Are Antiperspirants and Deodorants Safe? PLUS, My Natural Gentle Deodorant Recipe for Sensitive Pits
This edited article contains information that I have researched about the toxins lurking in commercial deodorants and antiperspirants—even many so-called “natural” ones. Read and decide for yourself whether you think using deodorants & antiperspirants is safe. I have included my basic effective deodorant recipe you’ll love.
Fact or Fiction? There has been a lot of information online and elsewhere about the possible dangers of using commercial antiperspirants and deodorants because of the chemicals and toxins they contain.
There is also a great deal of counter-information coming from the big money industries stating that “there is no scientific evidence that chemicals in deodorants are dangerous.” What is truth and what is fiction? And do homemade deodorants really work?
Find out...along with a great deodorant recipe made without coconut oil.
NOTE: I’ve previously also written about the Toxins Lurking in Your Soaps, too, which is well-worth a read!
On Being a "Heavy Sweater".....
My personal deodorant dilemma began many years ago. I am a big “sweater” so to speak. And as a young woman (or even an older one), how embarrassing is that? Also I, like many people, women included, tended to get stinky when sweating.
(I will NEVER forget the time I came out of job interview to find....Horror of Horrors!....a HUGE sweat ring under my right armpit! Just my right, which has always been my problem pit.)
I was MORTIFIED.
So after decades of trying this deodorant and that one, from the ultra powerful Clinical Super Aluminum varieties to men's antiperspirants (because surely, if they work for a man, they must work for me, right?), the chemical filled sweet-smelling tropical teen products, and everything in between, I became seriously depressed about ever being able to stop sweaty (and stinky) armpits.
The worst thing I now realize about all these years of sweaty stinky armpit heck was I had NO clue what I was putting on my body was poisonous, containing carcinogens, hormone disruptors and other garbage.
When I read about all the chemicals that may cause potential health problems, I was just ready to give it all up and go au naturale. But... I wasn't yet ready to bring myself to go there because of my fear of being extra super stinky. So I decided to try out the “natural” deodorants in the health stores.
I have to be honest. They really didn’t work well for me. From crystal deodorants, to a slew of different "natural" brands---And THEN I discovered that even some of these had some of those “other” chemicals (like TEA—see below) embedded in them as well.
Can you trust anyone? Criminy.
I decided to do some more research.
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Full Disclosure Here)
How Do Antiperspirants and Deodorants Work?
Antiperspirants contain chemicals that contain aluminum based compounds. The ions in these compounds serve to block or clog the sweat ducts in your skin’s pores. They do this by entering the cells, swelling, and therefore closing or blocking the pores.
This causes you not to sweat (as much). There are many names manufacturers use for the word “aluminum.” Sometimes the ingredient will actually contain the word aluminum, however, there are ways of disguising the fact that aluminum is an ingredient, so consumers are often duped.
Just because you don't see "aluminum" in the ingredients doesn't mean it's not there in some dangerous, sneaky form.
Deodorants are also added to most antiperspirants. They are generally chemicals that neutralize smell or just cover it up. Most people it seems, choose to use anti-perspirants these days, since there is two-for-one action going on---less sweat, less stink.
Some Things to Sweat About (Things You Need to Know About Why Sweating is Important)
Besides the fact that chemicals are being applied to our largest organ, the skin, (which may have something to do with dangerous diseases and health risks), there is even more to worry about than just that!
1. Your Body Needs to Sweat
Did you know that sweating is GOOD for you? Our bodies were made to sweat!
We sweat in order to cool down, for one! With a lessened ability to sweat, our bodies sweat in other places besides our pits! The fact is, we MUST sweat---Or we get sick.
Besides being our number one cooling process, sweating is one way our bodies release toxins from our system. It needs to happen every day! Your armpits are one of the main sweat points on the body, and by blocking this up, toxins are more likely to be stuck---that is, stored away in our body.
