Dr. Lipman on “Natural” Deodorants: Are they safe and non-toxic?

Dr. Lipman on “Natural” Deodorants: Are they safe and non-toxic?

In my private consulting work, I often encounter frustrated clients who are in search of natural deodorant that really works.

You probably know that conventional deodorant and antiperspirants contain ingredients that may come with health risks; these include phthalates in the fragrance blend, parabens as preservatives, aluminum chlorohydrate to block your sweat glands, triclosan for antibacterial action, propylene glycol to soften the product, and talc to sop up wetness.

While all of these ingredients are linked with human health problems, they also are part of what make conventional deodorants so effective! So if you’ve finally found a natural or organic deodorant that’s actually keeping you from sweating and/or smelling, you probably plan to use it forever.

Nontoxic Deodorant Is Important

The good news is that anything you get in a health food store is almost certainly better than what you’d get in a drugstore. The bad news is that some “natural” deodorants aren’t entirely natural, and even those that are might contain concerning ingredients—after all, just because something comes from nature doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe (think arsenic or tobacco!).

In general, I’m concerned about deodorant and antiperspirant because we usually apply these products every day and leave them on for long periods of time. Also, more of the product’s ingredients can penetrate the skin thanks to little nicks left behind after shaving.

What To Avoid In Natural Deodorant

When shopping for a natural, nontoxic deodorant, here’s what you want to stay away from:

1) Fragrance. As with many other skin care products, “fragrance” or “parfum” is often the most concerning ingredient in deodorant, as it’s generally a clue to the presence of hormone-disrupting phthalates. Not all “natural” deodorants use natural fragrance, and even phthalate-free deodorants often contain synthetic fragrances, which have unknown phthalate replacements in them. Your best bet is to always opt for unscented deodorants or those that specify that they are scented only with 100 percent natural essential oils.

2) Propylene glycol. A softening agent linked to cancer and reproductive damage, propylene glycol is surprisingly found in many natural deodorants. The good news is that there are a growing number of brands that don’t contain propylene glycol, so this ingredient is easy enough to avoid.

3) Potassium alum. This is the primary ingredient in the popular crystal-style deodorants (including the one that’s just a big rock). Aluminum-based compounds like potassium alum block your sweat glands and are effective antiperspirants. Unfortunately, they may be linked to an increased risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as breast cancer—although evidence for both is not conclusive.

4) Neurotoxic natural oils. There are a handful of natural or naturally derived ingredients that are implicated as neurotoxins and are often found in natural deodorants. Some to look out for include geraniol, linalool, limonene, and coumarin.

Safe Deodorant Ingredients That Work

Avoiding specific toxic ingredients will ensure that your deodorant isn’t threatening your health. But that’s only half of the problem, of course; you also want a deodorant that will prevent body odor! So what should you look for in a nontoxic deodorant?

Some ingredients that are both safe and effective include arrowroot powder, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), coconut oil, cornstarch, tea tree oil, hops extract, kaolin clay, witch hazel, and zinc oxide.

When it comes to natural deodorants, what works for one person may not work for another, and it’s often a process of trial and error to find the perfect formula.

If you want to learn more about choosing a safe, effective deodorant and see the specific nontoxic brands I recommend, you can check out the Safe Deodorant Guide on gimmethegoodstuff.org.