky for nursing mothers.

The studies of breast milk samples also indicate that babies in the womb are being exposed to an array of toxic and questionable chemicals. Indeed, a study looking at the umbilical cords of ten newborns identified 232 toxic chemicals that the babies had been exposed to in the womb. The brain and nervous system develop out of a string of delicate cells, and the blood-brain barrier is not fully developed until children are six months old. Developing foetuses and young babies are far more vulnerable to the negative effects of toxins such as aluminium, especially brain disorders.

Of course, deodorants are by no means the only culprits in exposing foetuses to chemicals and getting toxins into babies’ breast milk. Toxic chemicals are in many personal care and household cleaning products, as well as pesticides and industrial pollutants. Avoiding toxic deodorant is just one step towards protecting yourself and your child.

Disturbing smell

When it comes to breastfeeding and bonding with an infant, there are other important reasons to avoid deodorants and any strong, especially synthetic, fragrances. It has long been recognised how important the sense of smell is to the newborn. Smell helps babies with attachment and in the establishment of breastfeeding. The foetus starts becoming familiar with her mother’s scent even in the womb, where the mother’s specific diet etc. gives the amniotic fluid an individual smell and taste. After birth, newborns are calmed and initiate feeding in response to the smell of their mother, and specifically the smell of their mother’s breasts and breast milk. Likewise, strong and unfamiliar odours can interfere with bonding, disrupt breastfeeding, and confuse infants.

The chemicals that make up what is merely listed as “fragrance” on deodorants and other products, come from a group of 4000 chemicals, many with serious health risks. Companies claim that fragrance ingredients are “trade secrets” or that they occur in negligible quantities. The truth is the toxic cocktails that make up synthetic fragrances very often contain irritants, allergens, sensitisers, hormone disruptors, immune suppressants and carcinogens. (Musk scents are especially hazardous.) Many fragrance ingredients are toxic at very low levels of exposure. Sensitisation can sometimes occur after only one exposure. Symptoms of exposure can include exhaustion, weakness, “hay fever” symptoms, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, rashes, swollen lymph glands, muscle aches and spasms, heart palpitations, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, asthma attacks (inability to breathe), neuromotor dysfunction, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

Babies love your own, unique natural smell, and experiencing it is part of what they need in order to feel safe and content, as well as to trigger the responses they require for normal functioning (such as feeding). Later, their sense of smell remains important as they become familiar with the smells of their home environment and family. Bombarding this sense with fake fragrances and confusing messages can certainly contribute to distress and result in a confused, unsettled baby.

Again, strong and synthetic fragrances are not limited to deodorants, and I would encourage you to consider taking up the spotless approach more widely if you are pregnant or have a baby. Deodorant is a good place to start. The deodorant recipe I suggest on spotless will inhibit the growth of the bacteria that allow sweat to get smelly, neutralise bad odours and absorb some moisture. But it won’t stop the skin from respiring, and it has a very delicate, natural fragrance that won’t interfere with your body’s own scent. You can add a few drops of essential oil for fragrance, but I would not advise even this if you have a newborn.

From → Spotless Mama