Where do these toxins get stored? They end up being stored primarily in fat cells (cellulite or weight gain anyone?), they clog up or over power our filtering systems (liver and kidneys), or end up being stored in other areas.
Besides cellulite and weight gain, this toxic build up presents itself in a huge range of health problems including acne, bloating and gas, chronic disease, possible mental/emotional problems, and possibly cancer. I say "possibly" because the research is just now clear.
Blocking your pores in your pits may also cause skin eruptions in this area! Cysts, boils, and sensitivity problems, etc. are common in people who use commercial deodorants/anti-perspirants and are thus not able to sweat normally.
2. So How "Safe" is Antiperspirant, Really?
The aluminum used in deodorants has allegedly been linked to a variety of health concerns. From breast cancer to Alzheimer’s Disease to kidney disease, aluminum has been blamed.
Some doctors believe that you can’t absorb enough aluminum through your skin to harm yourself. And the research studies have been inconclusive or have lacked definitive evidence to link aluminum to any of these health issues.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that people with higher use of deodorants/anti-perspirants also have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Still, there is just no clear link between aluminum and kidney, mental, or cancer diseases. Frankly, why take a chance? Clear out the aluminum, I say!
In addition to aluminum, there are legions of other suspect ingredients to worry about! These include but are not limited to parabens, propylene glycol, triclosan, TEA, DEA, colorants, talc, and more.
These additional ingredients are believed by some to be correlated to breast cancer, allergies, kidney and liver damage, and other cancers.
Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens, neurotoxins, or just plain toxic. If you take the time to research each of these ingredients in depth, you will most likely, like myself, be shocked and horrified.
Confusing? It is for me!
'Cause, why, oh, why, would our wonderful FDA allow these dangers in our deodorants (and other body care products)?
It is definitely a challenge for the average consumer to determine just how safe a product is when manufacturers are often not clear or truthful about what is being added to products and what the potential harmful effects may be. Although the research is "inconclusive," I would say to err on the side of safety.
Toxins Lurking in Your Deodorant and Antiperspirant: Silent Killers over Time
Aluminum is thought to contribute to breast cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a known neurotoxin, and it is banned in the European Union for use in underarm protection. It also contributes to prostate issues.
Studies disagree on the cancer issue for breast cancer, but since the greatest amount of aluminum is found in breast tissue near the armpit (even more than enters the blood stream), I say (in my unscientific, unmedical opinion) that there is probably a causal correlation. Source., Source.
Triclosan is used in all kinds of body care products as an antibacterial agent that fights odor and kills germs. Soaps, creams, wipes, toothpaste, and even deodorants may contain this toxic environmentally destructive chemical.
This chemical is a known hormone disruptor and has been found in blood, urine, and breast milk. It’s a good idea to stay away from this toxic chemical. I believe the FDA is in the process of banning it, and has already banned it in commercial soaps, but you know how long this action takes——decades. (I’m being tongue in cheek but it really does take a VERY long time.)
As far as I know it is still allowed in deodorants at the time of this writing. Source
Parabens are used primarily for their preservative action in products. They are known estrogenic compounds, which means they mimic the action of estrogen hormone in our bodies. Since estrogen helps moderate female functions, you can see how this could affect us all, men and women alike. (Man-boobs, anyone?)
“Exposure to parabens has been linked to breast cancer.” Source
PPGS and PEG:
Polyethylene glycol (PPGS) and polypropylene glycol (PEG) are VERY common ingredients in body care products, including deodorants. These contain powerful carcinogenic compounds. They are used in products to help keep the ingredients emulsified and for foaming in some cases like shampoos.
Mystifying ingredients such as sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene glycol (PEG)-polypropylene glycol (PPG), Polyoxyethylene, dimethicone and chemicals that include the words xynol, ceteareth and oleth. Source
Pthlalates soften plastics and PVC, as well as act as a solvent in personal care products. Yuck!
