This post reviews the potential deodorant health risks. The ingredients used in deodorant can be endocrine disruptors, potential carcinogens, skin irritants and more and this post will teach you which ingredients to avoid in deodorants and antiperspirants.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links whereby if you purchase the product through that link I make a small commission. This does not cost you anything extra and helps me keep this website running.
Table of Contents
Deodorant health risks:
Deodorant or antiperspirant. We pretty much all use it each and every day. But what if I told you that many of the deodorants and antiperspirants found in drug stores and grocery stores contain ingredients that could contribute to many different health issues? Health issues like hormone imbalances, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and potentially even cancer. Let's examine these potential risks and the ingredients associated with them in more detail.
Ingredients to avoid in deodorant and their health concerns:
The aluminum used in antiperspirants can clog pores and hinder the body’s natural detoxification process by preventing you from sweating (sweating is a way that your body releases toxins, so we don’t want to block this process).
The other concern is that long term exposure to aluminum from deodorant can lead to accumulation of aluminum in breast tissue, which may increase your risk of breast cancer. There are a couple ways that aluminum can do this:
- Aluminum build up can lead to alterations in DNA which can contribute to cancer development (Reference 1, Reference 2).
- Aluminum can also interfere with estrogen receptors, and estrogen has a well established role in the development of breast cancer (Reference 1, Reference 2).
Whether or not aluminum in antiperspirants can actually lead to breast cancer is still not clear, as there have been very few studies examining this issue directly, and of the studies that have been done, there have been conflicting results with some showing an increased risk, while others do not.
Have a look at your deodorant ingredients. Do you see anything ending with the letters "aben"? - if so, that indicates a paraben.
Parabens are preservatives found in many beauty and skincare products to help increase their shelf life and stability. They are commonly found in makeup, foundations, face washes, face moisturizers and lotions.
The parabens used most often in personal care products are methyl, ethyl, butyl and propyl paraben, which are used as preservatives and antibacterial agents.
The problem with parabens is that some of them have weak estrogenic and anti-androgenic activity and are classified as endocrine disruptors or hormone disruptors.
Another big issue with deodorants are the fragrances used to scent them. If you head down the deodorant isle you will see all sorts of different scents. From fruity to citrus to vanilla to fresh and breezy (what does that even mean by the way?). You get the idea. The problem is that the ingredients used to make these fragrances can be harmful to your health.
Have another look at your deodorant label. Do you see the word "fragrance" or "scent" or "parfum" listed? If so, I recommend tossing that deodorant. Here's why: "fragrances" are considered to be trade secrets. This means that a company doesn't have to disclose any of the ingredients used to make up that fragrance. Hidden within that little unassuming term could be hundreds of chemicals or ingredients, some of which could be harmful to your health. And you don't get to know what any of them are. Scary right?
The ingredients used to make fragrances can be hormone disruptors, allergens, airway irritants, neurological-toxins and ingredients linked to infertility. That's why I recommend avoiding any product, not just deodorant, that uses synthetic fragrances or that won't disclose their fragrance ingredients. The risk just isn't worth it. Basically, avoid any product with the words "fragrance", "scent", "perfume" or "parfum" in the ingredient list.
Phthalates are used to make products flexible and bendy and to help fragrances and scents last longer.
Certain phthalates are known to be hormone disruptors or endocrine disruptors and have been shown to have many negative health effects including decreasing sperm counts, contributing to heart disease, contributing to early death, weight gain and diabetes.
Phthalates can also be included in a products fragrance formula so also be sure to avoid products with the terms fragrance, perfume or parfum in the ingredient lists.
Ethanolamines (DEA, TEA, MEA)
The European Commission and Health Canada prohibit the use of DEA in cosmetics and personal care products due to concerns regarding the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines. However, these chemicals are still allowed to be used in other countries.
There is also concern that these chemicals can negatively impact male fertility as in vitro studies have shown they impair sperm motility and viability. Animals studies also shown concering neurological effects. TEA is also an immune and respiratory toxin.
