Reasons to avoid conventional deodorants & how you can easily make your own

As I have previously shared, I have not been buying personal care products for several years, but I rather do my own using only natural ingredients – from body & face creams to deodorant and toothpaste. In a previous post, I shared one of my recipes for a body cream.

But why do I even bother doing these products myself? Here are 3 main reasons:

  1.       The majority of these products contain very controversial chemicals and metals, which I really do want to avoid, at least in the things I can control (and I certainly can control the things I buy).
  2.       It is much more sustainable to make my own products. Have you already thought on the amount of rubbish produced with these products? And normally it is plastic rubbish, with which, as you know, we have a serious problem on our planet. When you make your own personal care products, you can use glass jars to store them, which are easily washable and reusable.
  3.       It is cheaper & easy.

In this article, I will write about another very common personal care product that the majority of us use at least once per day: deodorants. The majority of conventional deodorants and antiperspirants contain several potentially harmful ingredients that many studies have linked to breast cancer and other health problems (see section below). Coincidentally or not, the upper outer quadrant of the breast is where there is also a disproportionately higher incidence of breast cysts and breast cancer [1]. Also, studies have shown that the frequency of use of deodorants or antiperspirant as well as starting using them in an early age is associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis, particularly in those who shave their underarms frequently [2].

Interestingly, studies have shown that deodorants and antiperspirants modify the microbial community on our underarms and can actually stimulate the growth of odor-producing bacteria [3], which is probably in contrast to what you might have thought.

3 potentially harmful ingredients in deodorants

Many of the chemicals that you put on your skin will be absorbed into your body, and get to your bloodstream sometimes even faster and more efficiently than if you would ingest them as they are not metabolized by the liver or digestive system.

Deodorants contain several controversial and potentially harmful ingredients that are absorbed by the skin under your arms. Here are three very common deodorant/antiperspirant ingredients that you may want to avoid.

  • Aluminium

Aluminium has been used for several years in deodorants and antiperspirants (and other cosmetics by the way) as it plugs the pores to reduce the elimination of sweat. Besides reducing sweat elimination, and thus excretion of toxins, it can also be absorbed and accumulate in the breast tissue. Aluminium may cause alterations to DNA, inflammatory responses, interfere with estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells and cause other molecular effects that could potentially lead to cancer development [1, 4, 5]. Indeed, researchers have found increased levels of aluminium in the nipple aspirate fluid of women with breast cancer compared to women without the disease [6]. They also found increased inflammation levels and oxidative stress in these women. They suggest (in their own words) [6]:

aluminium accumulation in breast microenvironment as a possible risk factor for oxidative/inflammatory phenotype of breast cells”.

In addition, research has shown that aluminium increases migratory and invasive properties of breast cancer cells, which suggest that the presence of aluminium in the breast could influence metastatic processes [7].

  • Parabens

Parabens are other common ingredients added to personal care products, including some antiperspirants/deodorants. They act like preservatives. They have estrogenic activity in human breast cancer cells and a study detected them in 99% of the breast tissue of patients with breast cancer [8]. These researchers also detected parabens in 7 out of 40 patients who reported never having used deodorants or antiperspirants in their lifetime, which suggests they come from other personal care products with parabens that they were using.

Like aluminium, parabens are also found near the armpit, and as mentioned above, the incidence of breast cancers in the upper outer quadrant of the breast seems to be much higher than in other parts of the breast [8].

Studies have shown that parabens can influence proliferation as well as migratory and invasive properties of human breast cancer cells [9].

Most paraben toxicity reports come from single-exposure studies, which considered them as weak estrogens (compared to the natural estrogens) with weak endocrine-disrupting risk. However there are 2 problems with these reports:

1) as pointed out in the study [10], individuals are not normally exposed to a single paraben, but to multiple parabens on a daily basis. Indeed, in the study mentioned above, many patients had all the types of parabens tested present in their breast tissue [8].

2) as shown in the study above [8], tissue concentration of parabens can be one-million fold higher than that of estradiol (the natural occurring estrogen), which clearly shows that the magnitude of exposure to parabens more than compensates for their reduced potency compared to the natural estrogen [11].

