On Deodorant: Aluminum, the Precautionary Principle, and a DIY

Upon reading all over the internet that aluminum in deodorant may be linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, Taylor and I decided to play it safe by avoiding aluminum in antiperspirant while also researching these claims.

This sort of better safe than sorry approach, termed the “precautionary principle,” is an important part of living a healthy and toxin free life.  The chemistry industry in general does not subscribe to this set of ethics which would require proof that a chemical is safe before it is released on a large scale to consumers. Instead, companies want to get their products on the market as soon as possible and perform safety and toxicology tests later.  This negligence is how endocrine disrupting molecules such as BPA end up plastics we encounter every day.

An example of the precautionary principle in use is the movement to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  Little is known about GMOs, so many consumers would like the freedom to choose whether to consume them or not.   

Back to deodorant.  Aluminum is found in deodorants in the form of a salt, usually aluminum chlorohydrate, which has been found to interfere with estrogen receptors in human breast cancer cells.  Given that a large proportion of cancers form in the outer sections of the breast closest to the armpits, deodorant has been placed under suspicion by some scientists.  However, there is no conclusive evidence that aluminum causes breast cancer, only a correlation between underarm hygiene and younger diagnosis of breast cancer.  The National Cancer Institute can tell you more here and provides links to many of the original studies.

Alzheimer’s evidence is even more sketchy.  Aluminum, an element until recently not believed to have a biological role, was detected in the brains of Alzheimers patients in 1980.  A study from 2008 also found a correlation between Alzheimers and aluminum in the brain, but all connections beyond that are conjecture.

Basically, the internet has distorted this correlation into causation when in fact nothing is known.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to keep using my old deodorant, though.  A quick look at the ingredients list also told me that my great smelling Secret contained fragrance and other questionable ingredients.  Awesome.

During our initial body product purge, Taylor and I bought an aluminum free deodorant made by Hugo Naturals, but we thought it made us smell worse than going au naturale. I came across this tutorial from a fellow green blogger and decided to make my own.  We’ve only been using it for a few days, but so far we don’t smell. At all.

diy deodorant

Here’s the DIY:

  • 1/4 c arrowroot powder (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/4 c baking soda
  • ~6T coconut oil (in solid form)
  • Optional: a few drops of essential oil.  I skipped this.

First, combine the arrowroot powder and baking soda in a bowl and mix lightly.  Then stir in coconut oil a few tablespoons at a time until a paste forms.

One recommended way to store this is in a wide glass jar or metal tin, but I stuffed mine back into the stick dispenser that had held my old Secret.  It is about the same consistency as the old deodorant and applies well.  I even tried it once right after shaving to test if the baking soda would irritate my skin, and it was fine.

Some facts about this recipe:

  • Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees F so for traveling, warm climates, and the summer, refrigeration is recommended.
  • Arrowroot powder is a thickener similar to corn starch.  I’d never heard of it before but you can find it in grocery stores near the flour.
  • Baking soda may irritate your skin.  If this happens, try substituting more arrowroot powder for the baking soda.
  • It’s awesome!

2 thoughts on “On Deodorant: Aluminum, the Precautionary Principle, and a DIY

  1. Pingback: The Lessons We Need to Learn from Lead (and an environmental book review) | greenwake

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