Why Your DIY Baking Soda Deodorant is Causing a Skin Reaction

(POST UPDATED: September 12, 2018) 

An overwhelming amount of comments and mails from readers prompted this post, and since it was first published in 2012, it has been visited by almost half a million people – all looking for answers as to why they are experiencing skin reactions from using deodorant with baking soda.

The skin reactions you've written me about have consisted of everything from 'a slight discoloration of armpits' to 'ending up in hospital with a 6 month recovery period.'

If you are looking for tips to relieve your rashy pits, please scroll to the bottom.
If you are looking for explanations as to the whys and hows, please read on.

Deodorant Ingredient Misconceptions

Misconceptions about deodorant ingredients have taken on a life of their own in recent years. Some of these misconceptions have frightened people away from commercial deodorants and prompted experiments with all kinds of alternatives – the most common (and damaging) being DIY deodorant (or purchased 'natural' deodorant) featuring baking soda as the active ingredient.

How it has become generally accepted that a deodorant with baking soda is more 'natural' and 'chemical-free' than a deodorant using other active ingredients is a bit of a mystery to me, but let's leave that discussion for another post.

There are 2 main misconceptions about 'natural deodorant' with baking soda that have been circulating so long, they are perceived as truth.

Natural Deodorant Misconception 1: Naturally Procured Baking Soda is Safer/Better/More Natural than Industrial Baking Soda

Baking soda is baking soda.  There isn't one type that is more natural than another. 

Regardless of the production process, all sodium bicarbonate has the same chemical formula: Na2CO3 + CO2 + H2O → 2 NaHCO3

Even if it starts life as 'a naturally mined soda ash', it is neither milder, more gentle or a different grade of sodium bicarbonate. It has exactly the same properties, same chemical formula and same strength.

Natural Deodorant Misconception 2 : The Detox Hoax

Many people have gotten the idea that it is necessary to go through a 'detox period' when you switch from commercially made deodorant to a deodorant with baking soda. 

This 'detox period' is described as having the following symptoms:
  • rash 
  • redness and/or discoloration
  • leathery skin

The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for sodium bicarbonate warns of the following symptoms with prolonged exposure of baking soda to the skin:
  • rash 
  • redness 
  • dry, cracked skin 

Sound familiar?

If you are experiencing rash, discomfort or any other reactions to your baking soda deodorant, it is NOT because your body is detoxing – it's because you are applying an unhealthy concentration of baking soda to your armpits!

But There Are Commercially Made Baking Soda Deodorants (I hear you thinking)

You're absolutely right, but there is a reason the industry hires professional cosmetics chemists/scientists to formulate their products.

A professional knows which ingredients will work and how to combine everything so it is best tolerated. A professional will create a functioning product that doesn't require 'a detox period'!

Let's Compare, Shall We?

Let's dissect the ingredients list of a commercially made baking soda deodorant and compare it to a typical DIY baking soda deodorant.

Below is the ingredients list for Arm & Hammers Ultra Max Baking Soda Deodorant. I've listed the ingredients in descending order (read: the first ingredient is what there is most of, the second is what there is second most of, etc). I've also added a super short description after the INCI name of each ingredient.

Arm & Hammers Ultra Max Baking Soda Deodorant Ingredients

  • Dipropylene Glycol: mixture of 3 chemical compounds with low toxicity that is often used as an additive to skin and hair care products
  • Aqua: water
  • Propylene Glycol: a chemical made by reacting propylene oxide with water that is often used as the main ingredient in commercial deodorants. (It does not cause sensitization and it shows no evidence of being a carcinogen). 
  • Sodium Stearate: the sodium salt of stearic acid – keeps the product from separating and has lubricating properties
  • Fragrance 
  • Sodium Bicarbonate: Baking Soda
  • Triclosan: an organic compound that can also be synthesized – an antibacterial and anti-fungal agent. (under review by the FDA and Health Canada)
  • Tetrasodium EDTA: chelating agent that works by binding to metal ions and thereby inactivating them. Helps prevent deterioration and rancidity of the product.
  • Allantoin: Comfrey Root Extract 
  • Ext D&C Violet 2 (CI 60730): pigments/coloring 
  • Green 5: coloring

Note that the baking soda is listed after the fragrance.

