Are Your Skincare Products Toxic? Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Are Your Skincare Products Toxic? Deodorant and Antiperspirant

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The aluminum found in many deodorants could contribute to diseases such as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. Find out what you should use instead.

is deodorant toxic
Deodorant is a necessary part of life but it also contains ingredients that can be toxic to your skin. CandyBoxImages/istock/Thinkstock

In the first two articles of this series, I talked about chemicals you might want to avoid in your soap, shampoo, lotion, and makeup. In this article, I’ll focus on deodorants and antiperspirants. These products are cocktails of many different chemicals, including several I’ve already covered, such as parabens, phthalates, and triclosan. But the most concerning (and most researched) ingredient in deodorant is aluminum, which is what I’ll focus on here.

Aluminum is the active ingredient in most antiperspirants, and it functions by forming a precipitate that physically blocks sweat glands. (1)

Much has been made of the potential link between aluminum and breast cancer, although the limited epidemiological evidence that exists on breast cancer and use of antiperspirants is equivocal. One study found that people with breast cancer who use more antiperspirants were diagnosed at an earlier age, while another study found no relationship between antiperspirant use and breast cancer. (2)

Can Aluminum in Deodorant Be Absorbed?

Before we consider the health effects of aluminum in deodorant, we need to know whether it can even be absorbed through the skin. There isn’t consensus on this point, but most evidence indicates that it can be. One 2001 study found that aluminum from a single application of antiperspirant was absorbed, but only to a small extent, especially relative to the amount of aluminum absorbed in the gut from food. (3)

However, a case study of a woman who had used an aluminum-containing antiperspirant for 4 years had toxic blood levels of aluminum, which resolved 8 months after discontinuing use of the antiperspirant. (4) Her symptoms of severe bone pain and fatigue also ceased.

Is there aluminum in your deodorant? Here’s why you should check:

A more recent study using an in vitro model shows that aluminum can be absorbed through human skin, and that stripped skin (such as freshly-shaved underarm skin) is significantly more permeable to aluminum than intact skin. (5) Aluminum is also regularly detected in both normal and cancerous breast tissue. (6) This suggests that aluminum indeed can be absorbed by the skin as well as into the breast tissue.

Can Aluminum Contribute to Breast Cancer?

What about the link with breast cancer? We know that estrogen plays a key role in the development of breast cancer, and one study demonstrated that aluminum can interact with estrogen receptors on human breast cancer cells. (7) Additional preliminary research indicates that aluminum might promote breast cancer growth in other ways as well, though more research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn. (8,9)

Human mammary epithelial cells grown in media with aluminum concentrations around 100-300µm (which is around 100,000 times lower than aluminum concentrations in antiperspirants, and comparable to aluminum concentrations found in breast tissue), resulted in DNA double strand breaks and loss of contact inhibition, two occurrences that often precede cancer. (10) Aluminum might also contribute to oxidative damage in breast tissue and increase breast cancer cells’ invasive and migratory tendencies. (11)

There is also speculation that the blockage of sweat glands caused by aluminum-based antiperspirants could lead to the dermal absorption of abnormal levels of sex hormones and pheromones, which could contribute to cancer development. (12)

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease

We can’t discuss the potential health dangers of aluminum without mentioning Alzheimer’s disease. Like breast cancer, the link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s has been a popular topic in the media. But does this link have merit?

A review conducted in 2011 says “yes.” (13) The author points to evidence that aluminum tends to accumulate in brain tissue and is capable of producing Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, and that only small amounts of aluminum are necessary to have a neurotoxic effect. If aluminum from deodorant does indeed make it into systemic circulation, this evidence indicates that it could accumulate in brain tissue over time and possibly contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

Nontoxic Alternatives to Deodorant

Conventional deodorant isn’t always the easiest thing to replace, but at the very least, try to find a brand that doesn’t contain aluminum. This means avoiding anything that is an “antiperspirant.” For completely non-toxic deodorants that don’t contain aluminum, parabens, or any other questionable chemicals, you can try Primal Pit Paste or Primal Life Organics.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous (or want to save some money), you can try one of the many recipes online for homemade deodorant. The most popular formulation is based on baking soda, like this recipe from Mommypotamus. Other recipes use diatomaceous earth, bentonite clay, or magnesium oil as the active ingredient, and some people find that simply applying magnesium oil as deodorant eliminates odor. (Plus, you get an extra dose of magnesium – something you actually want your skin to absorb!) Wellness Mama also suggests that using bentonite clay to “detox” your armpits can reduce odor and make deodorant less necessary.

