Deadly deodorants

In November 2008, a 12 year old boy, Daniel Hurley collapsed and died in his bathroom 'after using too much deodorant'. The hearing into his death found that “he was overcome by solvents in the Lynx Vice spray”. Unfortunately there were no repercussions for the company as the warnings are spelt out on the can. Despite the warning being there, my own research shows that around 1% of people actually read and understand the labels. However, this is not the first, nor is it the last. On July 12 1998, 10 years earlier a young boy in the UK, this time 16 years old who had an obsession with smelling nice died after months of spraying his entire body with deodorant. Jonathon Campbell had 10 times the lethal dose of propane and butane in his blood. While these are tragic outcomes, the real problems lies in the millions of kids (and adults) around the world who are slowly poisoning themselves. The warning signs on most cans reads something like “deliberately concentrating may be harmful or fatal” or for cans sold to kids “must be used in the presence of adults” and the company has no other responsibility to your health than these labels. If people really knew what was in these cans and read these labels closely I am sure they would have second thoughts about using them and giving them to their kids. Unfortunately, the ingredients are not listed and the warning is all in the small print on the back.

The problem with deodorants and antiperspirants is three fold. First the propellant gases like propane and butane are toxic and were implicated in the deaths of both boys. This associated with the fact that they are sprayed upward towards the armpit and headspace means you can’t help but breathe them in. The second is the long list of toxic ingredients used in the deodorants and antiperspirants which you don’t know about and which are absorbed through the skin and thirdly the blocking of our pores by the antiperspirants.

To highlight where the problem starts antiperspirants and deodorants are among the top six products causing adverse skin reactions, including itching, burning, dryness, irritant dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. They have become one of the most frequently purchased products worldwide, surpassed in market share only by soaps and hair care products. Unfortunately, they are also one of the most widely marketed products constantly playing on kids’ emotional health, sex and relationships to sell their toxic products.

Deodorants act to reduce, cover up, or eliminate the odour that develops when bacteria break down perspiration. This is achieved by the use of anti-microbial agents and fragrances. Antiperspirants are distinguished from deodorants by the presence of sweat retarding agents. These agents are based on aluminium complexes and may include aluminium chlorohydrate (ACH), aluminium zirconium chlorohydrate glycine complexes (AZAP) or aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydroxy glycine. While the connection between aluminium in antiperspirants and Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy continue to be explored and debated they seem highly unlikely. Other problems such as a link with breast cancer are much more likely. The action of these chemicals limits the levels of perspiration produced in the underarm and other areas, by slowing the action of the sweat glands. Sweat production is reduced due to the fact that the chemicals produce an obstructive hydroxide gel inside the sweat gland ducts, limiting the amount of perspiration that can be excreted. However, we were meant to sweat. Sweating provides a valuable service to our body by eliminating waste products, and cooling down the body. As a result antiperspirants may lead to a build up of toxins in this area just near the breast.

Antiperspirant and deodorant ingredients include anti-microbials such as chlorhexidine d-1-gluconate and triclosan, odour eliminators such as zinc ricitioleate and various perfumes. Other ingredients which may cause contact allergies include formaldehyde, atranorm, evernic acid, fumarprotocetraric acid, cetalkonium chloride, fenticlor, gluteraldehyde, zirconium and dibutyl phthalate. Many of the same chemicals you would find in toilet deodorants. Starting to sound a bit smelly isn’t it. Formaldehyde is a skin irritant and thought to be carcinogenic, and phthalates are suspected of producing endocrine (hormone)‑disrupting effects as they are able to mimic the action of oestrogen and upset our hormone balance. In one study diethyl phthalate, which is a solvent, was detected in 2 out of 8 deodorants. The breast, as a result, is also exposed to a range of these oestrogenic chemicals applied to the underarm and breast area. These cosmetics are left on the skin in the appropriate area, allowing a more direct dermal absorption route for breast exposure to oestrogenic chemicals and allowing absorbed chemicals to escape systemic metabolism. It is also worth noting that the large increase in breast cancer over the last 30 years has been a result of an increase in oestrogen receptive cancers.

Research has shown that repeated application of deodorants permeate the skin resulting in accumulation of some of these chemicals. According to one study butyl paraben was systemically absorbed, metabolized and excreted in urine following application to the skin in a cream preparation. The study conducted over 2 weeks showed concentration peaked in urine 8-12 hours after application.  Isn’t it interesting to know that the chemicals you put on the outside of your body get in?

Then the problem is exacerbated even more when they are used in spray containers that we direct towards our face. If your lungs are a uniquely designed sponge for air, they are also a sponge for the contaminants that manage to evade all of your respiratory system’s defenses. All the ingredients and the propellants are rapidly absorbed into the body and detectable throughout the body within minutes to hours.

The safer option is to use roll on deodorant. Unfortunately, it does not look as sexy in the advertisements, but it is much safer. The next step is then to move toward natural products and organic when you can. We have evolved with natural plant products over millions of years and as a general rule they are much safer than synthetic products manufactured from petrol. I also think it is about time we stop overselling these products and teaching kids that too much fragrance can be toxic… and who would want to smell like a toilet block anyway?