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Does Your Deodorant Stink?


by Louise Kuo Habakus

Body odor.

It’s a complete non-starter. We can’t smell bad. Our kids can’t smell bad. Let’s face it, anyone we’re shacking up with can’t smell bad.

The problem, of course, is that sometimes we do. (Sure, there are people who don’t sweat. Don’t envy them; they have a different issue.)

Listen, it’s hot outside. We try not to run the A/C too much. We’re at picnics, BBQs, and pool parties. We’re at the beach, by the lake, in the mountains hiking, fishing, and climbing. Our kids are running around barefoot and then stuffing their dirty, sweaty feet into their shoes. You get the picture.

This is where my hardcore eco, non-toxic, alternatively-minded friends crumble. You know, the ones who install whole house water filters, cross state lines to buy grassfed meat and raw dairy, and stock an at-home apothecary to rival your local health food store.

It’s a dirty “secret ” (pun intended) they admit to me in a whisper. They use Secret, Ban, or Lady Speed Stick by Mennen, the invisible dry antiperspirant and deodorant solid.

And they give it to their kids.

Yes, the same kids on whom they spend a fortune feeding organic fruit, cultured vegetables, and gluten-free, non-GMO snacks.

They do it because they feel they have to. The sad reality is that most natural deodorants don’t work and others only pretend to be safe (check out Tom’s of Maine’s deodorant and antiperspirant ingredients). This is a super vexing problem for many people. I googled the topic and found, on the first search page: 6 tips, 7 effective ways, 9 natural ways, and 17 really effective ways to eliminate, stop, and reduce body odor for good, for life, forever.

What’s wrong with deodorant and antiperspirant?

(Deep breath) Well… nearly everything. It’s way up there on the list of vile things we do to ourselves. If you already know what’s wrong with the stuff, scroll down to the bottom for our solution.

toxins1. They’re loaded with toxins. I list the primary offenders below. They are implicated or suspected culprits in a variety of disorders and diseases, including human endocrine disruption, allergic contact dermatitis and changed cell morphology, Alzheimer’s, early puberty, developmental and reproductive defects, breast and hormone-related cancers, and damage to the heart, liver, and nervous system.

sponges2. Our skin soaks them all up. Chemicals rolled, rubbed, and otherwise spread on our skin get absorbed into our bloodstream. Stat. Consider prescription meds that are delivered transdermally (i.e., nicotine or birth control patches). Our bodies are literally wide open for substances administered in this fashion.

shaving-underarm3. Shaving makes things much worse. Shaving causes skin irritation. When we apply toxins after shaving, we facilitate their absorption via microabrasions. (These minute tears can also lead to skin infections.) Keep in mind that we are removing underarm hair that our bodies grow to help reduce friction and chafing. Medical anthropologists Syd Singer and Soma Grismaijer discuss this in their book Get It Out!

mennen4. Bad things happen when we block our ability to sweat. Not only is skin the largest body organ, weighing 6 to 9 pounds. It is also the largest organ of detoxification. Sweating is a necessary mechanism for health and survival. Humans excrete toxins through our skin via sweat. Anything that impedes this process–including antiperspirant–is burdensome to the body. As a disturbing analogy, consider blocked fecal elimination and the toxification caused by prolonged constipation.

do-it-to-ourselves-stressed-crop5. We’re doing it all to ourselves. These products are discretionary purchases. We reflexively buy them and use them regularly, thereby encouraging their use by everyone around us. Deodorant ads are ubiquitous and contribute towards normalizing the behavior. Human beings are comforted when we do what everyone else is doing. And then we stigmatize those who opt out.


What’s in deodorant and antiperspirant anyway?