“Crystal” deodorants are another popular choice, although I have mixed feelings about them. These deodorant stones are made of alum, which is a compound made up of aluminum sulfate bonded to either potassium or ammonium (plus a bunch of water molecules). On the one hand, this compound is larger than the aluminum compounds found in conventional deodorant, and is therefore unlikely to be absorbed through the skin, but I haven’t been able to find any actual data on dermal absorption of alum. So while crystal deodorants are a better choice than conventional deodorants, you might be better off forgoing aluminum altogether and trying a baking soda or clay-based deodorant.

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  1. Depression is a really dangerous illness and it must be cured WITHOUT DRUGS!
    I had been suffering because of depression for a long time after divorce and one day I realized how close to suicide I was…
    Also that times I drank antidepressants.
    But then I reversed my behaviour with an anti-depression system (I wrote my full story here (right column) http://style4u.me/depressioncures/ , hope this help), and now I am a happy woman always in a good mood =)

  2. Hi Chris & All

    First of all thank you for what you do! Thinking of Paleo as a framework and not a hard-and-fast dogma has been liberating.

    I have picked up signals online that tea tree oil may be estrogenic. Is there research to validate this? I use a line of ‘natural’ hair care products which features teatree oil but cut back until I learn more.

    Thanks for any insights!

    D.J.

  3. I’ve tried most of them and have now found that the Men’s Deodorant essential oil blend by Veriditas Botanicals is the one the works best for both my husband and me. A couple of drops under each arm and we are very happy with the results. It also comes in a roll-on. We are not having any rash/itching that we started to have with Primal Pit Paste which worked for awhile. Veriditas also has a Women’s deodorant but I prefer the smell of the men’s. All her essential oils are organic! http://veriditasbotanicals.com/

  4. Hi!
    I just use Bicarbonate. There is a cleaner powder awailable then baking powder, at least in Sweden.
    It is a powder. I just wet my finger, dip it in the Bicarbonate and apply it in my armpit which are a litte but moist after the shower.

    The “Chrystl lStone was quite good too but after I dropped it a few times I got kind of tired of it.
    Meeta

  5. I don’t have an odor problem, I have a perspiration problem. If I don’t use an antiperspirant I sweat and my clothes around my armpits become noticeably wet – very bad professionally. No natural deodorant helps this problem.

    • Zannie I had the same problem for years, ever since I was a pre-teen and started antiperspirant, until 4 years ago when I created and started using Primal Pit Paste. We have many customers with Hyperhydrosis, excessive sweating, that have found success with Primal Pit Paste. It takes some time, but adding our PoPo powder in addition for people with excessive sweating, at first ,with the pit paste, can help while your body adjusts. When you use aluminum antiperspirants it clogs your glands to stop the sweating and your body works even harder to continue to do the job it was meant, to expel toxins through sweat. I never have wet shirts anymore nor my husband and many of our customers say the same. We feel our sweat glands have adjusted and we now sweat the appropriate amount, not in overdrive trying to fight the aluminum clog, and the arrowroot powder absorbs the moisture so we feel dry.
      It has been amazing for me personally, who could never where even a colored t-shirt without huge sweat rings, not to mention any nice silky or dressy outfits. Its been a life changer for sure!
      Good luck on your journey and I know you can find a solution even if it is not Primal Pit Paste!
      Many people have posted great recipes, so give it a whirl and don’t give up!

    • An old folk remedy against excessive sweating is sage in form of tea or bath. Nowadays you can also get sage leaf tablets. I’m not sure how effective the tablets are, but I’ve had good experiences with the tea and the bath (although it takes a lot of leafs – or tea – to make an effective bath). The tea is VERY bitter so I can’t tell how well the average ‘sweet’ western palate would deal with it : )

  6. Has anyone else noticed on themselves that only one armpit smells? For me, it’s just the left one. Any idea why that could be? In steamy Florida, coconut oil and arrowroot just don’t cut it. I’ll be ordering one or more of these suggestions. Thanks for the tips everyone.

