What’s really hiding in your deodorant? Find out how (and why) to switch to a non-toxic deodorant, with a simple homemade recipe and the safer alternatives you can find at the store!
You know what stinks?
Body odour is not cool. No matter who you are. Smelly armpits and the resulting assault on the noses of those around you is definitely not cool.
But you know what’s even worse?
The dozens of harmful ingredients hiding in your conventional deodorant and anti-perspirant.
Because that stuff? Can be pretty offensive as well.
But before we go any further, we need to understand the difference between ‘deodorant’ and ‘anti-perspirant’.
Deodorant means to “remove odours,” and anti-perspirant just means to “prevent perspiration or sweating.” Most conventional deodorants are actually a combination of these two products.
However, have you ever stopped to think about why we’re all ok with the idea of preventing our bodies from sweating in the first place?
Our bodies need to sweat!
That’s right! Sweat is a natural bodily function. It regulates your body temperature, cleans your pores, and even helps to release toxins from your body.
Sweat is also odorless and only takes on a smell when it mixes with the natural bacterial flora that’s on your skin. (Hint: A healthy diet with lots of probiotics and fermented foods can help balance that flora.)
Did you know the average person has something like 2 MILLION sweat glands?
When anti-perspirants are applied to the skin, they dissolve in your sweat and form a gel which sits on your skin and temporarily “plugs” your pores, blocking your sweat glands and preventing them from sweating.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable with the idea of preventing my body from doing something that helps it to naturally regulate itself.
So what’s up with those harmful ingredients?
Depending on the brand of your deodorant, you may or may not even find a complete ingredients list on the back of the container. (The Household Products Database, from the National Library of Medicine, can help you track down a complete list of ingredients for most deodorants.)
So these are the main ingredients that I’m extra cautious about:
This is the main anti-perspirant ingredient, so it’s sole function is to stop sweat from reaching the surface of your skin.
Aluminum accumulates in breast tissue, and researchers have found significantly higher aluminum content – particularly in the underarm region – in breast tissue of women with breast cancer (as compared to a control group of women without breast cancer). Because sweating helps remove aluminum from the body, the use of anti-perspirants prevents aluminum from being properly excreted from the body, leading to further accumulation. (source)
Aluminum can also interfere with estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells, which is pretty concerning because estrogen plays a well-known role in breast cancer. (source)
At the same time, however, a review of all studies that explored the connection between breast cancer risk and anti-perspirant use has come up short. The research seems to be inconclusive at best; it’s not a definite ‘yes,’ but it’s not a definite ‘no’ either. (source)
Propylene glycol is a liquid that absorbs water (i.e.: your sweat) and maintains moisture. It’s also a penetration enhancer, which means it helps other chemicals enter the body more easily. Frequent exposure to propylene glycol can lead to skin irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin. (source)
This one is always fun to discuss because this term is so perfectly ambiguous, that manufacturers can put it on a label to describe any number of the more than 3,000 different chemicals that are known to be used in fragrance compounds!
Most cosmetic and personal care products have this “ingredient” listed on their label; it might also be called parfum, perfume, or aroma.
Artificial fragrances are well known now for being linked to a long list of health problems like allergies, chemical sensitivities, and reproductive and developmental issues. (source)
What’s the solution?
We’ve only discussed three ingredients here, but these alone should have you at least thinking about considering a safer alternative to your current deodorant.
The good news is you’ve got options!
Personally, I make my own deodorant at home with just a few simple ingredients.
There’s no shortage of non-toxic deodorant recipes all over the internet. But for me, I knew I didn’t want to use a recipe that involved cooking the ingredients on the stove. Call me lazy, but I just wanted something that I could mix up quickly and use right away.
Over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe to my liking, and here’s what I use now.
Non-Toxic Deodorant Recipe
Surprisingly, it’s very easy to make yourself a non-toxic deodorant that actually works. So easy, in fact, that you can make it and use it in just about 5 minutes.
This recipe requires no cooking, no waiting, and no cooling. Just mix it up, and you’re done.
You need just four, simple ingredients:
- coconut oil (skin-soothing) – buy it here
- baking soda (odor fighting) – buy it here
- arrowroot powder (wetness protection) – buy it here (or you can use cornstarch)
- essential oils (optional, but highly recommended) – buy from Plant Therapy
For the essential oils, I like to use lavender and rosemary (for the nice scent), and also tea tree oil (because it’s anti-bacterial), but you can use whatever scents you like. Vanilla, sage, bergamot, lime, and calendula are all great options.
