Deodorant FAQ

One would think I was some kind of armpit fanatic with all of the deodorant-related posts there are to be found on this blog – so many that there is an entire section on deodorant under Topics.

There is a reason for all of this deodorant talk.

It's you.

On any given day, approximately 1000 of you find your way to this post about baking soda deodorant and/or this post about why DIY baking soda deodorant can cause a skin reaction. The combination of 'baking soda',  'deodorant', and 'rash' is a disturbingly common theme in the searchwords that this blog's stats show. And the number of deodorant-information-seeking visitors just keeps growing.

So this is for you – a collection of your questions about deodorant and deodorant-related problems. I hope you find it helpful. And if after reading this you still have a question, please feel free to add it in the comments below. I promise I'll do my best to answer you and add it to this list.


 Are commercial deodorants dangerous - do they contain toxins?

No. Commercial deodorants are not dangerous and do not contain toxins.

But what about ingredients that are suddenly discovered to be a health risk?

If any ingredient is found questionable as a possible health risk, it is thoroughly tested and the product is either reformulated or taken off market. Testing is done by neutral, professional organizations that have no other interest than to discover whether or not the ingredient can be pronounced safe.

But isn't it true that mistakes are made and some people do get hurt because of it?

Yes, mistakes happen, but they are very few and far between. The cosmetics regulatory systems are set up to ensure that only safe ingredients are used for any personal care product. Regardless of what scaremongers would have you believe, there isn't a cosmetics company on the planet looking to create health or environmental problems as a result of their products being produced or used.


Are there ingredients in commercial deodorants that people react to?

There can be. It's comparative to food. Some people can 'eat anything' without issue while others may have allergies to certain foods. A commercial deodorant (or other cosmetic) may contain ingredients some are allergic to. For example, some perfume components are listed as possible allergens.

So, perfumes can cause allergies?

With prolonged exposure, some perfume components might contribute towards creating an allergic reaction. However, this is an incredibly complicated issue!  Perfumes are made of up many many different components. It is nearly impossible to determine whether a reaction is due to
- a single component,
- a particular combination of components in a particular perfume
- a mix of perfume components and other ingredients in the product
- a combination of ingredients in the product with any consumed ingredients

So, how can I stay away from ingredients that cause allergies?

'Less is more' is a good guideline. Start by cutting some of the unknowns out of the equation by choosing perfume-free deodorant. You can also shop for deodorants (and other products) that are certified allergen-free.


Can aluminium in deodorant can cause cancer or other health issues?

Aluminium chlorohydrate and Aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrate gly – commonly found in deodorants – do not cause cancer, alzheimers, or anything else. There is no factual, tested, or documented evidence of any kind that aluminum salts in deodorant are dangerous. Read more about aluminum and deodorant here.

But doesn't the aluminium in deodorant accumulate in the body over time?

There is no evidence of this. Aluminium is the third most abundant mineral on earth and we are exposed to it through food, water, and numerous other ways. As for the aluminum in deodorant: even if you use a deodorant with aluminum every single day of your life, you would still be getting less aluminum from your deodorant than you are otherwise getting naturally from your food and water.

How do aluminium salts work?

Aluminium salts work by reacting with the electrolytes in sweat and forming a gel-like substance that plugs the duct of the sweat gland. The natural sloughing off of skin cells removes the plug again.


I prefer using an alternative to commercial deodorant. What do you suggest?

Try natural deodorant crystals (also called deodorant stone). The INCI name for this is potassium alum. It is safe and effective as a deodorant (and is also used for stopping bleeding from shaving cuts), but it does not function as an antiperspirant.

How do I use a deodorant stone (potassium alum)?

Wet the stone, then apply to clean armpits as if it were a roll-on. It doesn't feel like you are really applying anything, but you are. Be patient when applying and use plenty of water so the stone doesn't 'drag'. My experience has been: the more you apply, the longer the effect. There is a post that explains more right here.

Is there an effective DIY deodorant solution?

Yes and no. If your definition of effective is 24 hour protection with no skin rash or irritation, then the answer is no. If you are one of the few who can tolerate prolonged exposure to sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) without getting a skin reaction, then maybe the answer is yes (some people can use a baking soda deodorant for a very long time before having a reaction to it).

What if I don't want to use anything I can't pronounce or that sounds even remotely 'chemical'?

You can try making a DIY clay-based deodorant. Depending on how much you perspire, this deodorant will work anywhere from 3-9 hours. Find the formula and a step by step here. And please remember: even pronounceable ingredients are chemical.


