Beauty Health

Raising a Stink About the Dangers of Body Sprays

By Chere Di Boscio

Every time I hear the hiss of someone using a body spray in my gym, I walk (quickly!) to the other side of the changing room. Why? Few seem to realize  these air-freshener like spray deodorants contain synthetic fragrances that are made up of hundreds of chemicals, such as hormone-disrupting phthalates and synthetic musks, all of which have been associated with cancer.

In fact, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) consistently rates Axe, Old Spice, and other commercial body sprays and deodorants as moderate-to-high health hazards. Far from transforming men into virile beasts as the ads for these products suggest, the sprays may impede men’s chances of reproducing, as a recent analysis of popular men’s body sprays confirmed that many contain chemicals that can disrupt male hormones and damage sperm.

Even worse, a 2009 study from the EWG found that teenage boys and girls are particularly susceptible to hormone-disrupting chemicals like phthalates because of the ways the chemicals influence their rapidly developing reproductive systems. Animal studies have found that male rats exposed to phthalates during puberty had more testicular problems, and a report from the Journal for Applied Toxicology has suggested that there may be a link between spraying the hormone-disrupting chemicals contained in deodorants and breast cancer, especially those tumours found in the outer quarter of the breast.

But these chemicals also have immediate effects on many full grown adults, too, including triggering asthma, eye and throat irritation, dermatitis, and more.


Image: Wikicommons

Toxic Contents

Here is just a short list of common ingredients in the most popular body sprays and deodorants:

1. Butane, Isobutane and Propane

Why? Propellants.

Health effects: Headache; breathing difficulties; mood swings; nausea, to name a few. Like cigarette smoke, these propellants harm not only body spray users, but those around them, too.

2. Aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLYAluminium chlorohydrate

Why? Clogs pores to prevent sweat leaking through.

Health Effects: Skin irritation; mental decline. Aluminium is absorbed through the skin and there is evidence that a lifetime’s use of aluminium-containing deodorants may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Can cause cancer – In women, a combination of underarm shaving and aluminium containing deodorants has been linked to breast cancer. Spray formulations mean you inhale, as well as absorb these compounds, more rapidly and deeply.

3. 14 Butyl Ether

Why? Preservative, solvent, antibacterial.

Health effects: Skin irritant, neurotoxin. PPG-14 butyl ether is a relative of propylene glycol and potentially toxic to the kidneys and liver. In the US it is a pesticide component. It is poisonous in high concentrations and can enhance the penetration of other more toxic chemicals.

4. BHT – butylated hydroxytoluene

Why? Antioxidant.

Health Effects: Contact allergies/contact dermatitis. Cancer suspect. May cause reproductive defects. Once absorbed, BHT can accelerate the breakdown of vital nutrients such as vitamin D.

5. Parfum (Synthetic)

Why? Body odour mask.

Health effects: Skin irritation, allergic reaction; breathing difficulties (including asthma); headache (including migraine; dizziness, nausea). Many of these chemicals are persistent (ie, they don’t break down in the environment and they accumulate in human tissue and breast milk).

6. Distearate

Why? Moisturiser, emulsifier, emollient and antioxidant. Adding PEG to a product will prevent moisture loss during storage.

Health effects: cancer – Polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds can be contaminated with various carcinogens, including ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane and polycyclic aromatic compounds (including benzene, benz(a)pyrene, DMBA, and 1-nitropyrene) – potential breast cancer triggers. Neurotoxic – PEGs can be contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, and arsenic, which are toxic to the central nervous system.

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The Good News

Fortunately, there are several alternatives to perilous spray deodorants that you can make at home or buy. If you want to get all boho and create your own body deodoriser, baking soda can be mixed with a small amount of water or oil to cornstarch, to absorb moisture.

The equivalent effect of antiperspirant deodorants can be obtained using witch hazel, as it constricts the pores so sweat can’t seep through and mix with the bacteria on the skin. Alcohol and lemon may even help kill bacteria that cause odours, and beeswax, mineral salts and essential oils are also tried and tested deodorant alternatives.

Not feeling up to a DIY job? No worries! Read about our Top 10 Natural Deodorants here.



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    Mar 29, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on this issue. And he just bought me lunch for that, so let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

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    Good For You Girls
    Jun 18, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    As always, right on the money! Keep up the great work.

    • Reply
      Jun 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks so much! Especially important read for young girls…!

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    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Great post!

    And crucial to watch out what our cosmetics come in too!

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      Nov 3, 2014 at 12:00 am

      Couldn’t agree more, Matt! Glad to see you standing up for the dudes!

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    Nov 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Sprays are the worst! I prefer underarm creams that are free of chemicals. Lavilin is a really good one.

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    Jun 23, 2016 at 12:44 am

    Just to clarify, is exposure to these body mists only dangerous if one is repeatedly exposed to them? Could a one-time close exposure do serious harm?

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      Jun 23, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Laura! Surely a one time exposure wouldn’t pose a serious risk! A big spray could cause asthma or a skin rash in some people though. Hope that helps!

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    Sep 15, 2016 at 12:50 am

    Ever since I read this article I’ve been looking for an alternative product for my 15-yr old son. He uses deodorant (not anti-perspirant) but still feels the need to wear Axe. Is there any safe body spray or cologne-type that of product that I can buy to replace the Axe? When I search all I find is alternatives for deodorant but nothing for body spray. Thank you.

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