There are many rumors circulating the internet and other publications about the harmful effects of deodorants and antiperspirants on our health, but finding a more natural solution to deodorant can be difficult. How do you know if it will work and be effective? Is it cost effective? What are these chemicals and why are they bad? Here’s the truth about some of the most common chemicals found in store-bought deodorants and how we can avoid them.
Two of the most common chemicals found in cosmetics are phthalates and parabens. Phthalates are added to plastic products to improve the flexibility of the plastic and are sometimes added directly to cosmetics themselves. When they are added to plastics, they are not chemically bonded and are therefore able to leech out (1). This means that even if your cosmetic product does not list any kind of phthalates in the ingredients, they could still be leeched from the plastic cosmetics container. While companies have claimed that phthalates are safe and do not bioaccumulate, increased levels present in urine samples have been linked to infertility, birth malformations, cognitive problems in children (whose mothers had increased levels of phthalates), earlier maturation among adolescents, breast cancer, insulin resistance, and more (1). Parabens are added to the majority of cosmetic products directly and serve as antimicrobial agents and preservatives. When applied to the skin, these chemicals are easily absorbed. The exact effects of parabens in humans is unknown, however, they have been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction and have also been shown to behave similarly to estrogen which has caused researchers to wonder if increased levels might be linked to breast cancer, although this has not been proven. Increased levels of parabens have, however, been found in cancerous breast tissues in women (2).
Aluminum salts are often added to deodorants to serve as an antiperspirant. According to some studies, aluminum has been found to be an effective DNA modifier and is able to interfere with the interpretation of human hormones, such as oestrogen (3). These changes to the DNA sequence could lead to the formation of cancerous cells. It is also possible that aluminum could heritable cause changes to genetic activity (3). This means that the DNA is not mutated, but its functions are changed and these altered functions could be passed on to children. These changes in function could have no repercussions at all, but could also lead to the formation of cancerous or non-cancerous tumors.
- WJ Crinnion. 2010. Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens. Alternative Medicine Review. 15(3): 190-196.
- PW Harvey, DJ Everett. 2004. Signiﬁcance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicity. 24(1): 1-4.
- PD Darbre. 2005. Aluminum, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. 99(9): 1912-1919.
Making your own deodorant at home is inexpensive and a great way to avoid applying unnecessary chemicals to your body. Here are two different recipes.
The most common recipe used for home-made deodorant involves coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch, and essential oils. Cornstarch is used to absorb moisture while baking soda is used as an odor absorber. Coconut oil is just what holds it all together and can be replaced with a variety of other oils, such as shae butter. While these ingredients are effective, too much baking soda can cause painful rashes in your armpits and, if you are a good sweater, can leave white residue on your clothes. Keeping these things in mind, this recipe uses a much smaller amount of baking soda than most others but is still good for keeping you smelling fresh:
- 2 tbsp baking soda (While baking soda does not contain aluminum, the packaging occasionally does. Make sure you get the aluminum-free variety)
- 1/3 cup cornstarch or arrowroot
- 3-5 tablespoons coconut oil (Use less oil for warmer climates or add 2 tablespoons melted bees wax to increase the hardness)
- 15 drops desired essential oil (I used 5 drops each of Melaleuca, Clove, and Lavender. Melaleuca, also known as tea tree, is a great anti-bacterial, as is Clove. Lavender is good for calming irritated skin. This combo worked for me, but feel free to experiment and find your own favorites!) (click here to purchase essential oils)
- 1 empty deodorant container (click here to purchase container)
Combine all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly, then simply spoon it into your desired container and apply as needed!
**Please note that it is best to store essential oil products in glass containers as, over time, the integrity of the plastic can be worn away by the oils. If you only plan to make small batches of deodorant at a time and go through it fairly quickly, then plastic shouldn’t be a problem.
To put this recipe to the test, I had Taylor put some on in the morning around 7 (without showering first) then took her dog for a 6 mile run. By the time they were done it was over 70 degrees, she had sweat through her shirt, and STILL didn’t stink! She could even still smell the essential oils, so she actually smelled good. Also, she put a dab between her legs and it prevented chafing! We also had two other people give it a try, one of which works outside all day long taking care of trails and hiking mountains in search of invasive weeds. Even HE came home that night smelling fairly pleasant. The other friend has fairly sensitive skin and didn’t have any reactions to the baking soda. For those of you with more sensitive skin or who don’t need as much odor protection, here is another recipe to try:
The Stink Away Spray
- 2 parts witch hazel
- 1 part aloe vera (you can usually purchase witch hazel that already has aloe added to it)
- Several drops of desired essential oil (2 drops per ounce of liquid is a good model, but you can modify it to fit your needs. I used a doTERRA blend called Purify which contains several citrus oils, giving it a very clean, fresh scent while also controlling bacterial growth.)
- 1 empty glass spray bottle (click here to purchase glass spray bottle)
Combine ingredients into a glass spray bottle, shake, and spray!
Since this recipe is void of any ingredients meant to absorb odor and wetness, the Stink Away Spray would be best for freshening up throughout the day and could be carried around in a purse or car or left at the office. If you aren’t a particularly smelly person or can’t do the baking soda, this recipe will be great for you!
Aimee Stephens and Taylor Christenson