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Your armpit is the focal point of some pretty intimate conversations.

Sweating, body odour, body hair… the armpit, and what you do with it, has everyone weighing in.

And no conversation is more loaded than the one about the connection between what you put on your pit and what ends up in your baby’s body.

Like so much else to do with deodorant, the public discourse about antiperspirants and deodorants containing aluminium and breastfeeding is raging, and full of contradictory information, advice, and opinions.

As a science-based company dedicated to promoting self care and awareness, here’s our take on using antiperspirant when you’re breastfeeding.

What we know about antiperspirant

Most commercial antiperspirants use an aluminium chloride compound, which mixes with your sweat and plugs up your sweat glands. This is troublesome for two reasons: one, sweating is a natural function of the body to flush our systems of toxin. Two, when you use aluminium to plug up your pores, they inevitably let a lot of aluminium into your body.

What we know about aluminium

Aluminium is a heavy metal capable of crossing the “blood-brain barrier” – a filtering mechanism of the capillaries that blocks the passage of certain substances into the brain.

This is to say that aluminium can accumulate in your body much more easily than other toxins. When it does, it can cause hormone disruption, potentially cancer, and, some studies suggest, even Alzheimer’s disease.

Generally speaking, heavy daily use of an antiperspirant containing aluminium will increase the amount of aluminium in your body, but occasional use isn’t likely to give most adults cancer or other health issues.

Babies work a little differently.

What we know about breast milk & babies

As you may have noticed, babies are quite a bit smaller than adults.

While this makes them universally adorable, it also means that much smaller amounts of chemicals and heavy metals are required for them to experience toxicity in their systems.

Add that to the fact that the high fat and protein content of breastmilk attracts heavy metals and other contaminants, and there’s a good reason to be concerned about introducing excess aluminium into your system while breastfeeding your newborn.

So – is antiperspirant while breastfeeding safe?

Is aluminium potentially dangerous for you and your newborn child? Absolutely.

Do you need to launch yourself into a frenzied detox, eschew all conventional beauty products, and stress out for the next 6-24 months while breastfeeding? Probably not.

The truth is that we accumulate less aluminium into breast milk through – and here’s the key word – occasional antiperspirant use than we do through the foods that we eat. And if where you apply you aluminium compound has you worried (the armpit is, after all, right next to the breast in question), you can rest a little easier knowing there are natural barriers in place between the underarm and the milk ducts.

We are advocates of free-from products, especially for mothers growing and feeding young children. But we are also advocates for mothers lowering their stress levels and feeling less judgement from the media and their peers.

Every body is different, and each of us will absorb and process aluminium in different ways. If you know you have a sensitivity, it might be best to switch to a free-from deodorant for the foreseeable child-rearing future.

But if you’re heading into public for the first time in three months and it’s 39 degrees outside, and you’re already self-conscious due to exhaustion and baby brain, it’s probably okay to slap on a layer of antiperspirant and call it a day (maybe just try out a little detox deodorant at night, between feedings).

The bottom line is that switching to a free-from deodorant from an antiperspirant will lower the amount of aluminium in your breast milk, which will lower the amount of aluminium that ends up in your baby. Regardless of any debate, that’s probably not a bad thing – for your child, or yourself.

What’s the deal with aluminum?

In an early example of online health trends, in the 1990s a chain email (remember those?) decrying the use of antiperspirant went the 90s version viral, showing up in hundreds of thousands of inboxes over the course of several months.

It was the first time that the debate about deodorants, antiperspirants, and, in particular, aluminium content in these products was brought to mass attention. Rather than having resolved itself in the last 25 years, however, aluminum is still a hotly debated topic in the cosmetics world.

And with good reason.

Below, we break it down for you – the allegations leveled at aluminum in antiperspirants, and why we choose to stay away from them here at Nala.

Plugging up your sweat glands (How antiperspirant works)

Antiperspirant was developed at the turn of the 19th century, and relied on straight aluminum chloride mixed with sweat to form a gel that plugged the user’s sweat gland. Unfortunately a significant portion of the population proved mildly allergic to the aluminum chloride, and developed itchy rashes and inflammation in their underarms when using the product.

Time may have passed, but modern antiperspirant relies on the exact same technology – an aluminum chloride compound that’s less allergenic mixes with sweat to form a gel-like substance. This gel literally plugs up your sweat gland, keeping sweat from escaping the body.