In my opinion, this is really worrisome. It is important that research assesses the additive effect of multiple paraben exposure from daily use of one or multiple cosmetics and personal care products, as well as considering the doses that people are truly exposed. This is a much more realistic scenario than considering one single paraben at a low dose. Until this is done and health authorities confirm that parabens do pose a high risk to human health, I think it is wise to avoid all products containing these compounds.

  • Phthalates

Phthalates are present in several consumer products, from plastic items (e.g. used in food packaging) to personal care products used by both women and men (including children), such as deodorants, hair sprays and gels, perfumes/cologne, nail polishes, aftershaves, lotions and creams, shampoos, soaps, etc [12, 13]. They are normally used to fix fragrance and hold color, so it is not surprising that the highest concentrations have been found in fragranced products [13]. These compounds are not always listed in the ingredient list of a product, but basically, any personal care product that has a fragrance may contain phthalates.

Phthalates have been identified as reproductive and developmental toxins with endocrine (hormonal) disrupting effects [14, 15]. In women, high levels of phthalates have been associated with ovarian function disruption, decreased rates of pregnancy and high rates of miscarriage, as well as pregnancy complications such as anemia, preeclampsia and low birth weight [16, 17]. In men, phthalates seem to affect the development of the male reproductive system and semen quality [18, 19].

Prenatal exposure to phthalates is also associated with cognitive and behavioral deficits in children, including lower IQ, attention problems, hyperactivity and poor social communication [20].

So, while a definitive link between all these ingredients and breast cancer and other health conditions has not been made, all this research suggests we should be very careful regarding the use of conventional deodorants. I do not see the need for using them, and therefore being exposed to these potentially harmful ingredients, when there actually are many other natural alternatives. In the shops, you often find “aluminium-free” deodorants or products claiming they are “natural deodorants”. However, to be sure they do not contain other potentially harmful ingredients, I recommend that you always check the ingredient list. As a general rule, if there is something in the list that you don’t know, don’t buy it. As I mentioned above, I personally do not buy deodorants and do my own instead (super simple and much cheaper).


Natural alternatives to deodorants

Instead of deodorants/antiperspirants, you can try out one of the following natural options:

  • Baking soda. Simply wet your finger tips and add a bit of baking soda. Then rub this on your armpits. This is what I often use.

  • Lemon/lime juice. The citric acid in lemon or lime is anti-bacterial. Cut a lemon/lime in slices and rub it under your arms. You can keep the cut fruit in the fridge in a glass container for further use.

  • White or apple cider vinegar. Rub a little under your armpits.
  • DIY homemade natural deodorant. This is another option I like to use. Mix 100g of organic extra-virgin coconut oil with 50g baking soda and 5 drops of an essential oil you like (I normally use lavender essential oil but feel free to use another one). Store it in a glass container outside the fridge if your house is below 23°C or in the fridge if it is above that temperature (otherwise the coconut oil will melt).

If you have just shaved, I recommend you don’t use anything as using something on your armpits may produce rashes. If you really want to use something anyway, then simply try organic coconut oil with some drops of an essential oil you like (so, no baking soda).

Another thing that is important to consider is that body odor is influenced by several factors, such as:

  • Stress and anxiety (or if you didn’t sleep enough), as this releases cortisol, which triggers the release of sweat. This combined with the bacteria under your arms might lead to smelly sweat.
  • Eating refined sugar, as it is a food source for the bacteria.
  • Conventional deodorant use, as explained above.
  • Certain medications.
  • Alcohol.

