When it comes to avoiding sweat stains and smelling fresh, an antiperspirant-deodorant combo has probably become your best friend. But recently, the men’s grooming aisle has grown to include natural, charcoal, and even crystal deodorants, making it tempting to give up the trusty Speed Stick you’ve been using for years.
Crystal deodorant is a particularly buzzy option right now among people looking for something natural to put in their pits. But what is it, exactly?
First, it’s important to know that crystal deodorant is not an antiperspirant. Deodorant and anti-perspirant—though often combined in mainstream products—are two different things. Antiperspirants block sweat ducts to prevent you from sweating, while deodorants kill odor-causing bacteria, according to the American Chemical Society.
So what is crystal deodorant, anyway?
Crystal deodorant contains a mineral salt called potassium alum, according to Healthline. Used for centuries in Southeast Asia, this natural deodorant alternative started gaining popularity in the West in the 1980s.
The best-known maker of crystal deodorant is a brand called Crystal, appropriately. According to Shilpi Agarwal, M.D., Crystal came about when its founder, Jerry Rosenblatt, traveled to France in 1984 and discovered a mineral salt that purified water. He thought these salts could be used as a natural and hypoallergenic deodorizer, so he imported and packaged them as a crystal deodorant.
He then founded the company Crystal, which now sells roll-on, stick and spray crystal deodorants.
When wet and applied to clean skin, the mineral salts in crystal deodorant prevent the growth of odor-causing bacteria, Agarwal explains. However, crystal deodorant doesn’t actually stop you from sweating, which for a lot of sweaty dudes out there, might be a problem.
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Should you switch to crystal deodorant?
One of the big reasons people think they should switch to crystal deodorant is that they believe mainstream products—namely, those anti-perspirant-deodorant combos—are bad for their health. Many articles and blog posts voice concern that aluminum and other chemicals found in these products could promote hormone-related cancers, including breast cancer.
Biologist Heather Patisaul, Ph.D. and professor of biology at North Carolina State University, explained to Time in 2016 that parabens, a preservative found in deodorant, may interfere with estrogen levels: “There’s estrogen-sensitive tissue in the breast, so the worry is that if you put parabens close to this tissue every day, they may promote the growth of cancer cells,” she said.
But the truth is, there’s no hard, scientific evidence to support the claims that antiperspirants cause cancer.
“Personally I have a family history of breast cancer and I use traditional antiperspirants,” says Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. “I have not seen convincing data to support trying other options. I have tried the natural products and find them to be unpredictable in terms of effectiveness.”
Making the switch to crystal deodorant? Here’s what to know.
Agarwal recommends The Original Mineral Deodorant, which does a good job of eliminating odors. Even though it’s not an antiperspirant, she says some may find they actually sweat less because the mineral salts make the underarm area drier. You may need time to adjust to the wetness if you’re used to using a dry stick deodorant.
Agarwal recommends going a few days without traditional antiperspirant so you start fresh without residual aluminum on your skin. This will ensure you’re testing just the deodorant without the aide of your previous antiperspirant. Then, apply the crystal deodorant to clean armpits. If you think you need extra freshening, you can re-apply throughout the day.
If you’re really bent on going all-natural, Agarwal advises picking an unscented crystal deodorant, as certain fragrances have added chemicals.
“Avoiding scents is ideal for someone looking for a truly all-natural option,” she says.
The bottom line on crystal deodorant?
There’s no harm in switching to crystal deodorant—but remember, it’s not going to stop you from sweating. For that, you need an antiperspirant.
But there’s also no proven harm in sticking with your run-of-the-mill drugstore item. If you just can’t bear to part with that trusty Speed Stick, then…don’t.
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