This is important, because fragrance is commonly about 0.5% in any leave-on product. For a deodorant, it would not exceed 0.5%.

But, let's be generous and say they've really poured on the fragrance and gone up to 1%. That would place the baking soda at or around 1% of the product.

Now Let's Look at a Typical DIY Baking Soda Deodorant Recipe

- 75 grams (about 5 tablespoons) coconut (or other) oil
- 32 grams (about 1/4 cup) baking soda
- 32 grams (about 1/4 cup) arrowroot (or cornstarch or clay)
- essential oils of choice

This has a whopping 23% baking soda.

I'll lay money that it is going to cause irritation to just about every armpit it is applied to. This isn't even the worst one I've seen. Some of these DIY 'recipes' call for up to 50% baking soda.

The amount of each ingredient matters – most particularly when you're talking about active ingredients!

The International Journal of Toxicology writes this about baking soda in cosmetics:
"The cosmetic use of sodium carbonate at high concentrations is mainly limited to products designed to be diluted before use and in products where pH is buffered to near neutrality". (find more info here)

The pH of the Deodorant Matters Too

The pH of sodium bicarbonate is around 8.3
Neutral pH is 7
Skin friendly solutions are between pH 4.5 - pH 5.5

Still Want to Make Your Own Deodorant Using Baking Soda?

It's understandable why baking soda is such a popular ingredient for deodorants. It is an excellent deodoriser, is cheap, and easily accessible.

The downside: it is an irritant with prolonged skin contact.

If you still want to make and use your own baking soda deodorant, check the percentages of each ingredient in your formula (recipe). If necessary, adjust the amount of baking soda to under 1%. If you introduce liquids to your formula, remember to add a broad spectrum preservative.

It's All About You

Going the natural route and doing DIY products is great. But please gorgeous and wonderful people – before you start experimenting with your health – check and double check your facts.
If in doubt – ask.
If still in doubt – ask again, and then once more to be sure.
When you think you're ready – proceed with caution.
It's YOUR health – and you deserve the best and safest care.

Thanks for listening to this 'old mother hen'.

Now, take good care of yourself!

Make Your Own Natural Deodorant 

Make your own baking-soda free deodorant - there's a FREE how-to right here.

100% Botanical Preservative-Free Deodorant

If you want to try making a 100% botanical, preservative free deodorant (with a 6 month shelf life!), I've developed 3 formulas that are included in this E-book (a complete natural cosmetics-making course-in-a-book for beginners).

Is The Damage Already Done From Baking Soda Deodorant?

Find some FREE helpful tips to treat your tender pits right here
Visit the Deodorant FAQ Page


LisaLise said…
Hi D Smith - thanks for sharing this. You're right that dose makes all the difference. You've got an interesting method of application and it sounds like it's really working well for you.

As for using baking soda as a cleanser, this is indeed possible but do be mindful that it is abrasive on the skin and shouldn't be used more than once a week. It's a good idea to follow up with face oil after use.

Glenda said…
So Now that my underarms harmed what do you recommend to heal them ��
LisaLise said…
Hi Glenda - Oh your poor thing! Aloe Vera gel or juice will help soothe your pits. Try and keep from using anything else on them until they are feeling better. I hope you heal quickly.
Jo Rupz said…
I have done my own research on propylene glycol and it is not a very safe product for humans.
Water is not good if it contains chlorine & fluroide.
Like in the past doctors told us tobacco was safe - now it is concidered unsafe.
Thalidomide was considered safe - but it resulted in birth defects etc.
Sacchrin cyclamate aspartame - was all alleged to be safe but is now linked to cancer.

Like buyer beware, user beware and if a person wants to ingest detrimental items that is their sole perogative.

LisaLise said…
Hi Jo - I am actually in the process of researching propylene glycol and will be doing a post on it in the coming months. This was in large part due to your last comment, so thanks for following up on it! :)
Unknown said…
I prefer to continue using baking soda in recipe verses other ingredients. There are some people obviously with reactions but many I know who are just fine with it. Some people have reactions with mainstream supposedly scientifically produced too. No reason to say baking soda is so bad for most people. Often overlooked is the fact that our bodies are special and unique and there is no across the board works for everyone. A reaction can be found to everything by someone if one looks hard enough. Suggest doing the best research not just opinions but including some to sort through is keeping a balanced view.
LisaLise said…
Hi Dody - thanks for your input. I agree with you that reactions can be had to just about everything. I think you might want to reread my post. Nowhere Does it say baking soda is bad for skin - but that it is not made for prolonged skin contact.
chelsea said…
I have been using baking soda deodorant for over a year and this past week I noticed I was developing underarm rashes. I haven't changed my regime so I figured it had to be the deodorant. I stopped and the rashes have gone away but now my right arm has developed two large lumps (swollen lymph nodes likely). Ouch! Not worth it! I'm sure so many people defend baking soda deodorant and believe in it, I used to be one of those people. I went an entire year before my body reacted to it poorly and it's just not worth it! So I'll be looking into baking soda free recipes now while I try and recover from a swollen armpit. I appreciate you bringing this to people's attention, it's amazing how much false info is on the web but personal experience doesn't lie!
LisaLise said…
Thank you for sharing your experience Chelsea. I'm so sorry to hear you are now in pain and having what sounds like a very serious reaction to the baking soda. I hope you will have a doctor check you and wish you speedy healing.
Penny said…
Hi Lise! Our family has been using our homemade baking soda deodorant for two years now. Husband, myself, and three teenage and older sons. No redness, no rash. It's working GREAT! Best thing we've ever used. My recipe is nearly the same as the one you wrote about. Coconut oil, baking soda, and arrowroot. Yes, it is a high concentration of baking soda but it's working amazingly well for all of us. My MD recommended that I stop using antiperspirants 13 years ago because I was consistently having pain in my breasts and armpits. Shortly after I stopped, the pain went away. After that, it was a series of trials and errors with purchased deodorants. Many disappointing smelly days! I was SO happy when we discovered this baking soda deo. that worked for ALL of us. Imagine! Money saved and it works! I'm sorry it doesn't work for others and they are still searching. I hope they find something that works because I know what it's like to have that trouble.
LisaLise said…
Hi Penny, Thanks for sharing! It certainly is few and far between I have heard from someone using deodorant with a high percentage of baking soda with no problems. I'm glad you have found something that works for you and wish you the best.
Anonymous said…
Good post
LisaLise said…
Thank you, Anon! :)
Unknown said…
Hi LisaLise! so I have been using this baking soda, cornstarch, coconut oil recipe under my arms for a week and didn't notice till now that it made my under arms darker and my skin started to peel! Which makes the skin look "raw" a reddish color Bennett the dry peeling skin now I don't know how to care for it. Do you have any tips for me? Wish I hadn't done this. I'm more self conscious about my armpits more than ever. Please help.
Unknown said…
Tried the crystal stone for about 10 years and was quite happy until one day, bam, my pits reacted badly, it's like they were burnt red and I had to walk around for days with my elbows up so my skin wouldn't hurt, it finally cleared up, so I went back to normal deo after i tried all the health deos which made my pits stink. After about 7 years I tried the crystal again and the next day i got the same bad reaction. So I finally found the one you described in your article above 3 years ago and adjusted the baking soda and that's all it took. I like making my own because it's less expense (not interested in spending $8 or more a month) and I really don't like the perfume they put in the manufactured deos. I realized just how bad it was when it took 3 washings get smell of the commercial perfume smell out of my clothing, yikes (I've got a very sensitive nose).
LisaLise said…
Hi there - try rinsing well with water, then spritzing aloe vera or applying a thin layer of aloe gel to help soothe - I hope you heal fast!
