The Holy Grail of DIY Deodorant
Before I started my WordPress blog I had a Facebook page where I was sharing about my adventures and DIY ideas. This past Spring I shared a post per special request about my Quest for the Perfect Deodorant. I never shared it here but it seems pertinent to do so in order to give you some background on just how long I’ve been seeking the what was starting to look like the Holy Grail of deodorant recipes. So here’s my original post:
(5/1/15) The Quest for the Perfect Deodorant:
There was a lot of hype on the interwebz about the dangers of antiperspirant a couple years ago, theorizing that your deodorant caused everything from breast cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, science has pretty much debunked most of these rumors. But the gist of these rumors was that the active ingredient in antiperspirant, aluminum chlorohydrate, was the culprit.
In the 1960’s researchers found high levels of aluminum in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, the safety of any household or cosmetic product containing aluminum was called into question. Since then, no sound scientific study has been able to prove that aluminum is a cause of Alzheimer’s disease (remember correlation does not equal causation). In fact, most researchers point out that the aluminum chlorohydrate in deodorants doesn’t enter into the body at all. It works by reacting with the sweat produced in your underarm area to form a plug or sorts into the sweat duct effectively blocking the sweat from being released. Which brings me to the rumors about breast cancer risk.
In the 1990’s a group of researchers theorized that aluminum chlorohydrate in antiperspirants was linked to breast cancer because the majority of breast cancers develop in the upper, outermost portion of the breast, the area closest to the armpit. Two theories emerged: 1) because antiperspirants block the sweat we are preventing the body from its natural ability to rid itself of heavy metals and thus leading to cancer, and 2) the chemicals in deodorant and antiperspirant are absorbed into the skin, particularly when the skin is nicked during shaving, and that these chemicals supposedly interact with DNA to interfere with estrogen levels and can lead to cancer cell growth. Again, neither of these hypotheses have been supported through peer reviewed research.
There is some legitimate risk concern over aluminum possibly leading to dementia in patients with kidney disease, however. This comes from several studies showing that dialysis patients given aluminum hydroxide had difficulty ridding the aluminum from their system due to improper kidney function and leading to higher percentage of these patients developing dementia. This lead to the FDA requiring the warning you may have seen on antiperspirants that says “Ask a doctor before use if you have kidney disease.” Despite this relationship, however, most doctors believe that the likelihood of absorbing enough aluminum through the skin to harm the kidneys is unlikely.
My quest for the perfect deodorant began when I wanted to decrease the number of chemicals and questionable ingredients in my skincare and beauty products several years ago. Even if aluminum chlorohydrate doesn’t lead to cancer or Alzheimer’s there are still a lot of other questionable ingredients in traditional deodorants and antiperspirants, including:
• Phthalates– chemicals used to soften and increase flexibility in plastics that may* cause endocrine disruption or hormone imbalance. (* this relationship is largely unknown and more research is needed)
• Propylene glycol– also called antifreeze. There is a lot of debate about adding this ingredient in skincare and beauty products. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) propylene glycol carries a moderate risk of immunotoxicity and allergies.
• Formaldehyde – recognized as a known carcinogen but commonly added to help kill germs.
• Parabens – a preservative used in pharmaceuticals, beauty products, and even the food industry. There is some concern that Parabens cause estrogenic disruption but this is largely unsupported by the research.
• Antibacterial Substances– There is emerging concern that antibacterial substances, such as triclocarban (commonly found in soaps), can be endocrine disruptors and thus negatively affect the immune system
So, armed with a list of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce I declared that I would give up my beloved Secret Clinical Strength deodorant. I don’t know about any of you but I sweat… like a man – there is no “glisten” where my pits are concerned. And, I stink. I said it, I can have pretty wicked BO… So giving up my Clinical Strength deodorant that I had used for years was no small feat. I tried lots of products that claimed to be “better” than other deodorants that had more chemicals. Even falling victim to the “Natural” marketing campaign (which if you didn’t know marketers can put the words “natural” on pretty much anything when there may be nothing “natural” about that product – it means zilch in the real world…) and landing on Secret’s Natural Mineral Antiperspirant and Deodorant for a couple years thinking it was a better alternative.
Once my blinders were removed I transitioned to Tom’s of Maine deodorant as a healthier choice and was terribly disappointed because quite frankly it didn’t really work for me (hindsight is 20/20 and a lot of why I think it didn’t work was diet – more on that in a minute). So by that time I was getting into the whole crunchy granola lifestyle and thought “what the hell, why don’t I just make my own deo!?!” So I tried one of the most common homemade deodorant recipes out there:
• 1/4 c. baking soda
• 1/4 c. cornstarch or arrowroot powder
• 5 Tbsp. coconut oil
• Essential oils (optional – I used 3 drops of lavender, 4 drops of sweet orange, and 2 drops of tea tree)
Mix everything together very well in a small container. Pack it in an old deodorant container and use it just like you normally do.
And you know what? It worked!!! I was thrilled! But after using it for a while I discovered that, like many people out there, my skin is way too sensitive for baking soda as a deodorant. My pits turned an angry shade of red, peeled, and itched like crazy. Nothing so sexy as walking around scratching your pits like a monkey all day. So I tried decreasing the baking soda and added more arrowroot powder and much to my dismay I continued to have the same reaction, although slightly less severe. Saddened by this turn of events, I continued my quest.
Next I tried Milk of Magnesia (MoM) – yes, the same stuff you use for constipation and heartburn, but hear me out. Because the active ingredient, magnesium hydroxide, is alkaline it helps balance the acidity of the sweat and sebum (skin’s natural oils) mixture. This worked okay, but I wasn’t a super huge fan of having to rub a quarter sized dollop of MoM on my pits and wait for it to dry. Some critics of MoM as deo point out, however, that an inactive ingredient in MoM is sodium hypochlorite, which is essentially bleach and while this does a fantastic job of killing bacteria, it is a known skin irritant. These critics will often advocate for using magnesium oil (which can be purchased in an aerosol spray) as an alternative or even just increasing your magnesium through supplements to decrease body odor (but I take a mag supplement daily and still need deo).
