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Toxic chemicals in deodorant graphic

The Problem

Deodorant. It’s a permanent staple in our medicine cabinets and toiletry bags for a reason: it’s a trusted travel companion, a necessity on a stressful day at work, and a confidence booster before a date. The problem? Conventional deodorants can contain harmful ingredients that make us (figuratively) sweat. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ingredients to be avoided and tips to help you spot safer options.

Ingredients of Concern

Triclosan: Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical, used in deodorants to kill odor-causing germs on the skin. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can mimic hormones or interfere with hormonal signaling. The chemical’s endocrine disrupting abilities are supported by numerous scientific studies. The chemical is also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The abundance of health concerns associated with triclosan, both to people and aquatic life, has led FDA to ban its use in hand soaps. However, the chemical is still permitted for use in other products, like deodorant.

Phthalates: Phthalates, pronounced thal-ates, are common ingredients in all personal care products, including deodorant and antiperspirants. These chemicals are used to make other ingredients more flexible and are also used as fragrance ingredients as they can help extend the life of fragrance. The primary concern with phthalates is their ability to disrupt the endocrine system, especially in males. Phthalates also impact female health, as exposure can cause early onset puberty, which is associated with breast cancer later in life.

Parabens: Parabens are ingredients used primarily as preservatives and are often used in combination with one another in products. Paraben preservatives in personal care products have the capability to be absorbed through the skin. Parabens are hormone impersonators, mimicking estrogen in the body. Exposure to parabens has been linked to breast cancer.

Fragrance: Fragrance formulations, which are often considered “trade secret” information, can contain hundreds of ingredients. Because they are proprietary information, the identity of ingredients is often unknown, making it impossible to identify all the ways in which fragrance ingredients might impact health. Despite lack of ingredient disclosure, numerous common fragrance ingredients have been identified. Some examples include synthetic musks, phthalates, and numerous other substances of concern.

Diethanolamine: Diethanolamine is an ingredient commonly used in deodorants, as well as other personal care products. Diethanolamine is linked to cancer. Ethoxylation, the process of treating the ingredient with ethylene oxide, is used in the production of diethanolamine. 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen, is a by-product of ethoxylation. Diethanolamine can be spotted on labels with the term “diethanolamine” or as the abbreviation DEA. DEA can be part of complex ingredients like Cocamide-DEA and DEA-Cetyl Phosphate, although these complexes aren’t as common in deodorants.

Butane and Isobutane: These gasses are used as propellants in aerosol deodorants. Isobutane is an isomer of butane, meaning it’s a compound with a different molecular structure. The European Union and Canada have imposed restrictions on butane and isobutane due to concerns over contamination with 1,3-butadiene, a chemical linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity. However, there are no such restrictions in the United States. In fact, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an industry-funded panel, has deemed both ingredients as safe for use, regardless of other global restrictions.

Aluminum: Aluminum, a metal, is a common ingredient in anti-perspirants that works by “plugging” sweat ducts to stop sweating. Aluminum can cause genomic instability on the cell level, meaning it can increase our cells’ tendency to mutate; mutations can increase the chance of tumor growth. Aluminum chlorohydrate is one of the most common compounds used in antiperspirants.

How to Avoid Them

  • Avoid products with “fragrance” on labels. When you see this term or other similar terms like “eau de toilette” or “parfum,” it means the product contains undisclosed ingredients – sometimes more than a hundred of them. Without full transparency, it’s impossible to know what you’re being exposed to.
  • Products labeled as “antibacterial” or “germ-fighting” might contain triclosan. Double check the label to see if the deodorant contains natural anti-bacterials like tea tree and clove or harmful chemicals like triclosan.
  • Skip the anti-perspirant. Anti-perspirants often contain aluminum to reduce sweating. Our bodies are designed to sweat; it’s a means of cooling down. We know that sweating can be inconvenient, but it’s necessary for a healthy body!
  • Look for the MADE SAFE seal. MADE SAFE certified products are formulated without ingredients known to harm people or the planet.