LisaLise said…
Hi Sollena - thanks so much for sharing this. I believe you are the first person I have heard of having a reaction to potassium alum. I've been trying to source from some different suppliers lately to do comparison tests as I read there is difference in the quality. Would you mind sharing the brand name of the stone you used?
I'm glad you have found a solution that works for you.
Unknown said…
I'm so glad I found your article! I ran across it searching for home made deodorant skin reactions to figure what was going on with my armpits. I had a severe reaction to some baking soda deodorant that took several weeks to manifest. I ended up writing a blog post about it at http://wellinformedliving.com/homemade-deodorant-problems/ and included links to this post and your alternative deodorant recipe. I'm looking forward to trying out the deodorant recipe. Thanks for the information, you saved me a trip to the doctor!
LisaLise said…
Hi Anthony - Thanks for your input. I hope your pits heal quickly because it sounds like it was a pretty severe reaction you had to the baking soda.
Carolyn said…
I just recently developed a rash from a baking soda deodorant. I always experienced irritation from commercial anti-persperants and still sweat and smelled. I switched about 3 years ago I think to a DIY deodorant that worked fine and caused no irritation until a couple months ago. After my son was born I developed a rash that seems to be caused by my deodorant. It's much, much worse in one armpit though. I've been using coconut oil with some essential oils in it followed by powder while I heal, the irritation gets worse when my skin is wet so sometimes I reapply during the day. This isn't very good as deodorant but my focus is more on healing the rash right now. I've experimented a couple times to see if it is the deodorant causing the rash and then I feel like an idiot cause wearing it for just one day will make the rash flare up again and then take a few weeks to fully heal all over again. It took me a little while to realize it was the deodorant since I've been using it with no problem for years!
LisaLise said…
Hello Carolyn and thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It is the delayed reaction to these deodorants that is the most disturbing to me. I really hope you heal quickly, and would love to hear how you are getting on (both with and without baking soda deodorant). I'm impressed that you kept going back to see if it indeed was the deodorant causing the reaction - taking a right proper scientific approach to the problem! I wish you the best and hope you find a good solution. :)
SabrebIade said…
I did the baking soda and coconut oil for three days.
Day one was great, no problem.
Day two, minor irritation.
Day three, slightly worse.
Day four, rash with bumps, burning and I think slightly swollen, though it could feel like that because of the rash.
I am actually using a sunburn treatment on it with Aloe, A and E and Lidocaine.
Kills most of the burn.
Cyndi Craven said…
@Sabre Blade ... I'm curious... did you mix the baking soda and coconut oil together before applying?
LisaLise said…
thanks for sharing! I hope your pits heal quickly !
John said…
Thank you for this! I have contact dermatitis related to most artificial scents, colourants, etc etc etc. In the last year I've switched to a brand of "natural" deodorants by Penny Lane Organics. I had a few reactions, but I assumed that it was in relation to whatever essential oils they were using (which is usually not a problem for me) I've recently started using their unscented stick; and now one underarm has developed redness and peeling skin. The stick is three ingredients: Coconut Oil, Baking Soda, and Cornstarch, in that order. After reading this I don't know why I didn't clue in to the whole Ph thing sooner!
LisaLise said…
Hi John, Thanks for sharing this! I am truly stunned that so many purveyors of 'natural deodorants' are overloading them with baking soda and selling them with the message that their product is safer.
Like you., I react to most synthetic scents while essential oils don't seem to bother me. I'm glad you pinpointed the problem in time!
Anonymous said…
Is there a remedy for the rash and leathery skin caused by baking soda? I have read several articles about it but they do not offer treatment suggestions. I have tried apple cider vinegar to balance the phone of my skin but it's not helping the,rash go away. I have also tried coconut oil and tea tree at night.nothing helps. Any suggestions?
LisaLise said…
Hi Anon - Sorry for this delayed reply. Try rinsing, then applying pure aloe vera to your pits to help soothe and aid the healing process. I hope your puts heal quickly!
LisaLise said…
Pits - not puts! Silly typos!
Emmaline said…
Hi lise,

