Antiperspirants and Deodorants: Do You Know What You Are Spraying Under Your Arms?


The body has a natural way to remove toxins from our body and that is through perspiration. Antiperspirants do not impact on thermoregulation—the body’s natural cooling method through sweating, but they do help to reduce the amount of sweat that is produced. A deodorant does not prevent perspiration, but contains artificial fragrances that cover odor.

What many of us do not realize is that the ingredients in antiperspirants and deodorants are potentially harmful to human health. There is nothing natural about parabens, triclosan and propylene glycol. The Food and Drug Administration has put no regulations in place to protect the consumer from these harmful ingredients, and manufacturers fail to mention how these ingredients affect in the body over the long term. If you want the lowdown on what you are placing on your skin—the largest organ in the human body, read on for the facts.

FD&C Color Pigments

The FD&C color pigments used in antiperspirants and deodorants are derived from coal tar, and studies have shown these to be carcinogenic. These pigments can lead to skin irritation. Although antiperspirants and deodorants are neutral in color, some are mixed with aluminum, which is the reason why color pigments may be listed as an ingredient on your deodorant or antiperspirant.


If you look at the labeling of your antiperspirant or deodorant, you are likely to see a list of parabens, including methyl, ethyl, butyl, and propyl parabens. These are artificial preservatives added to the product to preserve its shelf life and prevent the growth of bacteria. Scientists are currently studying whether parabens increase the risk of women developing breast cancer.

The Breast Cancer Fund reported, “Measurable concentrations of six different parabens have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors.” Parabens were also found in urine samples.

Propylene Glycol

This humectant helps the product retain moisture. Industrial grade propylene glycol is commonly found in antifreeze, yet is now found in antiperspirants and deodorants. This neurotoxin is linked to liver and kidney damage, and the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety produce the safety data sheet, which specifically mentions that workers should not let propylene glycol come into contact with the skin due to the health concerns, including nausea and vomiting.

The Food and Drug Administration lists propylene glycol as safe and have included it on their Generally Recognized As Safe list, as it there is industrial grade propylene glycol and pharmaceutical grade propylene glycol. Although lower doses of propylene glycol are used in skincare products, and found to cause no carcinogenic risk, low doses may still cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. Earlier studies reported DNA mutation after low doses of propylene glycol were ingested or applied to the skin. The Cosmetics Database rates propylene glycol as moderately hazardous.

Author of Health Myths Exposed, Shane Ellison, said, “Working as a chemist, I’ve seen propylene gycol used with the drugs lorazepam, etomidate, diazepam, nitroglycerin, and phenytoin to increase solubility. It’s foreign to the body and as such is toxic. Too much would be about 1800 mg for a 165 lb person.” The former pharmaceutical chemist continued, “The big threat is that it is being used for Over the Counter products…And thus, intake cannot be gauged! Overdose becomes a real and present danger…”

Propylene glycol works similarly to the chemical, polyethylene glycols (PEGs) in that it allows ingredients to be better penetrated by the skin. This also means that potentially hazardous ingredients are readily absorbable by the skin and can lead to possible allergic reactions.


Talc is used in antiperspirants and deodorants for its absorbency. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed talc as a carcinogen should it contain asbestiform fibers. Worryingly, the quantity of these fibers is unregulated, and even if talc is listed as an ingredient, there is no way of knowing whether the talc contains these fibers. The American Cancer Society has reported a link with talc and ovarian cancer.


This artificial chemical has an antimicrobial effect, and is added to antiperspirants and deodorants to kill surface bacteria. However, this ingredient is a skin irritant and has been linked to contact dermatitis. Even the American Medication Association said, “It may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products.”

It is recommended that consumers do not use products containing triclosan in their home, as they may contribute toward bacterial resistance to antibiotics and let other bacteria forms flourish. The Environmental Working Group reports that triclosan is linked to disruption of the thyroid function. Triclosan is found in our lakes and rivers, and is very harmful to aquatic life.


Although there is no clear risk to breast cancer, aluminum is a key ingredient in antiperspirants. The skin absorbs aluminum and research has determined that the levels of estrogen formed in the breast cells can alter significantly. As estrogen is linked to a growth of both cancerous and non-cancerous breast cells, some scientists have determined that aluminum-based antiperspirants can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. More studies are required before this fact can be determined.

