Did you know your deodorant could be contributing to the air pollution crisis? In fact, a surprising study published in 2018 found that deodorants, along with shampoos and lotions, contribute as much to air pollution as motor vehicles do.
That’s because some deodorants emit volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs. “[These] molecules are a major ingredient in the formation of urban smog, which is unhealthy for humans,” Matthew Coggon, research scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, tells Vogue.
Increased eco-consciousness—combined with health concerns over the use of aluminium in conventional deodorants (despite there being no scientific evidence to suggest it poses a danger)—means more of us are now turning towards natural deodorants.
“We use a blend of plant and mineral powders; natural ingredients that rest invisibly on the skin to absorb natural perspiration,” says Ed Currie, co-founder of London-based brand AKT, which produces deodorant balms in fully recyclable aluminium tubes. “From the very beginning, the ethos was that nothing’s going to end up in landfill [and] we don’t want to contribute to air pollution.”
While it’s difficult to eliminate the VOC problem completely, here’s how we can all reduce the environmental impact of our daily deodorant habit.
1) Ditch traditional aerosols
Globally, we get through 3bn aerosol deodorants a year. Although they no longer contain harmful chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the ozone layer, aerosol deodorants still contain gas propellants that contribute to air pollution and climate change.
“Blends of propane and butane [liquefied petroleum gas] are widely used as propellants; these can react with other components in the air and form secondary organic compounds, which promote and contribute to global warming,” explains Professor Ghasem Nasr, head of the Spray Research Group at University of Salford, Manchester, who is behind Eco-Valve, new technology designed to make aerosols more eco-friendly.
2) Go fragrance-free
While natural deodorants are often considered more eco-friendly than chemical-packed alternatives, they can still emit VOCs, contributing to our air pollution problem. “If you use a personal care product, and it has a fragrance or some list of ingredients other than water or salts, then that product will likely emit VOCs to the atmosphere,” Coggon explains.
Look for a fragrance-free option where possible—such as Schmidt’s Fragrance-Free Deodorant Stick or Native’s Unscented Deodorant—to cut down your environmental impact. “Fragranced products, including those from deodorants and other perfume applications, are one of the major sources of VOCs in homes,” the expert continues.
3) Opt for plastic-free packaging
Considering how much deodorant we get through, it’s vital to think about the impact of all that packaging. That’s why AKT uses an aluminum-only tube for its natural deodorants, instead of the plastic that’s often used for roll-on or stick deodorants. “All our packaging is completely plastic free; our caps are aluminum,” Currie says. “You can use aluminum again and again and it never loses quality, unlike plastics and cardboard.”
4) Use less deodorant
The simplest way to lower the environmental impact of your deodorant is to use less where possible. In fact, Coggon admits he has stopped using deodorant and other personal care products altogether, due to their impact on our planet.
“It’s really up to everyone’s personal values,” he concludes, “but it’s never bad practice to look at the ingredient lists and do a little [research] to see what’s known about how those ingredients impact the environment.”
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