The reason these dangerous chemicals should be avoided is they contribute to kidney, liver, lungs, and reproductive issues. You may have noticed that the kidneys, liver, and lungs are three of the most important organs for body detoxification. If they are not functioning, your body stores these nasties.
You can visit Safe Cosmetics.org for more information. At this time, Pthlalates are banned from being used in baby and children’s toys, but are still used in cosmetics and body care products (as far as I am aware with my research at this time). Source
Do you know what the main problem with the word, “fragrance” is? Besides the fact that they are generally toxic, a “fragrance” in a body care product can be created with anywhere from a few dozen to literally hundreds of mystifying chemicals. AND get this:
These chemicals do not have to be listed on the label in our country.
Some of the chemicals used in fragrances are toxic, contribute to indoor air pollution, and cause all kinds physical and health problems.
Here are some ingredients you can look for in this category that contribute to health issues: limonene, a-pinene, lilial, eugenol, fragrance, aroma, parfum. Source
There are MORE:
Other toxic ingredients include propellants, if it is a spray deodorant or antiperspirant you are using. And siloxane, which is a silicone based chemical concoction that softens products has been shown to have health repercussions in higher doses.
Look for these chemicals to indicate siloxanes: Dimethicone, polymethylsiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclomethicone, cyclotetrasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxan, Trisiloxane or any other ingredients that end with the word siloxane. Source
So What Should You Do About Your Deodorant?
In two words: Go Green!
How to Find a “Natural” Deodorant (And How to NOT be Fooled by the “Natural” Label)
Here is what I do when I'm trying to find a natural product: I read the label, and if I don’t know for sure what each ingredient is and does, then I just don’t use it.
I may once in awhile Google or research an ingredient, but sometimes even that doesn't provide enough information. Usually, though, I find it is something I don't want on my skin. So, if I can't identify everything in it, it's a no-go.
Unfortunately, just about every product on store shelves these days has unidentifiable chemicals. But there are some good ones!
The best thing you can do is start making your own deodorant.
It’s quick, easy, and effective. Best of all, you know what’s in it! I have several recipes for deodorants on my website, but the one I share below is a good one to start with.
What if You Don't Want to Make Your Own Deodorant?
The natural deodorant from Earth Mama Organics has a really great option, if you just want to purchase yours. They have different natural scents, too! Don't be misled by the "pregnancy, breastfeeding & sensitive skin" label. This product is meant to not poison a fetus who nestles its head near the armpit of pregnant women.
I say we should all be using something this safe! I purchase Earth Mama Organics when I'm too busy to make my own deodorant, and I feel very comfortable with the ingredients. HUGE PLUS: it works.
But I really love DIY.....Since I've become a DIY maven, I started looking into DIY Recipes for Natural Deodorant. I figured I should be able to easily make my own---
That’s when I found a handmade deodorant in an etsy shop containing just five ingredients: baking soda, arrowroot powder, coconut oil, shea butter, and essential oils.
WOW! I knew what all of those were! So I gave it a try. My first try with handmade deodorants came from the Crunchy Betty website, in case you want to take a look.
Here is what I found out about the typical handmade deodorant recipe:
Most natural deodorant recipes I’ve come across require coconut oil as a base, as well as quite a lot of baking soda. Those didn’t work for me….. And, I’ve heard others struggle with them too, especially the baking soda.
My skin is allergic to coconut oil, and coconut oil is in an awful lot of diy deodorant recipes. I was so bummed.
How did I find out I was allergic to topical use of coconut oil? After lots of experimentation and trial and error, I finally isolated the problem to the coconut oil.
I know that coconut oil is supposed to be the wonder oil of the century, but for me (and others, I have found) it didn’t work because my skin is allergic. Therefore, even if it was a great handmade and natural deodorant, if it contained coconut oil---it was a No Go for me.
Baking soda is a fabulous scent reducer! However, due to its highly alkaline nature, it can burn your pits, especially if you’re not used to it. It’s a good idea to start out with a small amount in your homemade deodorants, and allow your pits to adjust. This may take a week to up to four weeks, depending on your skin.