Triethanolamine (TEA) and Diethanolamine (DEA)

These ingredients commonly found in antiperspirants and deodorants alter the pH, and are mixed with fatty acids to form stearate, a cleansing base. There are suggestions that the longer these ingredients are absorbed by the body, the greater the risk of damage. TEA can lead to allergic reactions, while DEA can lead to liver and kidney damage.

The Food and Drug Administration’s John Bailey quoted this about a new study, “the risk equation changes significantly for children.” Tests at the University of Bologna in Italy found TEA to be the most frequent sensitizer used in cosmetics, gels, shampoos, creams, lotions, etc.”


This ingredient is added to antiperspirants, deodorants, medical goods, and plastics. They are added to dissolve ingredients and give the product a better consistency. Current research has determined that phthalates can increase the risk of diabetes in women.

Harvard scientists have determined that phthalates is linked to higher levels of diabetes in women. Co-author of the study and environmental health researcher, Richard Stahihut said, “These findings are important clues, but it’s only a first step. It’s extremely likely that phthalates and other chemical contaminants will turn out to be a big part of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, but at this point we really don’t know how these chemicals are interacting with each other, or with the human body.”

Butylated Hydroxytuluene (BHT)

This ingredient is considered to be a known carcinogen by the US Department of Health and Human Services. This ingredient has been linked to cancer, hyperactivity in children, and cellular level changes. The material safety data sheet for BHT states that it can lead to abdominal pain, nausea, and confusion, whilst also affecting the liver. It is also combustible and can harm aquatic life. Environmental Skin Deep describes BHT as a moderate hazard.

Polyethylene Glycols

This ingredient is commonly found in deodorants; especially products containing moistening ingredients contain polyethylene glycols, also known as PEGs. A health hazard of this ingredient is the potential contamination of 1,4-dioxane, which can lead to cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies 1,4-dioxane as a possible human carcinogen. Cosmetic manufacturers are able to use vacuum stripping to remove 1,4-dioxane, but it is impossible for consumers to know which products have gone through this removal process, and which are still hazardous and available over-the-counter. US researchers even discovered that products labeled ‘natural’ or uncertified ‘organic’ were found to contain 1,4-dioxane.

Synthetic Fragrance

Synthetic fragrances are linked to a host of health concerns, including skin allergies, headaches, hyper-pigmentation, and dizziness. Popular names for these ingredients include benzophenones 1 to 12 and methyl salicylate. What the cosmetics industry fail to mention is that many of these synthetic fragrances can contain up to 200 ingredients, and under the ‘trade secrets’ they do not have to disclose this to consumers. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and it is important to know that what we are placing on our skin is safe. Some antiperspirants and deodorants may contain extracts of essential oil, but this is not enough to determine safety, especially when synthetic lemon fragrance can cost $1 per lb, while essential oil of lemon costs $50 per lb. The body is a very intelligent machine, so why are synthetic fragrances linked to a myriad of health concerns from dizziness and headaches to skin irritation and allergies?

Headspace Technology is the term used to describe mimicking the exact replica of a natural fragrance, and one company described it like this, “Headspace technology is an advanced system that captures and analyzes the scent molecules in the air around the source of each scent, extracting a reproducible formula. Using this process, and their own uncanny sense of smell, Demeter successfully creates idealized versions of each scent, whether isolating a single note, or expertly mixing various notes in the perfect proportions necessary to create a single fragrance experience.” This might all sound very professional, but artificial fragrance is not how nature intended.


Collective Evolution – 17 chemicals to avoid in cosmetics and personal care products

Natural Cosmetic News – Dangerous Chemicals in Deodorant & Antiperspirant

Breast Cancer Fund – Parabens

Cancer – Talcum powder and cancer

Food and Water Watch – Triclosan

Environmental Working Group – EWG’s Guide To Triclosan

Ray Sahelian – Aluminum

Healthy Choices – The potential harm of DEA

US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health – Urinary Phthalate Metabolite Concentrations and Diabetes among Women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008

Environmental Health News – Study Links Plastics Chemicals To Women’s Diabetes

EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database – BHT

Jash Botanicals – Top Ten Most Harmful Ingredients

Helen Garvey
Author of Beauty Zone, Healthy Woman, and New Promo Codes Written on various topics, including finance, relationships, health and beauty, skincare, and health and fitness.