Deodorant: Easy Greening

In ancient Egypt, long before the cosmetics industry hijacked personal care, body odor was disguised with citrus oils and spices. By the 20th century marketers had convinced the population that social success was a stretch unless body odor was quashed. The problem is that the products promoted in this scheme may not be the best for our health.

The Issues
Body odor is the result of bacteria (naturally found on skin) which feeds on sweat. Antiperspirants work by plugging your pores with aluminum salts, blocking the route for sweat to exit your body. Deodorants don’t reduce the amount of sweat, but make the skin acidic and thus unfavorable for the odor-generating bacteria.

The problems with non-natural, commercial products start with aluminium compounds (particularly Aluminium chlorohydrate) which are easily absorbed through the skin. Aluminum compounds can accumulate in the brain and have been linked to Alzheimer’s.

Next are parabens (short for para-hydroxybenzoate) a class of preservatives widely used in cosmetics and personal care products that are being investigated for their possible role in breast cancer. Parabens mimic the activity of estrogen in the body. Since estrogen promotes the growth of breast cancer cells and a woman is eight times more likely to develop breast cancer in the part of the breast closest to the underarm, scientists are studying the connection. A 2004 study found parabens in 18 of 20 samples from breast tumors. The research is considered inconclusive in linking the use of deodorants to breast cancer, but it has sparked further studies and is enough to have us breaking out in a sweat.

And then there’s propylene glycol—a humectant originally developed as an anti-freeze. Found in many commercial deodorants and antiperspirants, it is a neurotoxin known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver damage. In propylene glycol’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), published by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, workers are urged to avoid skin contact with the toxic chemical as it may cause eye and skin irritation. (Yes, the same ingredient commonly used in products applied to the skin.) In addition, it states, “chronic exposure can cause gastro-intestinal disturbances, nausea, headache, vomiting, and central nervous depression.” Well alrighty then, how about some nice wholesome alternatives?:

In addition to using plain witch hazel, or baking soda, here are some refreshing recipes inspired by Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair by Dina Falconi (Ceres Press, 1998). These should be mixed and applied with a cotton ball.

Witch Hazel Tea Tree Double Whammy
10 drops tea tree essential oil
1 ounce of witch hazel

Ken’s Deodorant
4 ounces witch hazel
8 drops lavender essential oil
4 drops rosemary essential oil
2 drops patchouli essential oil

Woodland Deodorant
1/4 cup 80 proof vodka
1/4 cup distilled water
10 drops tea tree
16 drops cedarwood essential oil
20 drops sandalwood essential oil

Exotic Deodorant
1/4 cup 80 proof vodka
1/4 cup distilled water
10 drops geranium Egypt essential oil
10 drops patchouli essential oil
15 drops lavender essential oil

Choose Green Products
You can check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to see the hazard score of your current products or an alternative you might be considering. Here are a few other suggestions:

Crystal Body Deodorant is hypoallergenic, fragrance free, non-sticky, non-staining, and is made of 100% natural mineral salts with no artificial coloring or ingredients.

Avalon Organics Deodorants come from a company whose “Consciousness in Cosmetics” principle guides the formulation of all of their yummy products—for deodorant, that translates to no aluminium compounds, parabens or propyelene glycol.

Cleure Body Spray Deodorant provides 24 hours of natural deodorant protection.

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Healthy & Green Living


Marija M
Marija M1 years ago


Clare O
Clare O'Beara1 years ago


Elena P
Elena Poensgen1 years ago

Thank you

Elena P
Elena Poensgen1 years ago

Thank you

Antony M.
Antony M2 years ago


Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer2 years ago

Thanks. I might try some of these and save money.

Veronica Danie
.2 years ago


S Gardner
sandy Gardner2 years ago

JUst wash your underarms every day and use perfume!

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you

Emily a
Emily M4 years ago

wow. i didn't know all of this. thank you so much! my deoderant will be disposed of. thank you for these alternatives.