The Mystery of Deodorant: What's Really In There?

girl smelling armpit
iStock -- avemario

Lots of people take pride in how they smell, going to great lengths to ensure there's no funk and thinking if they're not always fresh from the shower, nobody will want to be around them. And so many turn to deodorant, making it a $70 billion per year industry. A study from the University of Bristol found that of 117 women who didn’t produce odor, three-quarters of them still used deodorant.  

Conventional deodorant isn’t very good for your body, as many types contain toxic chemicals that may harm human health and the environment. Deodorant soaks directly into skin, so it’s important to know its ingredients and their risks.  

Here are some of deodorants’ most common and toxic ingredients:  

  1. Aluminum: Aluminum is the main ingredient in most antiperspirants. It may alter the balance of odor-causing bacteria in your armpits, which can actually make you smell worse. Aluminum is linked to health issues that affect the liver and kidneys.  

  1. Parabens: These are commonly found in makeup and deodorant and are used to prevent bacterial growth. However, they can interrupt hormonal balance in the body, and they're estrogen mimickers that can lead to breast cancer. 

  1. Propylene Glycol: Often listed as PG, this ingredient is a suspected skin and kidney toxicant. It's also skin sensitizer, meaning it could result in allergic reactions on the skin.  

  1. Triclosan: Triclosan is a chemical that’s used to help keep the odor-causing bacteria out of your pits, but it can also kill the good bacteria in your body. Killing the good can mean that when bacteria repopulates, the good might be replaced by even more bad, which could make you stinkier or even sick. Consequently, triclosan has been linked to rising numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The FDA has issued warnings against this ingredient because of its ability to disrupt the functioning of thyroid hormones.   

  1. Silica: Silica is added to deodorant to help absorb moisture from sweat, but it is also known as a skin irritant. The silica in deodorant may also be contaminated with a compound called crystalline quartz, which has been linked to the development of cancer cells and respiratory diseases.  

Solution: Natural Deodorants 

Opting for a natural deodorant is safer than using a deodorant with one or more of the five ingredients from above. Most natural deodorants use ingredients like baking soda and coconut oil, which have antibacterial properties. Natural products tend to be deodorants, not antiperspirants, meaning they stop the smell but not the sweat itself. Most have essential oils for scent and are gentle on the skin.

  1. Creating Harmony LLC sells the Sage & Rose Deodorant Mist. This mist is made with mineral salts, which helps prevent odor. 

  1. Schmidts Naturals sells Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant Stick, which is enriched with mineral-derived odor-fighting ingredients such a magnesium and baking soda, and has plant-based powders that help absorb wetness without aluminum.  

  1. North Coast Organics offers 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free deodorant in five different scents. Natural ingredients include coconut oil and baking soda.