NOTE: Tea tree oil is a must for me. I’ve made the deodorant without tea tree before when I’d run out of it, and it just did not control odours very well for me. I later learned that the odour in our sweat is actually related to the bacteria in our body. So regardless of what other oils you use for scent, add a few drops of tea tree oil for odour protection and anti-bacterial action.
- In a small bowl, mix together the baking soda and arrowroot powder.
- Add the coconut oil and mash with a fork into the baking soda/arrowroot mixture until you have a creamy paste.
- If adding essential oils, do so at this time and stir well to distribute.
- Spoon the mixture into the deodorant stick. After each spoonful or 2, twist the stick down to make room for more deodorant, and add more. When it’s full, smooth the top with the back of a spoon.
- Store in fridge to prevent melting.
- Alternately, you can just store it in a glass jar on your counter and apply with fingertips.
- Depending on your skin sensitivity, you may use between 4-6 tablespoons of coconut oil for this recipe. For more sensitive skin, you'll use more coconut oil, for less sensitive skin, you'll use less coconut oil.
Now you have 2 options for storage.
Option 1: In the Fridge
The first, which is what I do, is to spoon the mixture into an old, cleaned out deodorant stick. Just keep twisting it down, then spooning the mixture in, then twisting it down again, until it’s all in. Then just smooth out the top.
If you use this option, you’ll have to put it in the fridge to harden. And that’s also where you’ll store it. Because coconut oil melts at room temperature, your deodorant will start to melt and create a greasy mess if you decide to keep it in your bathroom.
Ask me how I know… 😉
Option 2: In the Bathroom
Your other option is to just keep it in a small glass jar in your bathroom and apply it with your fingertips. You can also use a wooden craft stick or small wooden spoon. Not my preferred method at home, but a good option for travelling.
Ready to make the switch? Read this first!
Here’s something most people don’t talk about when it comes to switching to a non-toxic deodorant. If you’ve been using conventional aluminum-based anti-perspirants until now, and you want to switch to something without aluminum, your underarms will most likely go through a “detoxing” period.
Your body will need some time to transition to your new deodorant, during which you may experience more odour/stink/funk. This is a normal process and shouldn’t last more than a couple weeks, although it’s different for everyone.
Just push through this necessary period, do what you gotta do to stay fresh, and don’t give up! Once you’ve gotten over this hump, you’ll feel much better.
A note for shaved underarms:
Because shaving causes your hair follicles to temporarily become inflamed, applying any deodorant right after shaving is usually not a good idea. Even this homemade version can cause some irritation.
So for the first day after shaving, if I’m staying home, I usually don’t put any deodorant. But if I’m going out, I just rub some coconut oil under my arms to help soothe the area and provide at least some odour protection. At the very least, you should wait a few hours after shaving before applying your deodorant.
Another note on baking soda:
Baking soda can be irritating for some people, and might cause redness, rash, or other skin issues. Because every body is different, with different skin types, and different chemistry, each body will react differently to the same product.
You could start by making a small batch (just scale down the ingredients) and maybe cut the baking soda in half, and test it out for a week or two to see how your body responds. And then adjust the recipe from there.
That being said, if you’re totally set and want to drop the baking soda completely, I’ve heard great things about using diatomaceous earth or even bentonite clay instead. Here’s a post from a friend who makes and sells her own products that might help point you in the right direction.
All that being said, most other recipes you’ll find online require cooking/melting the ingredients together on the stove in a double boiler, which is different than the one shared here which requires no cooking at all.
Where to buy essential oils
You can find essential oils at any health food store that sells natural and organic products. My favourite and recommended brands are Plant Therapy.
Not ready for the DIY?
That’s cool. I feel you.
Sometimes the whole keep-your-deodorant-in-the fridge thing can get kinda old. But when it really gets annoying? Whenever I need to travel! The softer consistency of this deodorant when at room temperature definitely makes it non-travel friendly.
So what’s a girl to do? I used to make a small batch and keep it in a small glass jar with a tight lid, and just take that with me on my travels.
But I finally – FINALLY! – found a store-bought deodorant with ingredients I can trust, and most importantly, it actually works!
Other options at the store/online:
I’ve tried quite a few non-toxic deodorants before deciding to make my own (and eventually finding Schmidt’s). Most of them left me feeling too wet, or they didn’t last all day so I had to keep reapplying.
That being said, I have found a few new brands with great ingredients and even better online reviews. I haven’t personally tried these, but this is the list of brands that I would feel comfortable with trying in the future: