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Dove Visibly Smooth Antiperspirant is a hair-raiser

Is a Solution for:
Dry Skin
February 10, 2010 Reviewed by Copley 11 Comments

Ever had a million dollar idea? A few years ago, my boyfriend was convinced he had struck imaginary gold with the idea of marrying a deodorant and hair removal product. "Think about it, you already rub something under your arms every morning; well this would eliminate the need for an extra step of shaving or waxing," he explained to me, and anyone else who would listen. I countered with the fact that you would need a pretty potent chemical to burn off underarm stubble. Would you really want that sitting on your skin all day? Nevertheless, my words of warning could not deter him. But before he had time to source a mad scientist or file a patent, Unilever announced the launch of a revolutionary hair-minimizing deodorant.

Dove Visibly Smooth Antiperspirant was Unilever's own million — make that billion — dollar new product concept. After three years of research and development, Unilever unveiled its prized "pro-epil complex" in January 2009. This mysterious complex, researchers claimed, would gradually make underarm hair finer and slow down the rate of growth. Of course, to placate cynics (like me) who assume the worst, the company highlighted the natural side of pro-epil complex with its sunflower oil and signature Dove "1/4 translucent moisturizers." Oh, well in that case, it must be safe! Sorry, Unilever, we are not fools. The formula is one strand shy of hair-raising.

Like most mass-market antiperspirants, Visibly Smooth stops sweat with a powerful element: aluminum. Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex glycine, though better tolerated by the skin than other aluminum salts, brings with it the usual toxicity risks. This antibacterial agent works by temporarily closing the pores in the underarm skin, thus reducing the amount of perspiration that escapes. As aluminum blocks unpleasant odors, it also acts as a barrier to the body's natural attempt to release sweat through the armpit and regulate temperature. Could smearing a potentially toxic chemical onto open pores- the site of vitally important lymph nodes- be dangerous to our health? Might there be a link to hormone levels and breast cancer? Despite the FDA's assurances that cosmetic aluminum has tested safe, we remain skeptical.

The deodorant spreads on smoothly thanks to two silicones, cyclopentasiloxane and dimethicone, which feel light and silky on the sensitive underarm skin.  There is evidence that cyclopentasiloxane can not only penetrate human skin, reaching systemic circulation, but that it can also enhance the absorption of other ingredients. Though no studies have shown that topical silicones are carcinogenic- as is sometimes claimed- they may be mild skin irritants and marine life killers. Skin irritation is mostly due to their sealing action, which blocks sweat from escaping the pores (as if aluminum doesn't inflict enough damage on the body's natural processes).

Unless it's of the scent-free variety, most deodorants contain some sort of fragrance to mask your natural musk. Dove Visibly Smooth comes in two scents: Wild Rose and Nature Fresh, which sound as if their roots should be based in nature; however, Dove draws on artificial fragrance, a common repository of hormone-disrupting phthalates and the leading cause of contact dermatitis. BHT, a controversial masking agent, registers at a risk level of 7 in the Cosmetics Safety Database. High doses of BHT can cause significant damage to the lungs, liver, and kidneys, but its penetration of the skin appears to be very gradual. It remains to be seen whether topically applied BHT causes, retards, or has no effect on cancer. Polyethylene and PEG-8 are both high hazard ingredients with concerns of contamination and organ system toxicity. Even the seemingly benign mineral silica, often added to mineral makeup for its oil-absorbing properties, comes with allergy/immunotoxicity warnings.

But all of these ingredients are run-of-the-mill for an antiperspirant formula. Where's that magical "pro-epil complex" endowed with hair-minimizing powers? Turns out it's just a mixture of hair conditioners that soften underarm stubble, thus making it less noticeable. Dove's marketing message is misleading, since Visibly Smooth isn't actually meant to hold back hair growth. The fine print on Dove's website indicates that the product is only intended to make hair softer, easier to remove, and less noticeable between shaves. In fact, the website states that it will not make hair disappear. If Visibly Smooth did contain components capable of removing hair, it would be considered a drug subject to FDA regulations.

For the most part, reviews of Visibly Smooth praise its antiperspirant action (which is inevitable considering its 15% aluminum content), but complain that it doesn't deliver on its promises in the hair department. So it turns out that Unilever did not come up with such a revolutionary product after all, but rather a deodorant that blocks sweat and conditions skin. Not only does it fail to remove underarm hair, but it also puts the body at risk for any number of health hazards. The drawing board remains clear for a safe, effective hair-minimizing deodorant. So if you know anyone with a laboratory, a PhD, and some seed money...

