Could commercial deodorant be bad for you? We have the facts on what is really used in commercial brands and why you may want to use one of these DIY deodorant alternatives.
By Virginia George, Contributing Writer
For many of us, an integral part of our morning routine involves rubbing a semi-solid stick into our underarms. Yes, I’m talking about deodorant. Or “pit juice,” as my mother calls it.
In recent years, the safety of conventional deodorants has been called into question. Studies have shown there is a high incidence of breast cancer tumors in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, which makes us ask whether the substances we apply to this area might cause breast cancer. (Source)
Both parabens and aluminum have been detected in breast cancer tissue. Parabens are a common preservative, found in cosmetics, foods, and pharmaceuticals. Aluminum is usually the active ingredient in antiperspirants.
Aluminum In Antiperspirant
Several studies have been done to assess whether the aluminum in antiperspirants could be a cause of breast cancer. Some studies suggested the possibility, but another meta analysis of those studies threw out many of the studies as “methodologically unsound” and therefore concluded that aluminum in underarm cosmetics does not increase the risk of breast cancer.(Source)
I did get the impression, however, that further study would be beneficial. Particularly, that it is “important to establish dermal (skin) absorption in the local area of the breast and whether long term low level absorption could play a role in the increasing incidence of breast cancer.” (Source)
While science is uncertain of the role aluminum plays in breast cancer (if any at all), it is confident that oestrogens play a role in breast cancer. (Source)
Oestrogens are hormones excreted by the ovaries that are responsible for typical female sexual characteristics. They have been found to have a “key role” in the cause of breast cancer. (Source) The exact reason for this is unclear, but it may be that oestrogens are the mediator between an individual’s risk factors. (Source)
Companies use parabens as preservatives in cosmetics, foods, and pharmaceuticals. The question is whether parabens act like oestrogens in our bodies. The evidence is pretty conclusive that while parabens have an estrogenic effect, that effect is very weak. (Source).
Our skin absorbs parabens rather easily. They are then broken down with water (hydrolized), bonded with something else (conjugated), and excreted in our urine. (Source) As with aluminum, we aren’t sure of the effects of long term exposure to parabens, but the immediate evidence suggests that they do not cause cancer.
Reducing Our Toxic Load
Neither parabens or aluminum definitively cause cancer, but they are foreign substances our bodies need to metabolize and excrete, or store in our tissues. Given the research showing the presence of both in breast cancer tissue, I prefer to avoid as much exposure to these as possible.
Thankfully, I have found several deodorant options that are effective and don’t give me any cause for concern.
DIY Deodorant Basics
I’m a huge proponent of DIY personal care. Partly to be frugal, and partly to reduce my exposure to toxins in my environment. And as far as I’m concerned, deodorant is a very easy toiletry to make yourself with ingredients already present in many homes.
I like to use food safe ingredients in my toiletries. I figure if they’re safe enough to put in my body, they’re safe enough to put on my body.
You can reuse old deodorant containers if you have them laying around. Before you do though, look inside and see if the bottom that twists up and pushes your deodorant up has holes in it. Many of them do, but this can be quickly remedied by tracing the deodorant tube on a piece of wax paper and cutting it to size. You can also order deodorant tubes online for your DIY deodorant.
Many of the ingredients can be purchased at Mountain Rose Herbs, or on Amazon.
Almost all commercial deodorants contain some kind of artificial fragrance. The FDA allows companies a certain amount of proprietary protection, which can include fragrances. Sometimes products contain nerve deadening chemicals to keep you from smelling them. “Fragrance free” doesn’t always mean there are no fragrances.
The United States’ rules of fragrance labeling for consumer products are troubling. Companies do not need to disclose fragrances or nerve deadening agents on a product’s label. This can be problematic for those with chemical fragrance sensitivities.
One of the many benefits of switching to natural fragrances or being fragrance free is that you smell better. Literally, you can smell better.
Essential oils are a great choice for scenting homemade DIY deodorant. Not only will they give your deodorant a fabulous natural scent, but many essential oils are antimicrobial and will promote the health of the skin in the underarms and eliminate bacteria that might cause odor.
Some oils are considered “hot” and shouldn’t be used without dilution. You should keep this fact in mind when choosing oils for your DIY deodorant. Others, namely citrus oils, can cause photosensitivity. Some good choices to scent your home made deodorant are:
- Ylang Ylang
About 15-20 drops of essential oil per deodorant tube is usually sufficient. Feel free to create your own blends, and find what suits you! Essential oils will react with each person’s body chemistry differently, so it may smell different on you than it does on someone else. Have fun and experiment!
I have had great results with essential oils. You can add essential oils to a DIY deodorant recipe, or use as deodorant by themselves.
Place a pea sized amount of coconut oil in the palm of your hand. Add one drop of orange, lemon, cedarwood, melaleuca (tea tree), or other essential oil of your choice. See above for other suggestions. Rub hands together and apply to the underarms.
While it might seem odd to put a kitchen condiment under one’s arms, lemon juice is actually a rather effective deodorant. Both fresh lemons and bottled lemon juice will work.
In my post about not showering every day, I talk about our body’s acid mantle. Our skin wants to be at a pH of approximately 4 to 5.5. Many soaps and cleansers are alkaline, around 10. Lemon juice comes out of the lemon around a 2, so applying lemon juice after using soap may help restore an acidic environment more quickly, which hinders the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
Place a small amount of lemon juice in the palm of your hand. Rub hands together and apply the juice to the underarms.
If you’re using a whole lemon, cut a small wedge of lemon and rub it in each underarm.
Coconut Oil Deodorant
This is the first DIY deodorant I ever made, and it continues to be a standby. Some people find that oil based deodorants like this create stains in the underarm area of their clothing. I can’t say I have really noticed this personally.
- 1/4 c corn starch or arrowroot powder
- 1/4 c baking soda
- 1/4 c coconut oil (or 3 Tbsp coconut oil and 1 Tbsp beeswax)
Add coconut oil and beeswax to a small saucepan and warm on medium heat until the coconut oil and beeswax have melted. Allow to cool slightly and pour into deodorant tube. Store out of direct sunlight or in the refrigerator in warm climates.
Clay and Butter DIY Deodorant
Some people find that baking soda is irritating to their underarms, so if you fall into that camp here is another recipe for you. This recipe also doesn’t contain any oils, just butters, so it should be less likely to stain your clothing.
- 1.5 Tbsp beeswax
- 1/4 c (4 tbsp) shea butter
- 1 Tbsp cocoa butter
- 4 tsp Redmond Clay
- (optional) 20 drops essential oil
This recipe is adapted from the Everything Soap Blog, please visit them for full instructions.
Does deodorant cause cancer?
The body of evidence provides no solid connection from deodorant to cancer, though there is some evidence to suggest underarm shaving and the use of antiperspirant or deodorant might be connected to earlier onset of breast cancer (Source). It is enough to make me want to avoid exposure to the chemicals found in conventional personal care products, but at this point there is nothing definitive to connect them.
Do you use conventional deodorant or antiperspirant? Do you think you’ll try one of these DIY deodorant recipes?
I find it highly alarming that on a blog post about natural and DYI deodorant and the potential link of commercial deodorants to cancer, that a massive Secret deodorant ad heads the article. Was this intentional? Are you earning money from people clicking through that ad and profiting from the same toxic monster that this website offers alternatives to?
The ads you see are specific to your browser and search history. I see different ads than you do. =)
I see a lot about DYI deodorants, but what I really need is an antiperspirant… any DIY recipes for that? None of these recipes address any antiperspirant ingredients. Armpit sweat dripping down your arm is disgusting even if it is odorless. At work it is quite unprofessional and unsanitary. That is the single reason I have not tried a DIY version.
I think that ozone Layer deodorant is the only one that will work on very sensitive skin like mine, all these other ‘natural deodorants’ have baking soda or even propylene glycol. i break out. besides the ozone deodorant lasts about 6 months a stick
To be honest, I’ve never heard of ozone layer deodorant. I’ll have to look at it!