Is it true you have to go through a detox period when you switch to a 'natural' (baking soda) deodorant?

No. This is absolute hogwash. The so-called detox period is usually described as consisting of rash, redness, itchiness, and irritation in the armpits. These are the exact symptoms described in the safety data sheet for baking soda with prolonged exposure to the skin. If you are experiencing a rash from using DIY baking soda deodorant, you are most definitely NOT detoxing from commercial deodorant - you are reacting to the baking soda.

I have a rash from using a DIY baking soda deodorant. How do I treat it?

First: stop using baking soda deodorant immediately. Get your doctor to look at the rash. If you can't get to a doctor right away, you may relieve some of the irritation by misting with pure aloe vera or applying a pure aloe vera gel. Rushing to the doctor may sound like overkill, but I've had some folks write me with very serious reactions that needed immediate medical attention. If you are in even the slightest doubt – see your doctor.

Isn't it a very small minority of people who get rash or irritation from baking soda deodorant?

Please visit this post for an 'almost poll' on how many people get reactions to baking soda deodorant.

How can you be sure the rash I have is from the baking soda?

I can't be 100% certain. However, I can tell you I have spent a serious amount of time researching DIY baking soda deodorant. Every single one of the DIY baking soda deodorant recipes I have seen calls for a ridiculously high amount of baking soda. Not a single one of the recipes I have seen has any added ingredient to adjust the pH to a skin-friendly level. The fact of the matter is: baking soda is not made for prolonged direct contact with skin and it will cause a rash and discomfort in most people. It is more than likely that if you have been using a DIY baking soda deodorant, then it is the baking soda that is causing the reaction.

What's the normal pH of baking soda?

Normal pH of baking soda is between 8 - 8.5

What's skin-friendly pH?

Skin-friendly pH is between 4.5 - 5.0. Many skin care products are largely within the range of 4.5 - 5.5. 

How do I adjust the pH?

An acidic ingredient (citric acid, etc) that will lower the pH of the entire mixture needs to be introduced to the product. As DIY baking soda deodorants are anhydrous (water-free), you can't introduce any liquids to the mix without also having to add preservatives. In short: there isn't a quick & easy DIY way to do this.

Can't I just swipe my underarms with some apple cider vinegar to balance the pH?

I have heard from over 400.000 people who have experienced skin reactions from baking soda deodorant (yes, you read correctly: over four hundred thousand). Among these, there hasn't been a single person who has had luck counteracting the effects of baking soda by adding apple cider vinegar to the equation. If you have had luck with this method, please do leave a comment!

Can't I just use less baking soda in my DIY deodorant?

If you have already experienced a reaction to the baking soda, you may still experience irritation even by lowering the amount. If you want to try it anyway, lower the amount of baking soda to UNDER 1% of the product.


My question isn't here!

If you have a question that isn't covered, please feel free to leave a comment or write me a mail (contact info on the sidebar) and I'll do my best to answer you and add your question to this list.


Priya said…
Hi Lise! Do you know if people react to baking soda because of pH issues or because baking soda crystals are scratchy, i.e. if the reaction is due to chemical reasons (pH) or mechanical irritation (abrasion)? I've read that a freshly made paste of baking soda and water can be used as DIY dermabrasion for facial skin (which sounds risky to me!), so I know that baking soda is mechanically abrasive. Great post!
LisaLise said…
Hi Priya - this is an excellent question and you have touched on exactly what the problems are: pH incompatibility and abrasiveness.

I have also read about baking soda dermabrasion and to be quite honest, my reaction is exactly as yours. I have been meaning to research this in detail for the longest time. Your question has now prompted me to move it up to the top of my to do list. I will do a blog post on this as soon as I have the info.

Thanks for your input!
Priya said…
Thank you, Lise! Can't wait for your new post. :)

One related question... I've seen DIY deodorant recipes online that call for fully dissolving the baking soda in water, making a spray deodorant. In your interactions with customers and readers, have you ever heard of anyone having a reaction to this type of formulation? Dissolving would remove the abrasiveness concern, but there would still be the pH incompatibility... so it'd make for a good test of whether it's the pH or the mechanical properties are causing the irritation.

Thanks again!
LisaLise said…
Hi Priya

This is most interesting! I would love a link to the recipe you mention. I haven't run across a version based on dissolved baking soda.

