Dangerous Chemicals in Deodorant & Antiperspirant: A Detailed Review of the Chemicals, Research & Avoidance Tips

deodorantThe personal care industry has been hijacked by misleading messages and outright false advertising. More concerning is that companies are putting their profits before the health and well-being of their consumers. While the FDA is slow to react and enforce regulation that could ban harmful ingredients, consumers continue to use their “trusted” products.

Deodorants and Antiperspirants are a hot topic. Spread across the internet is misinformation and confusion, and if there is one thing that requires clarity it is your health. Mainly at stake is the frightening warning that toxic chemicals in deodorants and antiperspirants can cause cancer, Alzheimer’s and allergic reactions.

Aluminum is one of the main concerns. But it is not the only concern. Most conventional deodorants contain a slew of toxic chemicals, such as aluminum chlorohydrate, parabens, propylene glycol, triclosan, TEA, DEA, FD&C colors, and Talc, among others.

Unfortunately, the clarity we desperately need is not so easy to come by. Numerous studies have been conducted to examine the effects or deodorant and antiperspirant on the body, but the findings show conflicting data. A comprehensive review of the main studies is located below.

The following is a detailed list and explanation of dangerous chemicals commonly found in non-natural deodorants and antiperspirants:


Aluminum-based compounds are the active ingredients in antiperspirants. They block the sweat glands to keep sweat from getting to the skin’s surface. Some research has suggested that these aluminum compounds may be absorbed by the skin and cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells. Because estrogen can promote the growth of both cancer and non-cancer breast cells, some scientists have suggested that using the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may be a risk factor for the development of breast cancer.

Studies have looked at aluminum content of breast tissue, and aluminum absorption through the skin, but no clear link to breast cancer has been made. Researchers continue to look at this possible breast cancer risk factor and more studies are needed. (American Cancer Society)


Parabens in their many forms (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben) are a class of artificial preservatives widely used in cosmetics and personal care products that are being investigated for their possible role in breast cancer. Parabens mimic the activity of estrogen in the body. Since estrogen promotes the growth of breast cancer cells and a woman is eight times more likely to develop breast cancer in the part of the breast closest to the underarm, scientists are studying the connection.

Although parabens have estrogen-like properties, the estrogens that are made in the body are hundreds of times stronger. So, natural estrogens (or those taken as hormone replacement) are much more likely to play a role in breast cancer development.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol—a humectant which means it keeps substances from drying out, and it was originally developed as an anti-freeze, but is now included in some deodorants and antiperspirants. It is a neurotoxin known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver damage. In propylene glycol’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), published by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, workers are urged to avoid skin contact with the toxic chemical as it may cause eye and skin irritation, gastrointestinal irritation and discomfort, nausea, headache, vomiting, and central nervous depression.


TEA and DEA (triethanolamine and diethanolamine) adjust the pH, and used with many fatty acids to convert acid to salt (stearate), which then becomes the base for a cleanser. They both could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time where DEA can cause liver and kidney damage and TEA can cause allergic reactions. These chemicals are already restricted in Europe due to known carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects.


Triclosan is an artificial antimicrobial chemical used to kill bacteria on the skin and other surfaces. Triclosan is a skin irritant and may cause contact dermatitis. Recent studies suggest this chemical may disrupt thyroid function and other critical hormone systems. The American Medical Association recommends that triclosan and other “antibacterial” products not be used in the home, as they may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics that can allow resistant strains to flourish.

FD&C colors

FD&C colors are artificial/synthetic colors approved by the FDA for food, drug and cosmetics. Some are made from coal tar derivatives and have known to be carcinogenic; they also often cause allergic skin reactions.


Talc, hydrous magnesium silicate, is a soft mineral used in personal care products as an absorbent and color additive. It is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer if it contains asbestiform fibers. The quantity of asbestiform fibers in cosmetic grade talc is unregulated. If talc is listed on the label, there is no way of knowing whether or not it contains asbestiform fibers.

