No Sweat - Lemon Ester

Welcome to the fifth in this mini series about deodorant ingredients. Todays star has a reasonably pronouncable INCI name – Triethyl citrate – and bears the common name Lemon Ester. (Kind of sounds like the name of a sassy character from an old TV series, don't you think?) Lemon Ester carries the Ester name because triethyl citrate actually is an ester – an ester of citric acid.

So What's an Ester

Esters are chemical compounds that are derived by reacting an oxoacid (an acid that contains oxygen) with an alcohol or phenol. Not only does lemon ester function well as part of a deodorant, but it is a popular food additive (E number 1505) that is a useful for helping produce a stable egg white foam. Lemon ester is also used within both the pharmaceutical and plastics industries.

What Does it Look Like

Lemon ester is a colorless and odorless liquid that you could very easily mistake for a glass of water (if it were sitting around in a drinking glass).

Where is it Sourced

One natural source of triethyl citrate is cherries. "Yay - finally something natural" one might immediately think. Unfortunately (for all of us plant-based fanatics), almost all of the lemon ester on the market is synthetically produced. Why? Because it's chemically identical to the 'natural version' and it is simply not sustainable to extract it from cherries. For this very reason, one of my suppliers dropped it quite suddenly after having carried it for ages. All of my other suppliers continue to carry it.

Which brings us to the inevitable question...

Is it Safe?

Yes. Lemon Ester is safe to use in cosmetics as well as in foodstuffs. Even the supplier that dropped it from their stock admitted to me that it was the 'synthetically produced' part that made them decide to drop it – not because it was in any way unsafe.

How Does it Deodorize?

In technical speak: Ofaction is based on a pH value dependent reversible inhibition of the enzymatical degradation of epidermal residues and skin surface fat so that odorous degradation cannot develop.

In everyday speak: It lowers the pH of the armpit area so bacteria, and thereby odor, has a hard time developing.

The Unhappy Camper

Ok, I'll admit it. I wasn't the happiest camper the day I found out there wasn't some cooperative of nature-loving people that were extracting the stuff lovingly by hand from sun-ripened cherries. I actually tried to follow my one suppliers example and reformulated my deodorants to see if 'Ester' could be dropped altogether. They still worked, but not all day. It was a no-brainer to reintroduce triethyl citrate to the formula. I mean, honestly, would you switch to a 'new deodorant that offered almost all day protection if you don't do anything too physical'?


Me either.

See the Previous Posts in this Series Here

No sweat - how does deodorant work
No sweat - the basic makeup of deodorant
No sweat - potassium alum
No sweat - about baking soda deodorant

Visit the Deodorant FAQ Page


Hana said…
Dear Lise,
I'm so glad I found your blog! My favourite store bought deodorant is no longer available so I made my own version of it and was wondering why it doesn't work. And now I know - it's the lemon ester! It was third on the list of ingredients of my old deo but I didn't care about it because I didn't know what it was :D My old deo was a spray and that's what I like so my question is: is lemon ester soluble in water? Currently, my diy deo only contains water, ethyl alcohol and lavender and litsea cubeba EOs. Can I just pop the lemon ester in or do I have to use some other ingredients to make it work? Have a nice day and thank you for this great blog!
LisaLise said…
HI Hana - thanks for your kind words! You asked about lemon ester: yes, it is water soluble. It is often paired with farnesol to strengthen the effect, so you may also want to check out farnesol. If you check out the links (bottom right of the blog), there are a few suppliers listed. Aroma Zone offers a 'deodorant mix' that consists of lemo ester and farnesol. Best of luck with it and please feel free to check back and let me know how you get on.
Anonymous said…
Hi Lisa

I red Triethyl citrate is effective only in pH 3-5, but wonder if it still will be effective in an oil based deodorant with baking soda, since the salt is not dissolved but dispersed? Do you know anything about this, or have any thoughts about it?

Thanks! - and thank you for sharing so much of your knowledge :-)

best regards Mia, Norway
LisaLise said…
Hi Mia - Triethyl citrate is water soluble. If you put it into an oil-based product, you're going to need an emulsifier. Also, I'm a little concerned about mixing it with baking soda… this sounds like the recipe for a fizzy bath bomb more than a deodorant. Can you tell me a bit more?