There are a lot of ingredients, many of which you can’t pronounce. Some of these chemicals fall into one of our Frightful Five:

paraben1. Parabens are a family of synthetic preservatives used in deodorants and the vast majority of personal care products since the 1950s. In the 1990s, researchers raised concerns about parabens as xenoestrogens (substances that mimic estrogen) with the power to disrupt human endocrine processes. In 2004, researchers found parabens in cancerous breast tissue. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database ranks the health hazard posed by parabens as Moderate to High, and offers a long list of health concerns, including allergies and reproductive and developmental toxicity.

aluminum-free2. Aluminum salts are an active antiperspirant agent that blocks the secretion of sweat. The Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry published a study in 2012 that stated: “We have demonstrated the existence of high transdermal Al uptake on stripped skin. Our finding should compel antiperspirant manufacturers to proceed with the utmost caution.” At the Tenth Anniversary Keele Meeting on Aluminum 2013 researchers discussed stunning new information regarding aluminum and Alzheimer’s, neuropsychiatric impairment, toxicant interactions, oxidative stress, colitis, bone damage, cancer, vaccine injury, and more. Specific concerns were raised about prenatal aluminum exposures via maternal antiperspirant use and Tums (antacid) consumption.

phthalates13. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. They are also used in cosmetics and shampoo as lubricants or softeners, and in synthetic fragrances. You won’t find them listed on the label, however. Look for the words “fragrance” or “parfum” instead. Research links prenatal phthalate exposure with incomplete testicular descent (shortened anogential distance), reduced masculine play in boys, and impaired production of testosterone.

PG4. Propylene glycol is an inexpensive synthetic and petroleum-based material that softens cosmetic products to make them easier to apply to the skin. It also attracts water and functions as a moisturizer and penetration enhancer. PG appears on the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. It has been identified in some of the most serious EPA hazardous waste sites in the U.S.. EWG Skin Deep notes that PG is associated with irritant and allergic contact dermatitis and contact urticaria (hives), and these sensitization effects can be seen in concentrations as low as 2%. Some women suffering from yeast infections, cystitis, and vulvodynia, as well as post-menopausal women using estrogen creams, experience extremely intense burning and pain from PG exposure. A 2010 Swedish study in PLOS One links airborne concentrations of PG and development of asthma and allergies in children.

triclosan15. Triclosan is a high production volume anti-microbial agent commonly used in wipes, gels, and soaps, as well as toothpaste (!) and, yes, deodorant. Although the FDA states that triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans, it is registered as a pesticide. The EWG warns that it is linked to liver and inhalation toxicity and may disrupt thyroid function. The American Medical Association recommends triclosan not be used in homes because it might encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Mercola.com reports on linkages between triclosan and disrupted muscle function and hormone regulation.

Now What?

So that’s just great. And we’re still left with the problem of body odor. If you’re a do it yourselfer, our intrepid readers have shared some of their favorite no-b.o. ingredients, using one or a combination of the following, to address the combo of bacteria, moisture, rashes, and itchiness:

  • Anti-microbial essential oils
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Arrowroot powder
  • Baking soda (aluminum-free)
  • Bentonite clay powder
  • Coconut oil
  • Corn starch
  • Kefir (!)
  • Lemon wedges

And if you draw the line at making up your own deo concoctions, tell us your favorite products that really work.




  • Polly Petraetis

    This Bausc deodorant does work! After trying multiple products with no success I had been forced back to the Lady Speed Stick, which I knew was so bad for me in so many ways. When a friend introduced me to this powder I couldn’t believe I’d finally found a non toxic solution that really works. I’ve turned about 15 friends onto this and they’re all die-hard supporters!

  • G.G.

    I will buy this product immediately. But I have another solution that also works, and you may already have it in your house. It’s Kefir! Yes, Kefir.

    I don’t remember why I ever tried this, but I did. I just apply some kefir (mine is raw home-made) to the underarms with a cotton pad or whatever. I give it a moment and then dab off the excess. Keeps me smell-free all day. But I will try this Bausc because I don’t always have kefir, and my daughter will NOT use kefir under her arms, I’m sure. (Kefir is also great for sunburns and excema, but I use the raw home-made kind. I’m not sure how effective store bought is.)

  • Audrey

    I’ve tried literally everything natural to try to reduce the stench of my autistic adult son who has severe chemical sensitivities…or I thought I had, until I read GC’s comment, and I bet Kefir might actually work for him. However, I wanted to share the easy, cheap, fantastically natural and amazingly effective deodorant: Apple Cider Vinegar.