My first and second concern of doing a liquid version with baking soda would be
1: pH problems
2: preservation

With liquids in the mix, a preservative is vital or the mixture will sour and develop bacterial growth. Also, the pH is still too far off for comfort.

If you plan to doing a test with the liquid version, could you keep me updated? Feel free to email me directly: my info is on the sidebar.

Priya said…
Hi Lise! A quick search turned up this recipe:

Baking soda, enough water to dissolve, and essential oils... Agreed that the recipe needs preservation, but that's easy enough to fix! I'm not planning to give this type of recipe a go anytime soon, but if I do I'll let you know. :)
alicyn said…
lise, thank you for another thorough and factually-supported post!

i tried a version of baking soda scrub on my hands. i tossed a couple shakes into my palm and added enough olive oil to make a soft paste. it seemed like a very luxurious reward for scrubbing down the sink with baking soda. :) no irritation on my hands, but i haven't tried it on my face yet.
LisaLise said…
@Priya - thanks for the link! I will be checking this out asap.

@Alicyn - Oh, very interesting with the scrub on the hands! Offhand this idea makes sense, as hands can tolerate sugar and salt scrubs without issue. This will be one for me to try as I am researching the topical application of baking soda. Thanks for your - as always - great input :)
Kiatrisse said…
Wow, I'm still reading so much about Baking Soda and how it can cause severe skin irritation. Can't believe I was foolish enough to believe in the fact that my itching and discoloration was due to "detoxing" from my Crystal deodorant. I'm still pissed at the fact that I used it for three weeks despite the reaction my poor underarms were having. I am hoping the discoloration and sensitivity go away soon. One of the reasons I think Baking Soda is so popular besides the fact that it is very effective as a deodorant, is that it's so easy and cheap. This may be too much information, but I just got back to work from the Vitamin Shop, I had to purchase more Coconut Oil to ease the leathery feel and burning sensation of my underarms. Do you think I should try Lotrimin over the weekend? THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR POSTS, they definitely saved my skin from further damage.
LisaLise said…
Hi Kiatrisse, Thanks again for your kinds words! It pleases me to know end to hear that some of the information on my blog has been of some help. You ask iof I think you should use Lotrimin. I think it is best to get this kind of advice from a doctor who has examined you. Have a wonderful weekend. :)
Anonymous said…
Hi Lise

Thanks you for your post. I have started using the diy baking soda deo since 4 days . I mixed equal parts of baking soda and cornflour( since I didn't have awroroot powder as the recipe gave an alternative) and more coconut oil to make a luxurious paste. I apply just 2 drops and my problem of body odour vanished. I have no reactions too. Just logged on your blog to check if this is safe or will it damage me in the long run. Because I recently heard of anti perspirants causing cancer as they don't allow your body to sweat. Does this do the same? Should I continue if it works for me?

LisaLise said…
Hey there Anon - thanks for your question. You will probably want to proceed with caution as it sounds like you are using far too much baking soda in your recipe.

The baking soda should be max 1% of the product. In other words, if you make 100 grams of product, the baking soda should amount to 1 gram. The rest can be a combination of arrowroot, clay, and coconut oil - mixed to the texture you like.

Some people can use baking soda deodorant for quite a while before getting a reaction, and to be fair, a few people never get a reaction. However, to be on the safe side, I recommend reworking your formula.
Best of luck with it.
LisaLise said…
HI Anon - I forgot to answer your second question: There is no evidence anywhere that antiperspirants cause cancer.

Antiperspirants use aluminum salts and works by reacting with the electrolytes in our sweat. This reaction forms a gel-like 'plug' to the sweat gland.

Because we are constantly shedding dead skin cells, the 'plug' is removed naturally when skin cells are shed.
Anonymous said…
Great blog and site. I suffered from major irritations from diy demo with bs. I tried fit because of the fear placed in me about aluminum. You comment that the amount of it in commercial products is so minimal it's not a concern for health risks. I reworded that, hope I'm not misunderstanding. But I find I have to use "clinical strength" (Dove brand specifically, couple other brands still leave me sweaty by end of day). Are the clinical strength deos still completely safe? Any long term or short term effects from clinical strength deos? Also I'm very annoyed from them "eating away" my clothes. Another reason I tried diy. But as you mentioned, diy deos just aren't going to last very long in the day. I'm admittedly too lazy to reapply. So being that only clinical strength commercial deo works for me, do I just keep using it? Any risks to that? What other alternatives do I have?
LisaLise said…
Hi Anon,

Thanks for your kind words! Clinical strength deodorants contain about a 25% higher dosis of the active ingredient (aluminum salts) than 'normal strength' deodorants. As the percentage of active ingredients in deodorants are usually around 5% as a maximum, you're looking at a fairly small difference here. I don't think you have much to worry about to be quite honest. :)

Rebekah Osorio said…
Hi Lise!