Great article and wonderful replies to comments. I have reacted badly to two purchased natural deodorants over two years trying to persist with them not understanding what the issue is. Especially as the weather heats up at Change of season. Sometimes so badly that I would put a sheet of toilet paper under my Arm pits to prevent the skin resisting on each other and causing pain! I have found one I Australia that doesn't react from Moo Goo, but it's not as effective, so now that I know what the reactive ingredient is I can now search for another product or try your diy. A big thank you, as I hand been listening to those people who say the rash is a detox, I should have known better after it's been off and on for two years! A big thank you for all this info. Emma
LisaLise said…
Hi Emma - I am so glad to have been of help. I wish you smooth and painfree pits!
Try mixing the baking soda with mineral oil. It works for me. No rashes.
Paulina said…
Very good article!
I have to add though, that that I use a baking soda deodorant (with coconut oil and tea tree essential oil), and it works great for me. In fact, I've never had any better. The only thing I don't recommend- don't apply a baking soda deodorant on a freshly shaved armpit.
LisaLise said…
@Arcelio - Thanks for sharing. I hope this continues to work for you.

@Paulina - Thanks for sharing. I can only say I surely hope you never experience any reactions. Most people do, but maybe you will be one of the lucky few who can continue applying baking soda to armpits without issue.
Anonymous said…
Im using a recipe from the creator of Simply Co.:

2 tbs arrowroot powder
1 tbs baking soda
1 tbs coconut oil
1 tbs shea butter

No irritation.
LisaLise said…
Hi Christina S - I can only say I hope this continues to work for you. Some people don't get a reaction right away. Some can even use baking soda deodorant for years before they experience a reaction. It is very few people who donate get a reaction at all. Let's hope you are among those lucky few. :)
Anonymous said…
I switched to a natural deodorant years ago. Its baking soda, cornstarch ,coconut oil, and essential oils. I have had no problems. Nor has a few other people that I know that use it. My one friend struggled with bad b.o. but doesn't with the natural deodorant. Its like if you look up reviews on a product often the people who like a product aren't the ones online typing complaints or reviews. I love the fridge but I never wrote a review how much I love it. But I've seen many complaints online of people who don't like it. I've had this fridge for years!! To really know the facts of how many people have problems with baking soda deodorant it needs to be a national pole not collecting all the negative comments about it over the internet and deciding it must be bad. Umm....how many other people are there in this country besides them? :-) Besides not every baking soda deodorant is even made the same. Whether homemade or store bought.
LisaLise said…
Hi Anon - thanks for sharing this. I agree, it would be great if there were an international poll on this, but there isn't. If I may clarify, I haven't been 'collecting negative comments' in order to write about this. This post is a response to many many mails with questions from people seeking my input on why they were having reactions to their deodorant. I do agree with you that the poison is in the dose, but most DIY'ers are using far too much. I hope you continue to have reaction-free pits from your deodorant.
barbara said…
I use PLAIN BAKING SODA as a deo, after showering on damp pits. I have no irritation and my pit hair has stopped growing! Haven't shaved in more than a year.
LisaLise said…
Hi Barbara - I'm glad this is working for you. I have however heard from folks who used baking soda deodorant for years before getting a reaction to it. However, let's hope you are one of those people who never get irritation from it. Thanks for sharing.
Anonymous said…
I didn't even know for any other DIY solution with soda bicarbonate, so I was using just pure, 100% soda bic. as my deodorant, and it was a smooth ride, best deodorant I have ever used, well that was going on for 3 - 4 years until recently when my armpits start to getting red and irritated. I stopped using soda bicarbonate for a month and the rash was completely gone.. Then I tried it again and rash was back..so I guess I'm done with 100% soda bicarbonate for good. I'll try to check your suggestions and hopefully that will work...or I'll have to go back to commercial deodorants, sadly.