Next I was led to the Natural Crystal deodorant, which is basically a “salt” crystal, or potassium alum. It has also received a lot of criticism for being a type of aluminum but since I know that the aluminum-cancer/dementia risk is slight (see above) I wasn’t particularly concerned. Again, I was surprised by how well this actually worked for me! But again, sadly disappointed when my pits started itching. Not as bad as BS but still not sexy and super annoying.
So feeling dismayed I went back to Tom’s of Maine. I was pleasantly surprised that it was working better than it did a couple years ago and I credit our change in diet/lifestyle as the reason behind this change. We gave up processed foods, cut back on sugar (although admittedly I’ve relapsed since the little one was born), and traded in “white” foods, like sugar, rice, potatoes, bread, etc. for whole and ancient grains, sweet potatoes, and sugar alternatives, like honey or agave nectar. I haven’t found a whole lot of evidence to support my claim that my healthier diet changed my BO (because I still drink caffeine and eat lots of garlic and onions as well as other BO-causing spices like curry) but that’s my anecdotal evidence for ya!
That said, I still wanted to get away from having to purchase store-bought deodorant and continued my quest for a homemade recipe that didn’t irritate my armpits. My recently re-ignited passion for essential oils lead me to search for new recipes. Below is what I discovered!
The Holy Grail of DIY Deodorant:
A fellow essential oil enthusiast recently shared with me that she was having luck using Rosemary oil as a deodorant alternative. Now, Rosemary essential oil is technically classified as a dietary supplement but I’m all about experimenting and finding new ways to use essential oils. My friend had said she just dropped a few drops in her hands, rubbed them together and applied neat to her pits. I admit, I was super skeptical that one single oil, let alone something I associated more with cooking than sweat could tackle this challenge. But, willing to try pretty much anything, I added Rosemary oil to my Essential Rewards order back in July and gave it a whirl.
This stuff is amazing! For a month and a half I wore nothing but Rosemary oil, neat, as a deodorant alternative and I’m pleased to report that I didn’t stink! I still sweated but the Rosemary oil is a natural camphor so it provides a nice cooling sensation in warm summer breezes which was nice. But I did want to try to find something to provide some wetness protection. I had such a bad reaction to Baking Soda in my deodorant that I wanted to find something else to help absorb sweat and set out to look for alternatives. While scouring the interwebz I stumbled upon Simple Life Mom’s blog post and recipe for a Detoxing Homemade Clay Deodorant. She skips the Baking Soda and adds Bentonite Clay to help absorb wetness and odor. In addition to soothing the skin, the clay also helps detox heavy metals and other toxins from the skin! The blog was originally published on my daughter’s birthday so I thought that perhaps this was kismet. I already had all the ingredients on hand and decided to give it a whirl. Since I’d had such good luck with the Rosemary essential oil I knew I wanted it to be included and decided to add a bit of Lavender essential oil as well to help with any skin irritation that I might have from the Arrowroot powder or Bentonite Clay. Here’s the recipe with my essential oil ratios:
DIY Rosemary & Lavender Detoxing Deodorant (for sensitive skin):
- 1 Tbsp Bentonite Clay (Simple Life Mom suggests substituting Kaolin or other clay if you desired to have a whiter deodorant)
- 5 Tbsp Arrowroot Powder (I get mine from Mountain Rose Herbs)
- 1 tsp Beeswax (I used pastilles because they melt easier and get mine from Mountain Rose Herbs)
- 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil (I use Carrington Farms brand and get it at Costco. That big ol tub is only like $14.99 and we use it for cooking in addition to my DIY projects.)
- 2 tsp Shea Butter (I get mine from Mountain Rose Herbs)
- 10 drops of Rosemary essential oil
- 8 drops of Lavender essential oil
- Combine Beeswax, Coconut Oil, and Shea Butter in double boiler. Heat on high and stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed together.
- Combine Arrowroot powder and Bentonite Clay in bowl.
- Pour oil mixture into powder mixture and stir until there are no lumps.
- Add essential oils and stir until well mixed.
- Pour into empty deodorant container (mine was gifted to me but you can find them on Amazon or at other online aromatherapy supplies dealers websites)
I’ve used this new deodorant for a week now. I’ve made sure to wear every color and style shirt conceivable and the verdict is I freakin’ love this stuff!!! I feel like my long quest for the perfect deodorant is finally over. This, my friends, is my holy grail of DIY deodorants!!! I absolutely love that I get the fragrance of the Rosemary essential oil, with just a touch of the Lavender, in addition to the wetness protection from the Arrowroot and Bentonite Clay. It goes on smoothly which I also really like. For what it’s worth though, I have two (small) constructive criticisms of the recipe. First, it does show up on black (but not white as I feared) fabric. It is not any more visible than a white solid deodorant, however. But if I was going to wear a black tank top, or little black dress if you’re more fashionable than me, I would probably just use my Rosemary oil neat to avoid the powdery bits. And second, because it is pretty soft, which makes it glide on easily, it does tend to ball up a little bit in the creases of my armpit. However, this is very short lived as the melting point of the Coconut Oil and Shea Butter is pretty low so after 30 minutes to an hour it is all absorbed and no more balls or clumps.
So there it is. Try it out and let me know what you think! Comment below with your results to help keep the conversation going!!!
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products and techniques mentioned here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Information here is in no way intended to replace proper medical help. Consult with the health authorities of your choice for treatment.