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Deodorants reduce body odor by killing the odor-causing bacteria. They do not affect the amount of perspiration the body produces. The first commercial product to prevent odor was launched in Philadelphia in the United States in 1888. Unlike antiperspirants, deodorants are classified as cosmetics because they do not affect the body's structure or function i.e. they mask odor, instead of reducing sweat.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Deodorants are used to prevent embarrassing social situations that arise from body odor.
  • It is associated with good personal hygiene.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, most deodorants do not just cover up odor with fragrance. They actually have antiseptic properties that work to kill bacteria, which is what causes odor to begin with.

All about deodorants

Deodorants can be in the form of sticks, roll ons or sprays.

Common ingredients in a deodorant

  • Perfumes and fragrances are used in most deodorants mask body odour and provide a feeling of freshness to the user.
  • Virtually all deodorant products will contain some emollient oils to sooth and soften the skin by preventing water loss.
  • In roll-ons and sticks, these also give a 'gliding' feeling as the product is applied. The moisturisers used are usually glycerin or vegetable derived oils, such as sunflower oil.
  • The active ingredients deodorants are often dissolved in alcohol because it dries quickly once applied to the skin and gives an immediate sense of coolness. Thus, alcohol is a common ingredient in many roll-ons, aerosol deodorants and some gels.
  • Silica is a natural mineral which is often used in antiperspirants and deodorants to mop up this oiliness so that users no longer feel the greasy after-effects of sweat.
  • Water is used in a range of deodorants as a carrier for other ingredients. It adds fluidity to products like roll-ons and creams and helps the product spread onto the skin.
  • In aerosol products the active ingredients are contained in a neutral liquid which enables them to be easily sprayed onto the skin.
  • Most products contain a harmless antioxidant which ensures the other ingredients are in an optimal state when they reach the skin. You may find this referred to as BHT on the back of the pack.
  • Aerosol deodorants are designed to work via a thin film sprayed onto the skin. To create this film, products contain low, medium and high pressure propellants which produce a spray strong enough to reach the skin, but not too forceful. In the ingredients listing these propellants are called Butane, Isobutane and Propane.

Ingredients to avoid

  • Aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly or any aluminum compounds. Aluminum is absorbed through the skin and accumulates in the body.
  • Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl and butyl), are all derived from toluene, a toxic petrochemical derivative. Since 2000, 13 research studies have shown that various types of parabens act like estrogen in animals and in tissue culture. Estrogen is known to drive the growth of cancerous cells.
  • Triclosan is a skin irritant and may cause contact dermatitis. It may kill healthy bacteria as well as harmful bacteria.
  • Talc is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer if it contains asbestiform fibers. The quantity of asbestiform fibers in cosmetic grade talc is unregulated. If talc is listed on the label, there is no way of knowing whether or not it contains asbestiform fibers.
  • Propylene glycol absorbs quickly through the skin and is a penetration enhancers. It may cause delayed allergic reactions.
  • Silica is a skin irritant. It may be contaminated with crystalline quartz, which is a carcinogen.
  • Steareth-n (n may be any number like say 100), may be vegetable derived but is reacted with ethylene oxide (ethoxylated), a known human carcinogen.

Deodorant and the environment

Antiperspirant spray cans were made of CFCs so that they could be kept in liquid form and in an only slightly pressurized can. CFC's have been proven to result in ozone depletion. Chlorine atoms are released as the CFCs decompose, thus destroying the Ozone (O3) atoms in the high stratosphere. It became clear that human usage of CF2Cl2 and CFCl3, and similar chemicals were causing a negative impact on the chemistry of the high altitude air.

Though some developed countries have banned the use of CFC in spray cans, it is still in use in many countries.

What can I do?

Avoid drinking a lot of processed drinks (soda, most ready made juices, etc) or eating a lot of red meat and switching to a healthier balanced diet can help control body odor.

Homemade deodorant

You can use baking soda and cornstarch in a 50/50 mixture.

Basic Deodorant Powder

  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • A few drops essential oils such as lavender or cinnamon

Place the ingredients in a glass jar. Shake to blend. Sprinkle a light covering of the powder on a damp washcloth. Pat on. Don’t rinse.

Basic Liquid Deodorant

  • 1/4 cup each witch hazel extract, aloe vera gel, and mineral water
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable glycerin
  • A few drops antibacterial essential oils such as lavender (optional)

Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake to blend.


Most people think that antiperspirants and deodorants are the same thing, but they are not. Antiperspirants work by clogging, closing, or blocking the pores with powerful astringents such as aluminum salts so that they can’t release sweat. Deodorants work by neutralizing the smell of the sweat and by antiseptic action against bacteria. Deodorants are preferable because they do not interfere with sweating, a natural cooling process.

90 degrees -- What we don not know yet

  • It has not been conclusively proven that any of the deodorant ingredients that is found on the labeling are toxic to man. Howeevr aluminium deposists have been found in breast tissues of women affected by breast cancer.
  • Scientists also say that even a minute amount of toxins, if taken on a long term basis, will have an effect on our system, but there are no studies conclusively proving the same.


  • What's in an Antiperspirant?
  • The Difference Between Deodorant and Antiperspirants
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • The History of Commercial Deodorants
  • Antiperspirant Awareness