To avoid ethanolamines, look for DEA, TEA and MEA when reading ingredient lists.
If you missed it, many deodorant and antiperspirant sprays have been recalled recently because they were found to contain benzene. Brands like Old Spice, Secret, Sure, and Brut. Benzene is a known carcinogen and can also cause other health problems like aplastic anemia, so you definitely don't want it in your deodorant or antiperspirant. Note that so far it has only been deodorant and antiperspirant sprays (not sticks) that have been found to be contaminated with benzene (it was a contaminant in the propellant used in the aerosol).
Propylene glycol can be irritating to the skin and can cause allergic reactions.
PEG compounds (PEGS) are created by condensing water and ethylene oxide. While PEG compounds themselves are usually safe for health, they can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogen and because they are penetration enhancers, depending on what other ingredients are in the product, they can potentially make other toxic ingredients more harmful as well.
Talc is used in the personal care industry for various reasons including to increase absorbency, as an anti-caking agent, bulking agent, and anti-slip agent. The problem with talc is that it can often be contaminated with asbestos which is a known carcinogen and can cause respiratory toxicity.
Studies done by the National Toxicology Panel have also shown that cosmetic-grade talc that is free of asbestos is a form of magnesium silicate that also can be toxic and carcinogenic.
Tricolsan is an anti-bacterial agent that is added to many products in order to prevent bacterial contamination, and to kill bacteria on the surface of the skin. Triclosan is used so commonly that 75% of Americans have detectable levels in their urine.
But don't worry, you don't need to memorize this list of ingredient to avoid in deodorant. I created a free printable for you with a list of ingredients that you should avoid in skincare and cosmetic products:
How to choose a non-toxic deodorant
Of course the safest type of deodorant is no deodorant at all, but I realize that that is not a realistic option for many people. Especially if you are working out or sweating on a regular basis you will likely find that you will need some sort of deodorant to help prevent you from smelling or having strong body odour. This is where natural deodorants and safe, non-toxic deodorants come in. Now, non-toxic deodorants are not all created equally. Trust me, I tried about 10 different brands before I found some that worked for me.
I wrote an entire post on this topic, The 15 Best Non Toxic Deodorants to help you find the best non toxic deodorant for your body and budget.
Of all the non toxic deodorants that I've personally tried, I have two favourites:
This is my personal favourite safe deodorant. It neutralizes body odors, goes on clear with no white cast, absorbs sweat, smells amazing, comes in refillable containers (so it’s also better for the environment) and doesn’t contain any harmful ingredients or harmful chemicals.
You buy the initial deodorant, and then simply purchase the refills once your first one runs out. This way it’s better for the environment as it produces less waste. The coconut scent is my favourite, followed by the lavender one.
Primally Pure Deodorant
This is my second favourite non toxic deodorant. The Primally Pure deodorant is also a great option because it’s made with all natural ingredients, is paraben free and is only scented with essential oils and contains no artificial or synthetic fragrances.The Lavender one and charcoal ones are my personal favourites.
Frequently asked questions:
Natural deodorant can work very well, but some brands do work better than others. As well, every body is different so it may take you a bit of trial and error to find a clean deodorant that works well for you.
You are likely sensitive or allergic to one of the ingredients in the deodorant. One of the most common irritants in natural deodorant is baking soda so try finding a baking soda free formula instead.
Other health info you will want to read:
- The Best Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents
- Pregnancy Safe Deodorant
- Is there mercury in your mascara?
- Is mineral or chemical sunscreen better?
- How to choose safe cookware
- Are candles toxic?
Dr. Erin Carter, MD, FRCPC, is a physician with board certifications in internal medicine and rheumatology. She is passionate about nutrition, environmental health and low toxicity living and has been doing research and publishing information in this area for years. She is also a self-trained chef and has been creating and publishing recipes since 2015. Her recipes have been featured on many different websites and online publications.