  7. Blocking up sweat glands isn’t very wise. Toxins accumulate in the lymph near the armpit because of it, not only because of what is applied to the skin. We need to sweat some toxins out.
    Since I’ve gotten on top of my gut health, and eliminated most bad bacteria from my body, I have stuff all armpit odour. The odour is caused by bad bacteria, not by good bacteria. I can sweat heaps and still not have much odour. My clothes don’t get stinky either. Offensive body odour is an indication of sub optimal health. Though some foods will cause odour – garlic, spices, etc.
    How about himalayan salt bars as an alternative to alum deodorant stones?

  8. MILK OF MAGNESIA…is more effective than any specialized product on the market! A completely non-toxic, non-irritating product that is usually ingested/swallowed for acid indigestion. Topically, it can be applied to underarms, in a very thin layer with a finger-tip — and, if it is allowed to fully dry, it will work as both a deodorant and an antiperspirant for 24 hrs or more. It will not stain clothing either. Got the tip via People’s Pharmacy.

    • Just make sure the brand you use does not contain hypochlorite, which is bleach.
      That is most likely what is inhibiting the bacteria causing odor.

      • Hi Amy,

        My GENERIC brand MILK OF MAGNESIA contains magnesium hydroxide (a natural mineral) and distilled water. It does not contain sodium hypochlorite (a bleach). Moreover, it is my understanding that the odor-neutralising properties of milk of magnesia are due to the magnesium itself.

        Note: the brand name product “Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia” does contain sodium hypochlorite, plus several other additives/preservatives/colorants.

  9. As a fourth generation nutritionist, learning specialist and holistic personal chef, I have been raised to avoid many of the chemicals and toxins by making my own concoctions. regarding deodorant, vinegar works, also, baking soda as well as rubbing a cut potato on the area to deodorize. I have given classes to homeless women on how to use everyday foods to nourish as well as clean or even use as makeup. However, some people prefer the traditional “look” and for those I have referred them to tea tree oil deodorant made by Melaleuca.

  10. Just want to say thanks for all the great shout outs for Primal Pit Paste! We love our customers and their transformation Pit Stories! Its what keeps us going every day. There are some great companies and products listed here.
    We are in the middle of a sale right now for anyone who wants to give Primal Pit Paste a try. Just go to http://www.primalpitpaste.com
    coupon code: MADSALE and get 20% off! check out our FB page for more information page and the sale details!
    Thanks for all your passion on this topic! We certainly think it is Pitty Important! GoPrimal!
    Thanks again Chris for the Primal Pit Paste shout out!

    • I started using Primal Pit Paste this week. Took a bit of getting used to but I love it now and it works great.

      I started looking at natural alternatives when I realized that washing my underarms wasn’t removing the antiperspirant which was grossing me out a bit.

      I also use Tropical Traditions body lotion (and on my face) and now just need to switch my hair care and makeup. I think hair products will be a bit challenging since I have fine hair which can’t handle heavy product residue.

      • Avalon Organics products are very light. I alternate between them, Acure, and Desert Essence (coconut) which is a little heavier.

      • For hair care, switching to a sulfate free shampoo does take some getting used to. Your hair kind of freaks out for a few days. But after your hair adjusts you’re golden!! I use Boom Bar by Perfectly Posh (www.poshingvegas.com) and follow it up with Its Deep conditioner. Both are sulfate free, paraben free, phlafate free and paraffin free. I have thin hair and Boom Bar works great on me! It gives me volume and doesn’t strip or weigh it down. Love!!!!

  11. I went from brand-name deodorant/antiperspirants to more “organic” types years ago, usually containing Tea Tree oil, then more recently realized that a bit of the oil on my finger direct from the bottle and rubbed under my arms worked just as well. So no more parabens, etc, and I’m still raising a stink about aluminum in baking powder.

    • Rumford Baking Powder is Aluminum Free or make your own:
      Sift 1/4 cup cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons baking soda through fine strainer 3 times into small bowl. DO AHEAD: Can be made 4 weeks ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. Test-kitchen tip: Homemade Baking Powder may clump after it has been stored, so be sure to resift before using.