Great article btw!
LisaLise said…
Hello Mitja - Thank you so much for sharing this. I sure do hope you find a solution that works for you. You may find the deodorant crystal (potassium alum) is well tolerated and quite effective. There are a couple of posts about this on the blog. Best of luck to you.
Unknown said…
What are some pH balancing ingredients you can add to an all natural deodorant to make it safer?
LisaLise said…
Hi Ashley - It depends on the formula. It is relatively easy to make a skin friendly deodorant if the baking soda is left out, but I'm guessing you want to know how to pH balance baking soda. I wish the answer was easy, but it's not something that can be done in a DIY setting.
Kristalyn Pac said…
Well, this is 3 years later & a response to Mel who was washing her hair with baking soda. I too was washing with baking soda & rinsing with apple cider vinegar. After 3 years of this, my hair was absolutely destroyed due to the wrong pH. So sad! I loved the way it made my hair feel & look for a long time. It wasn't 'til way too late that I realized my hair was splitting & breaking ~ all the way thru. I had to cut it to less than shoulder length, & it had started almost to my waist. And I have been painstakingly nurturing it back to health, with frequent haircuts & ~ of all things ~ a lovely organic shampoo with herbs (Avalon Organics). Won't be making my own shampoo anymore!
LisaLise said…
Hi Kristalyn - thank you for sharing this. I hope your hair is soon strong and healthy again!
Unknown said…
I came here because I just started my DIY with baking soda, and I was just sitting at my desk and scratched under my arm and my skin started peeling, my mother who told me about this recipe the other day showed her skin irritation as well, just yesterday. Now this thanks for the information you provided.
LisaLise said…
HI there Unknown - Thanks for your comment - I hope your pits heal quickly!
~ Annie ~ said…
I know I'm super late in the game but I wanted to add my thoughts.
I love my DIY deodorant - I use coconut oil, corn starch and baking soda and lavender essential oil - sometimes I add vitamin e oil to it as well. I've tried to add beeswax but didn't care for the one I purchased but may try it again as the warm months are now here.

One tip that I have for those that want to try a DIY deodorant is to use an acne cleanser for your underarms. I use one that has salicylic acid and it definitely helps me with my underarm breakouts. It at least worked for me.

For those that can't do baking soda - I would try the coconut oil and corn starch mix. Just note that you might need to add it multiple times a day - which I had to do. BUT the difference between this and a stick of store bought deodorant - I actually felt great after applying. I smelled great and didn't have the weird "BO/sweat masked by deodorant smell".

And as someone noted in a previous comment - some may have issues b/c of shaving. I highly recommend shaving the night before instead of in the morning. Any underarm would get a breakout after having any kind of deodorant applied to it.
LisaLise said…
HI Annie and thanks for sharing these tips!
Jade said…
I'm getting rashes and brown spots from arm and hammer essentials, scented...
I'm thinking it's the propylene glycol.
LisaLise said…
Hi Jade - If any product bothers you by causing a reaction, then best to leave that product on the shelf. The only way to be sure if it is a specific ingredient or not is to get tested, but if it happens to be a specific combination of ingredients you could be in for a bit of detective work. I hope you find a solution! It is so frustrating to have to deal with issues of this type.
Anonymous said…
Baking soda deodorant is the best I've ever used. I did get a rash with it, but I also got a rash with just about every deodorant I ever used. The worst rash was with store bought deodorant.

So many positive reviews on baking soda deodorant. Only a small percent of people are experiencing these terrible side effects. People that have success with baking soda deodorant don't go around the internet writing blog posts and comments about it as much as people that are experiencing rashes with it. Bad news travels faster than good news.

I don't use the baking soda deodorant daily, as I haven't needed it as much. I've also been using essential oils on days I don't use baking soda. I haven't been as active lately, but in the past at the gym the baking soda deodorant would perform the best and longest for keeping odor away. I would still sweat a lot, as I normally do at the gym, but no odor. Better than any store bought brand from the big name companies. My friend tried like a dozen different store bought deodorants and got rashes a bunch of times and now he uses and loves baking soda deodorant and its the best.

LisaLise said…
Hi Anon - thanks for sharing your experience! You’re right about bad news travelling faster. I think it’s hard to know the percentage of people who get a reaction to baking soda deodorant until some official studies are done. Nice to hear you haven’t had problems with it.
Anonymous said…
Never used store bought deoderant.Sometimes use a little a touch of plain baking soda.No rashes no stink.
LisaLise said…
HI ANon - thanks for sharing. I hope your pits continue to be happy with this solution and wish you a happy 2020.
Anonymous said…
2022 and here i am googling this stuff am in complete agony from bicarb under my arms!
LisaLise said…
HI Anon-- I am so sorry to hear you are suffering from baking soda burn.. there is a link at the bottom of the post to a few tips on how to deal with an immediate problem. Wishing you a very speedy recovery!
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