Please be patient as you foray into the natural realm of deodorant, as your pits need to detox from the chemicals. Keep in mind what you are doing for your body’s health!
I also found out that homemade deodorant actually DOES work!
Once I took care of the coconut oil issue, and played around with the recipe (reduced the baking soda to a point I could handle), I discovered sheer DEODORANT BLISS!
Homemade deodorant works WAY better than toxic commercial products!
I think the essential oils used in the product really did more than make it smell good. They happen to be oils that are antibacterial and antiseptic, so any bacteria on my skin was annihilated and therefore can't cause odor! Awesome!
And best of all, I found that after using it over time, I actually sweat LESS than before! I still sweat, but it is no longer a big problem. I think my body has been able to get back to normal perspiration using natural products.
I am now confident because I no longer have to deal with that huge sweat stain under my pits and an overworked body trying to get rid of extra toxins. I have been commercially deodorant/antiperspirant free for about four whole years now! And LIFE IS GOOD. :-)
Here is a recipe that I use.
Once in awhile I will change up the essential oils, however, I have found that those essential oils that help to neutralize odor causing agents (like lavender, tea tree oil, frankincense, patchouli, etc) work best for me.
Heidi's Au Naturale DIY Deodorant Recipe
Ingredients for Natural Deodorant (Without Coconut Oil):
3 tbsp Shea Butter
2 to 2 1/2 tbsp Baking Soda
3 tbsp Arrowroot powder
2 tbsp Cocoa Butter
About 3 drops or so Vitamin E oil
About 20 to 30 drops of your choice of Essential Oils
I really love Lavender and Patchouli or Lavender and Frankincense combos myself.
Once in awhile I like to use Tangerine Essential Oil, but I always add in a little Tea Tree or Lavender because the Tangerine seems to do very little for odor because it’s not a highly antibacterial essential oil.
I love Starwest Botanicals for natural body oils, essential oils, and herbs (even culinary). The links above are for Amazon, for your convenience!
Other Things You'll Need:
A double boiler or a Mason jar set up. See Step 2.
2 or 4 ounce jars. I love these amber glass jars from Amazon.
Directions for How to Make Your Own Deodorant:
Place the Butters in a double boiler (I just use a quart or pint Mason jar in a pan filled with about 1 or 2 inches or so of cold-to-start water, then bring the water to a low simmer. You do not need a lot of heat to melt the butters, and if it gets too hot, the Mason jar may actually break--I've had this happen....So LOW heat, please!
Once the butters are melted, I remove from the heat and very quickly stir in the powders and the Vitamin E oil. By that time, it's cooled a little bit, so I then drop in the essential oils and stir stir stir.
Pour into your container, stirring as you do. I place my containers in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour because these butters take a long time to set up. The extra cold really helps!
This recipe makes about 4 ounces of beautiful, great-smelling, natural deodorant for your pits and your health!!!!
Final Thoughts on Natural Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant
I've met quite a few people who struggle with 1) not wanting to be smelly and 2) not wanting to have evident sweat rings around their armpits. I feel your pain!
Luckily, if you'll trust your body to do what it is supposed to do naturally (sweat), your poor overworked sweat glands will most likely get back to normal, like mine did. I hardly sweat any more--and when I do, it feels "like it should." I don't know any way to better explain that.
It's a blessing that God gave us natural things to use on and in ourselves! Find these and ditch the man-made chemicals and toxins. I think you'll be as happy as I am that you did!
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Hugs, Health, & Self-Reliance! Enjoy the Journey!
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A Quick Note: Where I Buy My Products for Homemade Products:
I purchase my baking soda in bulk from Costco.
I'm not a medical doctor. I'm also not an aesthetician or beauty expert. In no manner, stated or implied is any information I share meant to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any disease. Please seek medical attention from your doctor if you have concerns. This article is for educational purposes only and is not evaluated by the FDA.