    • As all natural products are soooo expensive. I make my own EVERYTHING, lol! Incl. Magnesium oil, which will burn like hell if you shave for women….SO PLEASE DO NOT EVEN GO THERE Chris!!!!!! xoxoxo;-p

      It does not have to be fancy! Some coconut oil or any other carrier oil with a few drops of essential oils (whichever you prefer) and mix and match with other raw ingredients. I will post a recipe soon. I also have amazing recipes for anti aging etc. that show IMMEDIATE RESULTS and looking to sell my brand and need help in every area as don’t know where to start. SO as with anything designed by LOA, karma and fate. Just thought I would throw that out there? xoxoxo

      In meanwhile, sparetime all I do is want to help others and have a passion for research, health, truth, light and love. SO if interested please check out my health blog/website. I have so much info and just getting started with little time that unfortunately is never enough! I have A LOT of knowledge and info to share! God bless!

      Namaste! Love and Light!
      Luna

      And they still wont admit to Fluoride yet poisoned our mouths for yrs with Mercury???

      No one wonders why Vaccines are killing us and so is everything else. This world needs a wake up call big time. So thank you for your role in this Chris. Your abundance and success from your hard work and dedication to enlightenment and seeking truth is well deserved sir!

  12. I have used an antiperspirant for years and about two years ago I suddenly got a bad rash. I had to stop using deodorant completely, I tried cococnut oil and a few other prescribed creams to get rid of the rash. What finally helped was Trimovate Cream, which I used for about two weeks (not longterm).
    Next I started to experiment with home made deo (cocounut oil, baking soda etc), crystal stone etc, and they helped with smell to some extent, but not 100% and some of them also irritated my skin, ruined clothes etc. I also really want the antiperspirant effect, not just get rid of smell.
    I tried going back to my normal antiperspirant and that was ok for a day or two but then it would start irritate my skin again.
    Then about a year ago I discovered a company using organic natural oils for skin/face care. I use the body oils either in the shower all over body (which is better than lotion) or after I have shaved I apply one pump of oil in the armpits. Most days I use antiperspirant, I wait a little to let the oil set or I apply deo later during the day. I think the oil creates a barrier and protects the skin. If I remember I try to wash the deo off again at night.
    This might not be an ideal solution since I’m using an antiperspirant, but it works for me. I’m still looking for the ultimate non dangerous antiperspirant though! I live in the UK and the oils are from a British company; http://www.naturalelementsskincare.com/
    P.S.
    I also use their face oils – which helped me with a rash I had on one eyelid, and the sun oil (the body oil for sensitive skin) which is amazing. Last summer I didn’t burn or develop sun eczema once, I even got a little bit of tan (I have fair skin). If being in the sun for longer I’d still apply SPF on top of the oil.

    Finally – many thanks to Chris for all the well researched and presented information in your newsletters/website.

  13. I have tried so many natural deodorants that control odor just fine, but here in the deep South, it isnt just odor control that is needed when you are sweating buckets for most of the year. I just cant stand feeling wet and sticky and have yet to find anything to be more antiperspirant in nature. Any ideas?

  14. It’s important to get to the cause of offensive smells. The main cause of offensive smells is germs.

    I have found hydrogen peroxide kill the germs, and works as a good underarm deodorant.

    It’s cheap too!

  15. After a lot of frustration trying lots of natural deodoarant brands, I thought it would be helpful to metion that I have had the most success with Schmidt’s deodorant. Really works, and goes on nice and smooth. Ingredients: baking soda, arrowroot powder, cocoa butter, shea butter, and vitamin E. If you get a scented version, they do have essential oils in them.

  16. I have been using 91% or 99% rubbing alcohol as my deodorant for years. A small amount works fine. I use it under my arms and on my feet. I came across this when reading the contents of an odor spray for shoes.

  17. I found using about 1 tbsp coconut oil with 1 tsp (ish) baking soda made into a quick paste and rubbed into my pits have kept me odour and sweat free.
    Thanks for all the great posts. Very interesting to read other options exist.

  18. Both my husband and I sweat easily, and we tried many brands, but the best we’ve found is Ava Anderson non-toxic. This deodorant is baking- soda based like Primal Pit Paste (if irritation comes from the baking soda, just make sure to wipe it off every night), but it controlled both odor and sweating almost all day…