Given that sweating is a natural function our body employs to flush our system of toxins, and, alternately, to keep us cool and free from heat stroke, you can appreciate how stopping the process altogether might be cause for concern.

The “body burden” of aluminum

When fish swim in mercury-heavy waters, they bear what scientists have dubbed the “body burden”: they present with elevated levels of mercury in their systems.

The same is true of the aluminum compound found in antiperspirant – regular users have been found to have highly elevated aluminum levels. The effect of aluminum on our systems is still hotly debated, as you’ll discover in our next two points, but it’s been reliably shown to have a negative impact on our kidneys, at a minimum.

Xenoestrogens and Cancer

Now we move into more contested territory, and the basis of “aluminum-gate” from the early 90s: do elevated levels of aluminum in our system cause cancer, breast cancer in particular?

While there still isn’t 100% conclusive scientific proof of the link between the two, more and more research is tending that way because aluminium has been shown to be a xenoestrogen.

Xenoestrogens are substances that mimic estrogen in the body, plug into our estrogen receptors, and encourage our body to start producing new cells where new cells aren’t needed. The impact is seen in the reproductive centres of the body (because estrogen plays a central role in our reproduction), and includes everything from cysts, to full blown tumours.

While these cysts and tumours are not always linked to cancer, the correlation (and research backing the correlation) is growing.

The threat of Alzheimer’s

The other big conversation to do with aluminium relates to brain health – specifically, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is a debilitating, fatal disease that causes memory loss and dementia in its sufferers. While there’s, again, not solid proof that aluminium contributes to the onset of the disease, those with dementia due to Alzheimer’s have been shown to have increased levels of aluminium in their brains.

The verdict

So does aluminium cause cancer and Alzheimer’s disease?

The answer is, simply, that we don’t know… yet.

No one can seem to agree whether this ingredient directly causes these conditions, but there’s enough science-based, peer-reviewed research out there for us to know that this metal does end up in our system, and does wreak havoc once there.

And there’s more than enough correlation between these diseases and the metal for us to want to keep it out of daily-use products like deodorant and why Nala and all our products will always be free-from aluminum.

Creating Nala has been a labour of patience, dedication, and – most of all – love.

When we started on our journey we knew we wanted to create a product that supported health & well being at a much deeper level than what we could find on the market.

We chose deodorant as our first venture for that reason – deodorant can be an incredibly personal, oftentimes vulnerable product choice. If you wrestle with excess sweat or body odour, you know how onerous and embarrassing it can be to find a solution.

What’s more, deodorant is one of the worst offenders when it comes to toxic beauty products.

As we dug into the market, we knew for certain we needed to include two elements in our deodorant line: a free-from label/philosophy, and a detoxifying product.

What it means to be free-from

Free-from is a relatively new label in the beauty world, but it’s rock-solid when it comes to defining our product philosophy.

At the most literal level, our products will be free from the laundry list of toxic ingredients found in conventional antiperspirants as well as any free-from ingredients found to have a negative impact on health and well-being. All Nala products, including our Nala Free-From Deodorant will be always free from the worst offenders listed below. This is our promise to you.

Nala free-from deodorant is free from:

  • aluminum – changes your estrogen receptors; linked to liver, kidney and brain issues
  • carcinogens  – substances that can lead to cancer
  • parabens – mimic estrogen in the body; cause cancer
  • phthalates – interfere with, mimic or block hormones
  • propylene glycol – considered a neurotoxin; known to cause liver and kidney damage
  • cruelty – None of our products will ever be tested on animals.

Beyond the literal, however, the free-from label is aspirational. It puts high-quality ingredients at the forefront, and reminds us, every time sit down to talk about a product, that our deepest commitment is to create something free from the negativity and pitfalls of the current beauty industry.

The decision to detox

Now that you know what actually goes into your conventional deodorant, you might better understand the decision to release a detox deodorant alongside our daily use deodorant.

The truth is that using conventional deodorants and antiperspirants over the years has probably left an unfortunate build up of chemicals in your system.

You can read more about what might be going on in your underarm in our Nala Detox Guide, but, suffice it to say, the area could probably do with a clean-up – which is exactly what our detox deodorant provides.

In the spirit of being free-from (at a literal and aspirational level) we couldn’t have you use our deodorant without first going deeper and undoing some of the damage done by past products.

While it’s still a new and growing label, free-from represents a shift in what it means to consume beauty products, take care of ourselves, and what we demand of the beauty industry. We’re excited to see where it takes us next!