Studies & Findings

Numerous studies have been conducted examining the causation between deodorants and antiperspirants and breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and allergic reactions. The analysis of all major studies shows conflicting data. Some findings support the hypothesis that there is a direct correlation between deodorant and antiperspirant use and breast cancer, while other research finds no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant or deodorant use. Regardless, whether there is a definitive answer or not, inconclusive results is enough reason for concern, as even the idea of using a carcinogenic product is frightening.

A brief summary of major studies is as follows:
Published in 2003 in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, interviewed 437 women with breast cancer about their past and present use of deodorants. The study reported that women who applied deodorant at least twice a week and shaved their armpits at least three times a week developed breast cancer almost 15 years younger than women who did neither. Neither shaving nor applying a deodorant alone was linked with a younger age of diagnosis of the disease. The study’s methodology has been criticized by industry researchers as it did not interview non-breast cancer deodorant users or account for the age of the women being interviewed.

The World Health Organization has linked exposure to aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease, with higher frequencies of deodorant use corresponding to higher risks of developing Alzheimer’s. Abnormal accumulation of aluminum has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and when aluminum is injected into the brains of laboratory animals, the animals develop a neurological disease similar to Alzheimer’s.

Another study published in 2004 in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, looked at the synthetic chemicals, parabens. The researchers looked at 20 human breast tumor samples and found that parabens were present in 18 of them. They concluded that these results suggested that parabens in deodorants could be absorbed through the skin and increase the risk of breast cancer. Again, many experts have raised concerns about the conclusions of this study. For example, the study was very small, it did not look at the level of parabens in breast tissue of women without breast cancer, nor did it establish that the parabens actually came from deodorants or that they were absorbed through the armpits.

At the moment, all the study has shown is that the body can absorb parabens and that these chemicals are found in some breast cancer tissue. It does not show that parabens can increase the risk of or cause breast cancer.
The main conflicting research results from a epidemiologic study published in 2002 that compared 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women without the disease. The researchers found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, deodorant use, or underarm shaving.

Tips to Avoid Harmful Chemicals: Go Green

If your goal is to avoid all suspicion of harmful chemicals, than using traditional deodorant or antiperspirant will make that very difficult. The easiest way to keep your body safe and healthy is to avoid entirely all chemical laden deodorants and antiperspirants, and begin using natural deodorants.

Natural deodorants are now mainstream and can be found in specialty retailers, supermarkets, mass merchandisers and online. They come in many different forms too – spray, roll-on, stick and stone. A popular unconventional type of natural deodorant is crystal deodorant made from mineral salt. There are also deodorants made from natural ingredients like hops, baking soda and organic essential oils. But now that there are so many available and “green-washing” is abound, the difficulty lies in deciphering through the marketing jargon and identifying which deodorants are truly natural, and which still have dangerous chemicals lurking in the ingredient list hidden behind a false “natural” claim.

My advice to you is don’t just trust the label. Choose a natural deodorant with a third-party certification, such as more bearing the seal of BDIH, NaTrue, and NPA, to name a few. If the product is not certified “natural” or “organic” read the ingredient list carefully. Educate yourself on potentially harmful ingredients that you can avoid. And if you are concerned of its ingredients check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to see the hazard score of your current products ingredients or an alternative you might be considering.

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Posted by on Sep 17th, 2010 and filed under FEATURED ARTICLES, TOXIC PRODUCTS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses for “Dangerous Chemicals in Deodorant & Antiperspirant: A Detailed Review of the Chemicals, Research & Avoidance Tips”

  1. Thank you Michelle, I agree, it is best to avoid chemicals in personal care products as the jury is still out, but why take the risk? The industry is so enormous, it has the capacity to gloss over gaps in research and leave the consumer in a precarious position. More information on chemicals in skin care at http://www,nochemicalcosmetics.com

  2. Thank you very much for the post and for publishing a attractive website. I have been looking for savvy information on natural health and will put this information to use. I have found it difficult to locate honest recommendations, as there are tons of sites with useless posts. Certainly keep it flowing!

  3. Michelle says:

    A great article and one I’ll be passing on.

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  7. Desarae says:

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  8. jimmy says:

    those studies sound pretty worthless. i’m no scientist, but i recognized even before the article mentioned it that this was the work of someone with an agenda:

    “Another study published in 2004 in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, looked at the synthetic chemicals, parabens. The researchers looked at 20 human breast tumor samples and found that parabens were present in 18 of them.”

    and i’m sure they found that DNA was present in all the samples too!

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  11. Pey says:

    Mandy as Amanda Y?

  12. TTLN says:

    Good article – hit the nail on the head!

    Lots of natural deodorants out there. Anyone try Lavilin? My aunt suggested it and I’m trying it now after a couple of years using other brands. So far so good!

  13. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be
    really something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me.
    I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

  14. Maya says:

    TTLN – I use Lavilin all the time!!! Love it! Excellent product! Keep on using it, the more you use it the more you’ll appreciate it!!

  15. Try Miessence Certified Organic Deodorant – sold by Family Organics.

  16. Philip says:

    I have been using purelygreat for a few years and it keeps me smelling fresh regardless what activity I am doing. From long hikes to playing hockey. I still sweat but no BO! Highly recommend it!!

  17. I believe that avoiding packaged foods is a first step so that you can lose weight. They will taste good, but refined foods have very little vitamins and minerals, making you consume more just to have enough electricity to get through the day. When you are constantly having these foods, transferring to grain and other complex carbohydrates will let you have more electricity while eating less. Good blog post.

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  20. Shelly says:

    PureBodyScent is the best on the market. No aluminum, no hydrogenated oils and other toxins. The best part is… the more you sweat the better you smell. I’m a nurse and I had to pull a double shift and found out very quick how effective this deodorant is. They smell wonderful!

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  22. Mara says:

    On the studies about the deodorants. what is the link to those studies? it is very interesting and o would like to read the articles/ studies.

  23. tonya says:

    I have completely stopped using any product under my arms. I rub coconut oil on as lotion and I go under my arms with it also. It has been years since I used any deodorant antiperspirant product. I sweat very little under there now whereas when I used them, I sweated profusely and even bought the strongest “clinical” versions to no avail. Now I am trying to get my bf to stop. I love the way he smells naturally. Those are pheromones that are a major turn on.

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  25. Hi dearies, I am from the Philippines and we have products that do not contain any HARMFUL CHEMICALS, all our products are 100% NATURAL, 100% ORGANIC. It is Human Heart Nature, it is about loving the Philippines, loving the environment and loving our families as we provide only the safest and purest world-class ingredients for them. These are effective AND affordable organic personal care products that feel as good on your skin as they do in your heart. We hope that you will find a sense of peace and purpose knowing that your everyday choices have a positive impact on our country and our planet.

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  26. Mae says:

    We used to have those problems all the time but switched to Lavilin all-natural deodorant and we are all set. Great deodorant – safe and smells good too.

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  29. KX Yorkville says:

    This is a great article. It’s true, many of the everyday products we use have dangerous chemicals that build up toxins in our bodies. We talk about the importance of using an all natural deodorant on our blog. Check it out!

  30. Ugh says:

    …just so some of you know, EVERYTHING is made of chemicals. It doesn’t matter how natural or synthetic something is, everything in the universe is made of atoms, that make up molecules, that make chemicals, that make up everything else.

    And the talk about “harmful” chemicals is one that I doubt any of you are educated in. Talk to an actual chemist about these things and see what they say. And I’m not talking about someone who works for those companies, I mean an independent chemist. Cause I can guarantee they won’t agree with 95 to 100% of what you’ve said.

    Last thing I’ll say. The companies that make “all-natural” or “chemical free” (which is really meaningless) are still out to make a profit and take your money.

  31. Try Green Tidings All Natural Deodorant, which is currently the best-selling AND top-rated natural deodorant on Amazon.com- out of 11,000 (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EOB001K)!

  32. Lucy says:

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  34. Tom Leeds says:

    Thanks for the article. We have a complete line of toxic free chemical-free household and personal care products. Our goal is to get young parents to understand the long-term effect that chemicals can have on their children and grandchildren. Just reach out for additional information.

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