I'm wondering if you have any experience using silver citrate in deodorant and if you have thoughts on it's safety/effectiveness?
LisaLise said…
Hi Rebekah, I have not worked with this ingredient - but it is sold as a deodorant active/and broad spectrum antimicrobial, and judging from the data sheet, looks like it might be worth giving a try - most particularly because this is apparantly acceptably green and needs a very low dose to be effective. I can't help wondering if it would do well solo at the low recommended amount, but that would have to come down to doing a few test batches and seeing how it is to work with.
Lis said…
This is a great page, very helpful. I am trying to find an alternative to traditional deodorant because it causes me irritation, but reviews of other products seem kind of scary. I read about the peeling problem in reviews of commercial baking soda deodorants. Do you have any information on milk of magnesia deodorants? Are they safe? Do they cause peeling? Thanks.
LisaLise said…
Hi Lis, I have read a few folks write about trying milk of magnesia, but never anything about how it worked, so maybe this is an idea that died out again..? I don't have much input for you I'm afraid, but I'd love to hear back from you if you do try it and find it works for you.
Erossennin said…
hi i read somewhere to use baking soda directly into armpit as deodorant

am using it so far and its working just fine

i do not experience any irritation from baking soda, in fact i experienced more irritation in using powdered potassium alum (aka Tawas)

anyway, my question is, is it really okay to use baking soda directly into armpit (taking into account that I am not experiencing any skin irritation so far)
LisaLise said…
Hi Erosennin - If you are not having issues with baking soda directly on the skin, then you are among a lucky few. I have heard from some who have used it for years before getting a reaction to it - others get a reaction after a few days. Reactions can be anything from a slight rash to darkened, leathery skin or red itchy rash with pustules. I have heard from folks who ended up in hospital and where not back to normal until 6 months later. Not everyone gets a reaction, and not everyone who gets a reaction gets the same one. It is highly individual, so the best advice I can give you is to discontinue using it if you get a reaction but hope you are among those who do not react to it. Best of luck.
Shruti said…
Hi kiss,
I was wondering if just dusting a pinch of plain baking aoda would also cause a reaction?
Also in your deadrant stick recipe is it ok to use unrefined shea in place of refined shea?
LisaLise said…
Hi Shruti - Your best way of finding out is to give it a try. There are some people who can use baking soda without problem, and if you keep the percentage at under 1%, you have a good starting point. Best of luck with it!
LisaLise said…
HI Shruti -Sorry - I forgot to answer you about the shea. Unrefined shea is perfectly fine to use. :)
Anonymous said…
HI Lise,

I have found this resource so helpful..thank you. Wondering if you could help me with understanding probiotics and deodorants. I want to create a formula that includes probiotics (need to figure out which form is best) but the questions I have are:

1)If probiotics are exposed to any heat is that killing the benefits that they provide..what temperature can they be added without compromising their effectiveness

2) Are probiotics applied topically in a formula effective. I have been told that probiotics function in the gut and really provide no topical benefit in a deodorant. Is this accurate?

Thanks so much Lise
LisaLise said…
Hey there unknown! Great questions. I believe you are correct about the heating issue - however - I have not tried or researched this so my answer is pure conjecture. The jury is also out on topical use of probiotics so your best option is to start experimenting and trying your ideas out with products. You now have me quite curious so I hope you will report back on your findings and experience !
Anonymous said…
Have you ever had anyone say they got boils from using baking soda deodorant?
LisaLise said…
HI Anon - I have heard all kinds of reactions and rashes, but don't believe I recall anyone mentioning boils from baking soda deodorant. That sounds incredibly painful and I hope you get it sorted.
Anonymous said…
Hi Liza,, great post as usual..

I have just a very basic question.. why people use BS in deodorant exactly at the first place? what is the magic it can do that other ingredients can not?
LisaLise said…
HI Anon -- thanks for your kind words! I think the reason people use baking soda in the first place is that it is an effective deodorizer overall as well as being easily available (most people have some in their kitchen). This trend was started years ago by folks looking for alternatives to commercially made products - it just caught on and spiraled from there.