Ingredients:

Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Gly (14.8%), Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearyl Alcohol, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, PPG-14 Butyl Ether, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, PEG-8, Fragrance, Dimethicone, Polyethylene, Silica, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Steareth-100, Nylon 12, Sorbitan Laurate, BHT, Palmatine, Red 40 Lake.

  • March 25, 2017

    by Janice

    I love how this product works and have not been able to find it. I have tried four different stores.

  • December 3, 2014

    by beverly

    I have been using this product since it first came on the market and it works for me, both in stopping odor and slowing down the hair growth. I don't like the chemicals, but it seems like we just can't get away from chemicals being everywhere, even in our food.

  • May 12, 2013

    by Dori

    I have to say I wasn't surprised to read this and see all them harmful chemicals and such in the ingredients. To be honest I understand the worry about putting such things on your skin everyday, but there isn't much about the world today which isn't supposedly cancer causing.
    I use this product and I really like it. I don't understand why this blog says it doesn't make a difference in hair, because it sure does for me. Within two weeks of applying it every other day my hair is finer and softer and much easier to shave, and the stubble isn't rough. It might just be conditioners and such and that's fine, but no other deodorant does the same thing for me and with my super coarse and dark underarm hair I'm not about to give it up. That being said, last year I was having some palpitations and my doctor said it was an irritated heart valve and nothing to worry about and that it would calm down. I never would have thought that this deodorant would have caused it, especially since I don't apply it everyday. I stopped using this for about six months because I couldn't find it in stores in the scent I liked. Looking back it seems like the palpitations went away when Ii stopped using this, but I can't say for sure. I started using this again about 3 weeks ago and the other day I had another palpitation. It was scary and I don't like them much but I'm going to keep using this until I have had a few more, then stop and see if they stop. If I find that this product is for sure what stops and starts them then I will give this up, but I really don't want to so I hope I'm wrong about the correlation. I really love what this does to my hair. If they could make a deodorant with the same hair softening effect without the crappy chemical stuff I would buy an entire case, especially since I generally go for deodorant rather than antiperspirant in the first place because of the pore blocking qualities in any antiperspirant.

  • February 7, 2013

    by DDS

    I have had the same experience - anti perspirant causing palpitations. Didn't apply one one day - no palpitations that day.

  • June 2, 2012

    by aliana

    can tell me the procedure of using pro epil

  • August 24, 2011

    by KD

    I was amazed to see this posting. I started getting heart palpitations (PVCs) about three months ago. I made multiple visits to my GP and a casrdiologist- (blood tests and EKG and Echocardiogram normal) According to the cardiologist I was getting over 1,400 palpitations a day. They were benign but extremely annoying and frightening. He said they could be caused by a variety of things. I decided to think about what I might have changed in my daily habits that may have caused them. The thought of the antiperspirant came to mind but I figured it was too far fetched to be the cause. I had removed everything else- caffiene, sugar, gluten...nothing helped. Two days after I stopped using the antiperspirant, the palpitations stopped. Completely. Since then I have been using organic deodorant from a great company Bubble and Bee. Haven't had one palpitation since.

  • March 11, 2011

    by Wang

    I've been using the Dove Hair Minimizing deodorant and since then I've developed many small sized nodules on my underarm. For times I stop using it to see if it is the cause of it, and everytime I don't apply it, it seems to me that I have less irritation and these secondary effects. They should be concerned about people's health, letting them know about the side effects and possible harm than just making profit.

  • August 16, 2010

    by Magenta

    I have gone completely green and organic, after doing vast research on the chemicals within all our products and food and their harm, I now make my own shampoos, shower gels and deodorants using natural organic products, I also now only eat organic food.

  • August 3, 2010

    by Junko

    It's quite alarming that 2 readers have posted they've become ill while using this antiperspirant.

  • August 3, 2010

    by m

    same for me

  • August 3, 2010

    by L

    I used the new Dove Visibly Smooth product for about 2 weeks and have been sick for the last 6 days. It feels like my chest is caving in, I'm getting heart palpitations and tremors along with nausea as well. I stopped using the product for one day and felt much better, the second day started off good but I put on perfume this morning and now my chest is tight again. This is the same perfurm I have used for about 13 years. Is it possible that this new deodorant has affected my lungs?

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