As one of the most common personal hygiene products, deodorant is used by 90% of young people and 78% of the elderly on a daily basis nationwide. The formula of deodorant is meant to prevent or cover up body odor without causing any harm, yet benzene, a highly toxic chemical, was found lurking in some of the most popular antiperspirant and deodorant body sprays. In November of last year, the independent laboratory Valisure analyzed 108 samples of these products, out of which 59 were contaminated with benzene.
While there is no safe level of benzene exposure, a concentration exceeding 0.1 ppm is considered dangerous. Researchers detected between 2.24 and 17.7 ppm benzene in 24 batches of antiperspirant and deodorant body spray from eight different brands. They also found 14 samples from eight companies to contain between 0.20 and 1.89 ppm benzene. The rest of the antiperspirant and deodorant body spray batches had only traces of benzene. Some of the brands with high benzene levels are Old Spice, Sure, Right Guard, Secret, Equate, Brut, and Suave.
It is important to know that manufacturers do not intentionally add benzene to antiperspirant and deodorant body sprays. The presence of this solvent in these products is believed to be the result of companies using propellants such as propane, alcohol, isobutane, and butane, whose purpose is to create pressure within the container and expel the content in the form of vapors. Unfortunately, most antiperspirant and deodorant body sprays on the market contain these propellants, which makes benzene contamination and exposure very likely to occur.
Benzene exposure is known to cause leukemia in people who are regularly exposed to it, increasing the risk by up to 40%, which is why it is crucial to stop using any product in which the chemical was found. Some contain nine times more benzene than is safe, so you should be very careful when choosing your antiperspirant or deodorant. You can find the complete list of contaminated products in Valisure’s petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The laboratory has also detected benzene in sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and dry shampoo.
How Can Benzene Exposure Cause Leukemia?
Benzene is a known carcinogen, exposure to which can result in leukemia, but also myeloma and lymphoma. More specifically, benzene exposure has a strong association with acute myeloid leukemia, one of the most common types of leukemia in adults. By the end of the year, over 20,000 Americans will have received this diagnosis. Medical literature has been documenting the toxicity of benzene for over a century. According to a 1939 study whose findings are still relevant today, “exposure over a long period of time to any concentration of benzene greater than zero is not safe.” Benzene exposure is responsible for chromosome changes in bone marrow cells, which is a hallmark of leukemia. Furthermore, it may result in abnormalities in the DNA controlling the development of blood cells in the bone marrow.
Since the antiperspirant and deodorant products found to contain benzene are sprays, benzene exposure occurs by skin absorption and inhalation at the same time, which significantly increases leukemia risk. If a 5-gram application of a body spray completely dissipates into one cubic meter volume, the most contaminated body spray Valisure discovered could raise the benzene air concentration to 28 ppb. This is nearly 70 times the estimated threshold for increased cancer risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Consequently, even if you use one of the least contaminated deodorant body sprays, your benzene exposure will still be dangerous. To avoid benzene exposure from these products, we strongly advise you to choose one of these four safe alternatives until the issue is solved.
1. Alum Stone, Perfect for Sensitive Skin
Known since ancient times for neutralizing odor-causing bacteria and regulating perspiration, alum stone is, without a doubt, one of the best alternatives to commercial deodorant. It works by preventing bacteria growth and breakdown and by absorbing excess sweat. While you may find it under the name “potassium aluminum sulfate”, it’s important to know that alum stone doesn’t contain aluminum, the harmful metal found in numerous classic deodorants associated with breast cancer. Using alum stone is very easy. You only have to wet the top of it and rub it onto your skin.
2. Baking Soda and Coconut Oil, a Simple Yet Effective Option
These are probably ingredients that you already have in your kitchen, so if you want a simple recipe for natural deodorant, mix six tablespoons of coconut oil with four tablespoons of baking soda and place it in the refrigerator. You can use the soft mixture daily as a deodorant. However, you should apply it several minutes before you dress up, as the oil might stain your clothes. Because using plain baking soda as a deodorant can be irritating to the skin, this is a considerably better alternative. Moreover, the coconut oil will nourish your skin.
3. Rubbing Alcohol, a Naturally Antibacterial Deodorant Alternative
Since it has antibacterial properties, isopropyl alcohol can be a great option, too. Nevertheless, if you have sensitive skin, you shouldn’t use this alternative, as it can highly irritate the area you apply it on. Using rubbing alcohol as a deodorant is easy. You can buy it at any pharmacy or corner store, preferably in a 70% concentration formula, as one with more will evaporate faster, and you will have to reapply often. Once you have it, place it in a spray bottle and apply it after showering and throughout the day when you feel the need.
4. Witch Hazel, Amazing for Keeping Odor at Bay
As a plant with excellent astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel is yet another good alternative to regular deodorant. The only downside of using it is that the effect won’t last for too long, hence the need to reapply often. Still, it has numerous benefits, such as leaving no residue on the skin and soothing it. To use it, you only have to apply witch hazel extract on your armpits with a cotton ball after showering and let it dry. Since it’s a natural astringent, it contracts your skin and reduces sweat production.
Still at a loss about what to use instead of antiperspirant and deodorant body spray? By virtue of the Benzene Deodorant Replacement Initiative, you can now request a free, safe, non-toxic product manufactured by ethical companies that test for dangerous contaminants.
Jonathan Sharp is Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. The law firm, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, specializes in toxic exposure, assisting people who developed leukemia as a result of using benzene-containing deodorant. Jonathan Sharp is responsible for case evaluation, management of firm assets, and financial analysis.