Are you avoiding conventional deodorants? Which natural options do you usually use? Let me know in the comments below 🙂


Live healthy and conscious,

Ana Coito, PhD


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  1.        Darbre, P.D., Aluminium and the human breast. Morphologie, 2016. 100(329): p. 65-74.
  2.        McGrath, K.G., An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. Eur J Cancer Prev, 2003. 12(6): p. 479-85.
  3.        Callewaert, C., et al., Deodorants and antiperspirants affect the axillary bacterial community. Arch Dermatol Res, 2014. 306(8): p. 701-10.
  4.        Darbre, P.D., Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. J Inorg Biochem, 2005. 99(9): p. 1912-9.
  5.        Darbre, P.D., F. Mannello, and C. Exley, Aluminium and breast cancer: Sources of exposure, tissue measurements and mechanisms of toxicological actions on breast biology. J Inorg Biochem, 2013. 128: p. 257-61.
  6.        Mannello, F., D. Ligi, and M. Canale, Aluminium, carbonyls and cytokines in human nipple aspirate fluids: Possible relationship between inflammation, oxidative stress and breast cancer microenvironment. J Inorg Biochem, 2013. 128: p. 250-6.
  7.        Darbre, P.D., A. Bakir, and E. Iskakova, Effect of aluminium on migratory and invasive properties of MCF-7 human breast cancer cells in culture. J Inorg Biochem, 2013. 128: p. 245-9.
  8.        Barr, L., et al., Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum. J Appl Toxicol, 2012. 32(3): p. 219-32.
  9.        Khanna, S., P.R. Dash, and P.D. Darbre, Exposure to parabens at the concentration of maximal proliferative response increases migratory and invasive activity of human breast cancer cells in vitro. J Appl Toxicol, 2014. 34(9): p. 1051-9.
  10.      Karpuzoglu, E., S.D. Holladay, and R.M. Gogal, Jr., Parabens: potential impact of low-affinity estrogen receptor binding chemicals on human health. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev, 2013. 16(5): p. 321-35.
  11.      Harvey, P.W. and D.J. Everett, Parabens detection in different zones of the human breast: consideration of source and implications of findings. J Appl Toxicol, 2012. 32(5): p. 305-9.
  12.      Nassan, F.L., et al., Personal Care Product Use in Men and Urinary Concentrations of Select Phthalate Metabolites and Parabens: Results from the Environment And Reproductive Health (EARTH) Study. Environ Health Perspect, 2017. 125(8): p. 087012.
  13.      Parlett, L.E., A.M. Calafat, and S.H. Swan, Women’s exposure to phthalates in relation to use of personal care products. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol, 2013. 23(2): p. 197-206.
  14.      Mariana, M., et al., The effects of phthalates in the cardiovascular and reproductive systems: A review. Environ Int, 2016. 94: p. 758-776.
  15.      Crinnion, W.J., Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens. Altern Med Rev, 2010. 15(3): p. 190-6.
  16.      Hannon, P.R. and J.A. Flaws, The effects of phthalates on the ovary. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne), 2015. 6: p. 8.
  17.      Kay, V.R., C. Chambers, and W.G. Foster, Reproductive and developmental effects of phthalate diesters in females. Crit Rev Toxicol, 2013. 43(3): p. 200-19.
  18.      Kay, V.R., M.S. Bloom, and W.G. Foster, Reproductive and developmental effects of phthalate diesters in males. Crit Rev Toxicol, 2014. 44(6): p. 467-98.
  19.      Hauser, R., et al., DNA damage in human sperm is related to urinary levels of phthalate monoester and oxidative metabolites. Hum Reprod, 2007. 22(3): p. 688-95.
  20.      Ejaredar, M., et al., Phthalate exposure and childrens neurodevelopment: A systematic review. Environ Res, 2015. 142: p. 51-60.


2 Responses to “Reasons to avoid conventional deodorants & how you can easily make your own

  • Jennifer
    6 years ago

    Hello Ana,
    I haven’t used deodorants in a couple decades…or any toxic stuff on my skin. I only notice smelly pits when I do a hard workout. I think super clean diets are the secret. As for wet marks…oh well. I will not put poison on my skin for the sake of how I look.
    Have a great week !
    Jennifer Metz

    • Ana Coito, PhD
      6 years ago

      Hi Jennifer,
      It’s great that you also don’t use conventional deodorants! It is totally true that a healthy diet does help against smelly odor and I have experienced that as well.
      A nice week to you too! 🙂

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