Deodorant exists in virtually every single one of our makeup bags and medicine cabinets. But at Made Safe, we’ve got a love/hate relationship with our sticks. We love it post-gym or before a first date, but not so much when we flip over the label and see the ingredients. Deodorant and anti-perspirant can contain many toxic chemicals.

Ingredients of Concern

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 level of the cells, 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. Scientists don’t currently totally understand how aluminum is absorbed through our skin, and so they can’t truly assess the risk aluminum in antiperspirants poses. However, three European reports assessing aluminum’s safety have concluded that aluminum is not safe for use in personal care products as it’s currently used.

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 disrupting abilities is supported by numerous studies.[i] The chemical is also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The plethora of health concerns associated with triclosan, both to people and aquatic life, has led the FDA to ban its use in hand soaps. However, the chemical is still permitted for use in other products, like deodorant.

Phthalates: Phthalates, pronounced tha-lates, are common ingredients in all personal care products, including deodorant and antiperspirants. The chemicals are used to make other ingredients more flexible and are also used as fragrance ingredients. 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 in products. The 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 trade secret information, can contain hundreds of ingredients. Because the formulations are trade secrets, the identity of ingredients is often unknown, making it essentially impossible to identify all the ways in which fragrance ingredients might impact health. However, we have identified some common fragrance ingredients. Synthetic musks, like galaxolide and tonalide, are linked to hormone disruption. Fragrance formulations also commonly contain allergens, so much so that the European Union requires cosmetic companies to list 26 common fragrance allergens on packaging. Fragrance formulations also contain phthalates, in addition to thousands of other ingredients currently in use.

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. Butane is prohibited from cosmetics in the European Union, and restricted in Canada. 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, regardless of other global restrictions.

How to Avoid Them

  • Avoid products with undisclosed fragrance. The word “fragrance” on labels means there can be many mystery ingredients inside. 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 antibacterials like tea tree and clove or harmful chemicals like triclosan.
  • Skip the antiperspirants, which often contain aluminum to reduce sweating. Our bodies are designed to sweat as a means of detoxing and cooling down. We know that sweating can be inconvenient, but it’s necessary for a healthy body!
  • A good rule of thumb for choosing any product is to look for ingredients that you recognize. Deodorants are notorious for using many harmful chemicals. Choose simpler options instead.
  • Go au naturale. Advertising has convinced us that we should smell like fields of flowers or clean laundry, even if our own sweat doesn’t stink. Try going without deodorant, if you’re up for it—you might be surprised to learn you don’t smell.

Look for the MADE SAFE seal, which means that products are made without ingredients known to harm people or ecosystems.

[i] Ahn, K. C., Zhao, B., Chen, J., Cherednichenko, G., Sanmarti, E., Denison, M. S., . . . Hammock, B. D. (2008). In vitro biologic activities of the antimicrobials triclocarban, its analogs, and triclosan in bioassay screens: Receptor-based bioassay screens. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(9), 1203-1210. doi:10.1289/ehp.11200

Chen, J., Ahn, K. C., Gee, N. A., Ahmed, M. I., Duleba, A. J., Zhao, L., . . . Lasley, B. L. (2008). Triclocarban enhances testosterone action: A new type of endocrine disruptor? Endocrinology, 149(3), 1173-1179. doi:10.1210/en.2007-1057

Christen, V., Crettaz, P., Oberli-Schrämmli, A., & Fent, K. (2010). Some flame retardants and the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban enhance the androgenic activity in vitro. Chemosphere, 81(10), 1245-1252. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.09.031

Huang, H., Du, G., Zhang, W., Hu, J., Wu, D., Song, L., . . . Wang, X. (2014). The in vitro estrogenic activities of triclosan and triclocarban. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 34(9), 1060-1067. doi:10.1002/jat.3012

James, M. O., Li, W., Summerlot, D. P., Rowland-Faux, L., & Wood, C. E. (2010). Triclosan is a potent inhibitor of estradiol and estrone sulfonation in sheep placenta. Environment International, 36(8), 942-949. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2009.02.004

Kumar, V., Chakraborty, A., Kural, M. R., & Roy, P. (2009). Alteration of testicular steroidogenesis and histopathology of reproductive system in male rats treated with triclosan. Reproductive Toxicology, 27(2), 177-185. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2008.12.002

Paul, K. B., Hedge, J. M., DeVito, M. J., & Crofton, K. M. (2010). Short-term exposure to triclosan decreases thyroxine in vivo via upregulation of hepatic catabolism in young long-evans rats. Toxicological Sciences, 113(2), 367-379. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfp271