Conventional bacteria-busting deodorants and pore-blocking antiperspirants contain chemicals like triclosan, parabens, and formaldehyde. Aside from the danger posed by these chemicals during the manufacturing of deodorants, they enter water supplies when they are washed off the body, where they can cause environmental harm.
Deodorant's chemical contents
Mineral oil: Similar to other beauty and skincare products such as lipstick, shaving cream, and body lotion, many popular deodorants and antiperspirants contain mineral oil, a petroleum-based substance. The production of the petrochemicals used in deodorants and antiperspirants pollutes the environment by releasing hazardous chemicals into the air and water. Mineral oil-based deodorants support the hazards of the petroleum industry, which include about 2.6 million gallons of oil spilled every month during transportation and about 71 million pounds of toxins released into the air and water during refinement.
Aluminum: Present in antiperspirants, aluminum is the agent that closes pores and prevents wetness. It can cause ecosystem destruction and water pollution, and uses massive amounts of energy during the mining process. In 2004, the FDA added a new warning label to antiperspirants containing aluminum, specifically to alert those suffering from kidney disease. Aluminum has also been connected to contact dermatitis, with aluminum chloride being the most irritating of aluminum compounds found in antiperspirants.
Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde, found in the preservatives DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, and Bronopol in roll-on antiperspirants, is a chemical solvent compound that's also found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and home construction materials. It is one of the world's most hazardous compounds to both ecosystems and health, according to the Environmental Defense Scorecard. It was classified as a known carcinogen in 2005 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and can offgas during perspiration. Ingestion of the chemical can cause severe physical reactions, including coma, internal bleeding, and death.
Parabens: Parabens are known endocrine disrupters that are not only detrimental to human health but also destructive to animal hormones and development. (Studies have found higher levels of parabens in tumors from human breast tissue, but, because the potential damage to the endocrine system has yet to be proven, the controversy surrounding the toxicity of parabens is still being debated.)
Triclosan: A potent antimicrobial agent used in some deodorants and other personal care products, triclosan has been found in 55 percent of streams examined in 2002 at levels high enough to disrupt the natural life cycle of frogs. Triclosan can cause skin and eye irritation, and can result in the formation of dioxin and chloroform, both probable carcinogens, under the right circumstances.
Diethanolamine (DEA): While DEA, an emulsifier or foaming agent, is infrequently used in skin and hair care products because it is a known carcinogen, the more commonly used chemicals TEA and MEA are often contaminated with DEA.
Minimal packaging maximizes eco-benefits
Many eco-friendly deodorants minimize waste creation by using minimal or recycled packaging. Because they come in rock form, crystal deodorants are especially good for reduced packaging.
Aerosol spray cans are the least eco-friendly form of packaging for deodorants. Aerosol deodorants and antiperspirants usually contain nonrenewable fossil fuels such as butane and propane. Aside from being flammable, these ingredients can lead to respiratory irritation when inhaled.
Making sense of green claims on product labels
A lack of regulation allows personal care product companies to tout their products' green attributes with claims that at times can be confusing and misleading, and without any third party certification that the claims are true. To help you determine whether your new deodorant is, in fact, green, learn more about product testing, labeling, and reputable certifications:
Lack of testing for safety of personal care products
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring the safety of personal care products and cosmetics, which it describes as all products "intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body ... for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering appearance.
Yet, despite the fact that the FDA is charged with ensuring the safety of cosmetic and personal care products, neither the actual products nor ingredients are reviewed or approved by the FDA before they're sold to the public. It's up to the manufacturer to ensure that a product is safe, and to theoretically attach a warning label if it isn't. Clear safety guidelines are lacking, and no independent third-party safety testing is required. Submitting product formulations is voluntary, and according to the FDA, only about 35 percent of cosmetic companies do so. While the European Union (EU) approved a cosmetic ingredient listing of over 1,000 prohibited substances, the FDA list only prohibits eight.
One murky area is the term “organic.” While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains clearcut standards for organic food, the same can’t be said for skin care products. Because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spends only a tiny portion of its budget investigating the chemical composition and toxins in skin care products, deodorants can tout their use of organic ingredients and still have up to 30 percent synthetic materials, even the ones labeled "organic" or "made with organic ingredients." The only way to be sure that the product you are purchasing is, in fact, organic is to look for the USDA Organic Seal on the label. This seal guarantees that every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board, which bans the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering.
The personal care industry is in turmoil trying to agree upon a set of standards. Some companies use the USDA certified organic food standard, which requires 95 percent of the ingredients to be organic. Others use the less stringent California state standard for organic cosmetic products, which requires at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients. And still others label their products organic without meeting any external criterion.
In the meantime, a nonprofit standard-setting group called NSF International has released a draft set of rules for organic personal care products and a group of 30 cosmetic companies recently devised their own set of specifications called Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS). How it all washes out remains to be seen.
On May 1, 2008, the Natural Products Association announced the Natural Seal for Personal Care Products, a new certification program that defines "natural" and includes an easily-identified seal. Advisers to the association include Aubrey Organics, Burt’s Bees, Badger Balm, California Baby, Farmaesthetics, Trilogy Fragrances, and Weleda.
While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. So stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.
In a 2008 study that shook the natural products industry, 100 “natural” and “organic” soaps, shampoos, dish liquids, lotions, body washes, and deodorants were tested and nearly half contained 1,4-Dioxane, a carcinogenic chemical. This toxin has been found in conventional personal care products, but this study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) was the first to test green products.
In scientific studies, 1,4-Dioxane has caused cancer in animals; scientists have not yet confirmed the long-term effects on humans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says current levels do not pose a hazard to consumers but they have advised manufacturers to lower amounts in cosmetics as much as possible. None of the products tested that were Certified Organic by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) contained 1,4-Dioxane. In response to this study, some of the affected companies have said they will work toward removing 1,4-Dioxane from their products.
Aluminum's links to cancer, and Alzheimer's disease
For years, rumors have circulated that the neurotoxic aluminum found in antiperspirants is a cause of breast cancer, although actual scientific results regarding the matter have been inconclusive. Antiperspirant manufacturers and the FDA claim the cancer-antiperspirant link to be strictly myth, while groups such as the American Cancer Society believe the correlation should not be completely ruled out. Similar myths have linked aluminum to Alzheimer's disease after a study in the 1980s revealed that the brains of Alzheimer's patients contained high amounts of aluminum. Subsequent findings have debunked this hypothesis.
- 1,4-dioxane: A petroleum-derived contaminant classified as a probable human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- formaldehyde: A flammable reactive gas belonging to the VOC (volatile organic compound) family of chemicals.
- parabens: This family of preservatives (which includes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butyl-parabens) can affect the endocrine system, which produces the body's hormones.
- triclosan: A potent antibacterial agent.
- Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
- The Green Guide - Readers Rate Eco-friendly Deodorants
- The Beauty Brains - Do Mineral Crystal Deodorants Really Work?
- MSNBC - GreenDAY: Want a fresh, green deodorant? Don't sweat it!
- US Food and Drug Administration - Antiperspirant Awareness: It's Mostly No Sweat
- Ideal Bite - Sweating over the ingredients contained in most antiperspirants and deodorants?
- Environmental Working Group - Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Check out where your favorite deodorant/antiperspirant ranks on the hazard scale