Friday, July 15, 2011

Toxins in Deodorant

Before you think I've become an alarmist, I do not believe that any one product I am using in my home has the ability to cause disease on its own. My decision to detoxify is based on a premise dubbed the "chemical cocktail effect" by the science community.  

The number of manmade chemicals we are exposed to everyday through our food, cleaning products, clothing, cosmetics, personal care products, and even the air we breathe, really adds up. And while individual industries and products are regulated for safety, no one has studied the potential harm of the combination of all of these chemicals on our bodies with longterm exposure - until now. 

In 2010, researchers at The University of Gothenburg in Sweden released a report clearly stating that "the combined 'cocktail effect' of environmental chemicals is greater and more toxic than the effect of the chemicals individually." The report can be downloaded here. Since, assessing the actual risk of an individual's exposure based on the potential combinations of an infinite number of chemicals is impossible, the best way to protect ourselves and our children is to try to lessen the number of chemicals we willingly bring into our homes. 

If you haven't seen the e-mail going around since 1999 about a possible link between anti-perspirants and breast cancer, you're in the minority. Not even could write this one off as a hoax, leaving the status “undetermined”. So, this is where I begin my quest to detoxify.

I began my research with the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep cosmetics database, which rates a product's potential toxicity based on analysis and studies done pertaining to it's individual ingredients. You can search by type of product or by product name to find information about what it's made of, which ingredients could potentially be harmful and to what extent. While there are information gaps, this is the most comprehensive resource to start with, and it is easily accessible. 

For years, I used Secret Sheer Dry Solid Antiperspirant & Deodorant in the Shower Fresh scent. According to the Skin Deep database, this product carries a moderate health risk and is rated a 3 out of 10 for toxicity. (Ten being the highest level.) Upon examining the ingredients, it seemed that cyclopentasiloxane is one of the culprits adding to my potential toxicity. 

According to, cyclopentasiloxane is a type of silicone, and like all silicones, “this ingredient has a unique fluidity that makes it easily spreadable. When applied to the skin and hair, it gives a silky & slippery feeling to the touch and acts a mild water repellent by forming a protective barrier on the skin.” The EWG associates cyclopentasiloxane with a moderate risk of cancer, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, persistence and bioaccumulation, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), and ecotoxicology.

Despite that impressive list, this is not the ingredient with the highest concern found within this type of Secret deodorant. It's the fragrance that the EWG seems most concerned about. The following warning is included on the Skin Deep database relating to fragrance: The word 'fragrance' or 'parfum' on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.” 

And while not directly cancer related (as the circulating e-mail claimed), the term fragrance on the label, which is itself rated an 8 out of 10 for toxicity, significantly affects this product's overall rating. (I should have opted for the unscented version of this deodorant; the original formula of the Secret Antiperspirant & Deodorant Solid rates as a 2 of 10 for toxicity.)

I've also used Dove Antiperspirant & Deodorant, Ultimate Clear, in the powder scent. (There I go with the fragrance again.) I thought I was switching to a brand that was better for my skin, but this product is rated a 4 out of 10 for toxicity. (They just have a great advertising campaign.) It contains cyclopentasiloxane as well, but also BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) as a preservative, which is a known human immune system intoxicant and a suspected skin intoxicant as well, according to the National Library of Medicine HazMap. There is even a hazard warning on the deodorant packaging itself, warning not to use the product on broken skin (does razor burn count?) or if you have kidney disease. I must have missed that.

I decided to scan the Skin Deep database for the best-rated deodorants to see if I recognized any of the names. None of the products rated 0 out of 10 were familiar to me, but some products from brand names such as Mitchum, Ban, SpeedStick and Tom's of Maine were rated 1 out of 10 and considered low risk. (Note: Not all products from these brands rated well. Check the rating before you buy. A good rule of thumb is to look for sensitive skin, unscented products.)

My husband tried the Tom's of Maine Original Care Deodorant Stick (rated a 1), but said he smelled by 2pm. I picked up a stronger version, Tom's of Maine Long Lasting Deodorant Stick in the Calendula scent. (Prior to learning about the potential toxicity of fragrance, of course.) It had to be a better choice than the mainstream (cheaper) brands because it's made by a “green” company, right? Wrong. Tom's of Maine is actually made by the Colgate-Palmolive company - surprise - and the scented versions of the deodorant line, like the one I naively picked up, rate 4 out of 10 for toxicity, with a higher price point to boot. I was better off with Secret.

I did make one worthwhile discovery in the grocery store deodorant aisle though: Burt's Bees Natural Skin Care for Men Deodorant. It's rated a 1 out of 10 for toxicity. And the company is local. Bonus. I bought it for my husband, but they don't have an equivalent for women. (Huh?) So, I'm making a wish list of products from the company Coastal Classic Creations for my birthday. I'll add the Wave Crest deodorant to the list now. It's a zero rating (and boy does the price reflect that).

Those of you who have experimented with making you own homemade deodorants, please feel free to send me your recipes and/or results. That might be the next step. 

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