Like many popular makeup brands, soaps, shampoos, and other body “care” products, deodorants contain a slew of chemicals capable of doing untold damage to your body. In fact, many are rated as carcinogenic by multiple health agencies, yet still remain unregulated in the cosmetics industry.
So what are these dangerous substances hiding in the smell-good pastes and gels you’re rubbing under your arms every day? Are are you putting your health at serious risk by using them?
You might be wondering how it’s possible for something as basic as underarm paste to be so dangerous. After all, you’re not eating it, right?
Unfortunately, putting on deodorant could be even worse for you than if you were actually eating it. When you eat something, your body produces enzymes to help break it down and, if it’s toxic, flush it from your body. But when you rub something on your skin, it can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream without any kind of filtration.
Chemicals in your deodorant can go straight from your blood to your organs and cells where they can accumulate and cause side effects ranging from hormone disruption to cancer. Luckily, studies are starting to reveal the dangers of these chemicals so that they’re easier to avoid.
7 Ingredients to Avoid in Deodorants
These are the seven most common ingredients to watch out for when you’re shopping for deodorants.
Aluminum is one of the most common antiperspirants (aka sweat-stoppers) used in deodorants. Aside from simply blocking your body’s natural ability to sweat out toxins, aluminum comes with a host of other scary side effects.
To begin, studies have shown that aluminum has what is called a genotoxic profile, meaning it can cause alterations in DNA and have an influence over which genes are turned on or off. In this case, research has revealed that aluminum could mess with the genes regulating estrogen and the development of breast cancer. (1)
Scientists have also noted that one of the most popular areas for breast cancer to form is in the upper, outer quadrant of breast tissue, suggesting evidence for “applied cosmetic chemicals in the development of breast cancer,” like deodorants. (2)
Other research has linked aluminum exposure to bone abnormalities, neurotoxicity, and Alzheimer’s. (3)
Parabens are a group of chemicals used as preservatives in deodorants, soaps, shampoos, lotions, and toothpastes. You may have seen them listed as ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and methylparaben.
Far from harmless, parabens have actually been banned from use in food in the European Union, as they have been found to disrupt hormones, leading to reproductive and developmental problems. (4)
Other research shows that parabens can mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors in cells. While this may not have an immediate effect, continually being exposed to parabens that trick your body into thinking it has excess estrogen can trigger tumor growth and increased breast cell division, which could be a recipe for breast cancer. (5,6)
3. Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is a synthetic solvent used in deodorants as a stabilizer, moisturizer, and preservative. Aside from being used in food and other beauty products, it’s also the main ingredient in antifreeze.
While studies haven’t found it to be as dangerous as some of the other chemicals on this list, propylene glycol has still been found to cause skin irritation and possibly kidney damage. (7)
Sodium-lauryl sulfate and sodium-laureth sulfate are emulsifiers used in a wide range of household and cosmetic products, including shampoos, toothpastes, enemas, and, of course, deodorants. Their ability to clean surfaces also makes them popular ingredients in cleaning products, including drain cleaners.
Sulfates have also been shown to cause skin and eye irritation, while acting as “corrosive” skin irritants by stripping skin of its natural oil barrier. (8)
Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient used widely in all kinds of cosmetic products, most notably soaps and hand sanitizers. Unfortunately, it is also added to deodorants to help kill odor-causing bacteria.
Phthalates, or “fragrance” as they appear on most labels, are a class of chemicals that give deodorant and other cosmetics a particular smell. While they might make your underarms smell like roses, their side effects are anything but rosy. Several studies have linked them to infertility, testicular problems, obesity, asthma, allergies, fibroids, and even breast cancer. (11)
Talc is an anti-caking agent added to many beauty products and powders. Unfortunately, some forms of talc have been shown to be contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos fibers. And while cosmetic grade talc exists, it is still labeled as toxic and carcinogenic by the Environmental Working Group. (12)
5 Deodorant Brands You Can Trust
Learning about harmful ingredients in your deodorant can be overwhelming. However, before you panic, know that there are tons of natural deodorant options available!
Check out your options below and try out a few. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at a DIY all-natural deodorant recipe.
Primal Pit Paste is crafted with organic ingredients like beeswax and essential oils for a smooth glide-on. All of their blends are free from aluminum and artificial fragrances, but this doesn’t mean they lack in the smell-good department. They feature jasmine, lavender, spice, coconut, lime, and even an earthy blend of sandalwood, frankincense, and black pepper for men.
You can choose from three variations: jars, sticks, or minis, as well as different levels, with “Sensitive” containing the most soothing botanicals, and “Level 3” containing extra baking soda for maximum “stink stoppage.”
Primal Life’s deodorants use simple blends of aluminum-free baking soda, virgin coconut oil, arrowroot, essential oils, and bentonite clay to fight odors and absorb excess moisture. They also offer sensitive blends without baking soda to minimize irritation.
Schmidt’s deodorant blends are ahead of the game when it comes to fragrance options and combating wetness. From rose and vanilla to magnesium and charcoal, choosing which one you want will probably be your most difficult decision. Luckily, they offer a travel-size pack of five that you can purchase as a sampler.
Each of their deodorants come in stick form (good news for those of you that don’t like the pastes) as well as jars and a fragrance-free option.
Primally Pure uses all organic ingredients and aluminum-free baking soda in their deodorant blends. With a unique base of tallow from grass-fed cows, coconut oil, and beeswax, this deodorant has been said to glide on smoother than other natural deodorant brands.
In addition, they also offer a good selection of scents using essential oils, including lemongrass, tea tree, and lavender, while rounding out their collection with a blend for sensitive skin. If you can’t choose, try out their awesome sample pack for $24 to see which one your underarms like best.
FATCO deodorants combine coconut oil and aluminum-free baking soda to neutralize odors, while adding in tallow from grass-fed cows and shea butter to nourish and moisturize your underarm skin. Lavender and clary sage essential oils round out the mixture with a fresh, flowery scent.
Along with a paste, FATCO also offers a “pit spritz” option that contains odor-killing raw apple cider vinegar in its base.
DIY Deodorant Recipe
If you’re looking to save money and don’t mind indulging in a few minutes of creative pit-chemistry in your kitchen, then you’re going to love this DIY deodorant.
However, before you get started, keep in mind that some people experience slight underarm irritation from the baking soda in natural deodorant recipes. If this happens, try cutting the amount of baking soda in half.
DIY Coconut + Shea Butter Deodorant
Small glass jar for storage
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
2 Tablespoons shea butter
3 Tablespoons baking soda
2 Tablespoons arrowroot starch
A few drops of essential oil, such as lavender, orange, rose, etc.
Using a double boiler, gently heat the shea butter and coconut oil until they’re just melted.
Remove from heat and stir in the arrowroot, baking soda, and essential oil.
Pour into your glass container and let the deodorant solidify (to speed this up, put it in the fridge).
You can either keep this stored in the fridge or on your countertop. Keep in mind that the consistency will vary depending how warm or cool your home is.