    We only use organic, raw, “of the Mother” ACV so I don’t know if the processed stuff would work. I use a sturdy round cosmetic sponge, keep that in a small jar with a little of the ACV, and then dump it out and put in new ACV about once a week. I didn’t find spraying the ACV to be very pleasant. With the sponge you can scrub it in a little, especially for guys with hairy pits.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve been using this and have been very happy with it:

    I hadn’t been using deodorant for some time like that and after one too many mornings on public transportation action had to be taken for the benefit of those around me. The recipe linked above (coconut oil, cornstarch, etc) has worked well for me…kept me fresh as a flower (though that could be the drop or two of lavender oil i added) and not marked my clothes. I made about a half pint a few months ago, still have plenty left.

    • Frankie

      I’ll go a few steps shorter: After bathing, I slather coconut oil all over. If it’s winter and the oil is solid, skin friction melts it. After rubbing it in, never have I noticed “oiliness” residue. On top of this now on my underarms, I rub on a 1/4t-1/2t aluminum-free baking soda. My laundry time is less, clothes don’t get stained and require less cleaning because there is less odor. Haven’t tried it with polyester clothes since I don’t wear plastic. Also use it on my feet and breakouts of fungus are less. It’s inexpensive, technically edible 🙂 (don’t put ON your skin anything you wouldn’t put IN your body.) , no trash left behind, no corporate benefit. What’s not to love?

  • Stephanie

    I always use the Bausc deodorant, soaps and exfoliator. They work great, I love the subtle scents, and I feel like I’m pampering myself. The deodorant lasts a long time too.

  • Diana Sue

    I’ve been very pleased with the deodorant I have made at home with baking soda, cornstarch , coconut oil, and essential oils.

    • Sheryl Risa

      Diana and Frankie, do you find that the coconut oil stains your clothes at all? I generally use baking soda, arrowroot and essential oils… I”ve been too afraid to add the oil in…. how much oil do you use? Thanks 🙂

      • Diana Sue

        I haven’t noticed that the coconut oil stains my clothes.

        I mix 5 T coconut oil with a fourth of a cup of each baking soda and organic cornstarch. I use the purify doTERRA blend of essential oils. I keep it in a jar since coconut oil melts at a low temp.

  • Sonia DaSilva

    I was making my own and it worked ok but now I just slice a lemon in half and rub that on and it works great

  • Frankie Timmers

    🙂 I make my own. I add coconut oil!

  • Barb Kaplan

    We’ve used Tom’s deodorant for years. I assume that is still a good choice.

  • Jacque Kraszewski

    I ordered. I will give it a try.

  • Dawn Havas

    I have been using a crystal rock deodorant. 🙂

    • Diana Sue

      Dawn the crystal rock still has aluminum. I used to use that too

      • Dawn Havas

        @Diana Sue… UGH!!!!! Thank you so much for informing me. That’s it, I am going back to making my own. I am going to try a homemade body mist spray with an anti fungal EO. Fortunately, I dont perspire that much and rarely stink unless I need or doing a good detox.

  • Dorcas Tsarkiridis

    Also,the more you eat properly, the less you will stink. Of course there are exceptions like onions & garlic that are healthy for most folks.

  • Katie Novarro Beecher

    I ordered something from etsy that a woman makes herself. Not cheap but it seems to work as long as I am not exercising much. I got lazy though and went back to the toxic stuff. Thanks for the post!

  • Sarah Lane

    I make my own with 3tbsp coconut oil, 2 tbsp arrowroot and 2 tbsp baking soda. I add some peppermint, eucalyptus and citrus essential oils. My whole family has been using it for almost 2 years now. And after trying almost every product out there we like this recipe the best. No stains, no stinky and it’s so cheap! For anyone making the transition, you will most likely have a period of detox as your body learns to sweat normally. Dealing with the stink for a few months is worth it… in my opinion

  • Teresa Elena

    Try baking soda for it inhibits the reproduction of bacteria, which causes the bad smell, it acts by changing the ph.

    It is advisable to remove baking soda excess from the skin, especially with certain clothes (dark colors). To facilitate health is also advisable to wear natural fiber clothing -it reduces the bacteria proliferation-.

  • BB Karpenko

    The other deodorant that I have found that also works is Weleda Rose scented deodorant, with none of the scary contents above. It works for me since I love the faint smell of roses, those who are scent sensitive won’t benefit. I also tried the citrus scented deodorant that Weleda makes and it did not work. The 9-dollar rose stuff does.

  • Mae

    I used to have those problems all the time but switched to Lavilin all-natural deodorant and I am all set. Great deodorant – safe and smells good too.


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