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The Big Stink Behind Deodorants
Research by Syed Kamaran Hussain (Karachi)
Come summer and you have peo- ple using deodorants to sup press odour and
perspiration. But what they probably aren't aware of is that constant and
indiscreet use of these can harm one's health.
Deodorants are mostly combined with anti-perspirants - chemicals which
attempt to prevent odour by sealing the pores on the skin and thus
preventing perspiration. The sealing of pores hampers the elimination of
liquid toxins. Normally, liquid toxins are eliminated through kidneys and
skin. But when the skin is prevented from throwing out these toxins, it
tends to become sluggish and in turn, the kidneys are overworked, leading to
kidney disorders.
Perspiration is not the only function of a healthy skin. It also supplies
oxygen to the blood and helps purify it. But when the pores on the skin are
sealed, this important activity is considerably hampered, leading to stress
on the lungs.
Indiscriminate use of deodorants therefore causes skin allergies and also
harms some of our vital organs.
Practically all deodorants are toxic, but the toxicity varies, according to
Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products of USA. Compiled and periodically
updated by top pharmacologists, the book furnishes details of ingredients on
a toxicity scale from one to six.
A rating of one indicates the lack of ill effects of any sort and a rating
of six indicates that the effect is fatal.
When you examine commercial deodorants, you will find that they have a
toxicity rating between two and three. This does not, of course, mean that
they are fatal, but most of them have been found to evoke some kind of
unhealthy reaction, if used continuously for a long period.
Deodorants come in two forms - cream deodorants and pencil or stick
deodorants. Cream deodorants chiefly contain oxyquinoline sulfate which is a
moderately toxic chemical, known to be a stimulant of the central nervous
system. Besides, they contain formaldehyde which is used as an embalming
fluid and is a well known poison. Zinc sulfocarbonate is a well known
pesticide, which is also used in deodorants for its astringent properties.
Pencil deodorants also contain petroluctum (a derivative of petroleum jelly)
which is used as a base, in addition to the above mentioned chemicals.
Petroluctum has been recognised as a cause for skin irritation and is said
to lead to a number of skin diseases. They also contain sodium hydroxide
which is nothing but caustic soda, a chemical that goes into the preparation
of soaps. Caustic soda is the strongest alkali known and can absorb
atmospheric moisture too. Even in a small proportion, it can cause skin
Besides them, there are various other chemicals involved in the manufacture
of a number of deodorants. One does come across dangerous chemicals like
benzoic acid and chlorate hydrate, in these deodorants. The former is
poisonous and if a child happens to consume a bit of it, could cause
convulsions and could often be fatal.
Chlorate hydrate is extremely corrosive and is known to corrode the
strongest and the hardest of metals. If taken internally, it leads to
unconsciousness and worse.
During the scorching summer heat, these deodorants vapourise in no time and
turn into toxic gases. Hence they are not only dangerous to the user, but
could be equally troublesome to people around the user, who would inhale
these gases.
Moreover, though they are called deodorants or antiperspirants, they do not
deodorise at all in the real sense of the word. What they really do is cut
down the natural flow of perspiration by sealing off the pores of the skin.
They also kill the natural useful bacteria.
With the closing of pores, the outlet for natural oils, which are so very
essential for imparting a healthy glow to the skin, is also closed. This
results in unwanted pimples and blackheads. Besides, when absorbed by the
skin, these toxins enter the blood stream, causing blood impurities. These
are just a few warnings for those who use these products.
The absence of any awareness on this issue has a commercial angle. As Dr B.
M. Prasad, a general practitioner of medicine says, "In allopathic
medicines, though we have a course on preventive medicines, not much
emphasis is given to this vital aspect of health.
In the era of aggressive advertisement and competition to lure as many
consumers as possible, the new mantra is to make as much profit as possible
and doctors have also jumped onto this bandwagon."
Dr Swaminathan, a naturopath says, "Deodorants in any situation are not to
be recommended. They are harmful to everyone, though it is double harmful in
our conditions where the weather is hot and humid. Because of the sticky
nature of deodorants, they attract dust and other pollutants on to the skin.
He recommends application of gopi chandan (a clayey material, mostly found
in the vicinity of Mathura but available elsewhere too) to the body before
taking a bath which will further reduce the chances of odour. Age-old application of turmeric- malai mix is equally good. Air bathing during summer and sun- bathing during winter before taking showers will also give a natural lustre to the skin. Shri Sumer Kumar Gupta, another natu-ropath, also prescribes mud-bathing, steam-bathing and spray water bathing for this purpose. Such practices not only improve blood circulation and tone up skin but also help in improving the general health greatly.
Environmental Engineer with the Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi, Mita
Bhattacharya voices her concern about deodorants, "Although I do not know
about the che-mical compositions of the deodorants, my hunch says that such
solid or semi-solid materials have nothing but positively harmful effects on
the skins. I prefer spraying a few drops of good old Eau de Cologne after
the bath which is in a liquid form.
Poonam Chanda, who lived in the US for a few years says, "I prefer natural
products, particularly since I came back to India, to the deodorants available in India. The markets now are flooded with various kinds of natural products, I have my own doubts about their `naturalness.` I prefer my instinct coupled with what I have heard from my granny and mummy. I make a concoction of henna, turmeric, urad dal paste and use them once a week.
When I attend parties, I do spray perfumes and may apply deodorants of good
quality at times, but I take care to wash it off once I return home."

Of course, the safest bet would be to avoid indiscriminate use of deodorants.

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