deodorant update

love thy pitsWith potassium alum! And folly, including my own!!


Solid sticks whose antiperspirant active was aluminium chlorohydrate (that is, salts of the AlnCl(3n-m)(OH)group), ex. Mitchum and Almay. Being the main commercially-available unscented ones, and that actually worked, especially if doing exercise and sweating.


As in, the last five years. Moved away from the previous sort. Not just because of green-marketeering scare-mongering; and not because I see “aluminium” and scream bloody murder. I’m not chemically illiterate, and I’m aged enough to remember the dihydrogen monoxide drama first time around.

On the assorted sorts of aluminium salts used in deodorants, I’d seen the data and read the articles too. What was found in samples of cancerous breast-tissue. Not convinced on the breast cancer front:

  1. because coincidence and correlation are not causation
  2. knowing that there are more statistically-significant risk-factors to take into account
  3. unknown: how all the factors interact together
  4. unknown: the source of what was found in the breast tissue (topically applied vs. ingested vs. environmental etc.)
  5. unknown: what happened beforehand, the pathways, whether the stuff found there had anything to do with the cancer. Given that other things were found too.
  6. And besides, we’re still talking coincidence because there was not a big enough data set, controlled experiment beforehand, or a longitudinal sufficiently long-term study even to give a ≥0.5 probability of correlation.

love pits

I’m more vain about my brain than my boobs, and more worried about it in the long run. In this world, and in my field of work, you need to be able to count on working a long time. Into your 70s, probably into your 80s. And there’s every reason to expect to be healthy and productive at that age. So my main worry is diseases of ageing. By which I don’t mean wrinkly skin—that’s not a disease, that’s the normal human condition and proves you’re not an exciting new experiment in multidimensional photoshop—but Alzheimer’s.

I tried out various “greener” deodorants. I figured out which ingredients appeared to have more likelihood of working, based on what they were, what they contained, how they worked, and how they’d been used historically (be that with or without the additional support of modern scientific research). Sage, lichens, mosses, clay, tea tree oil, starchy powders, coconut oil, zinc oxide, sodium bicarbonate,… and potassium alum (KAl(SO4)2). Which, yes, contains aluminium—that’s the “Al” part of the molecule—and is an aluminium salt like aluminium chlorohydrate; but is not the same. Just as dihydrogen monoxide (H2O, water) is not the same as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2, bleach).

Another option would be to use scented stuff to mask the odour of bacterial ingestion of sweat. I can’t, for reasons of scent allergies. And I’d rather do something to solve the problem at its root, rather than doing the armpit equivalent of applying a bandaid. Without interfering with stopping sweating, i.e. using antiperspirants. Just stopping the bacteria from doing what comes naturally to them.

The Deodowich was the extreme version. Three layers:

  1. a potassium alum spray (which for whatever reason works better on me than the plain crystal rock, and is easier to use)
  2. a bicarbonate / coconut / starch deodorant cream
  3. dusting powder, such as that sold for application to infant posteriors and diaper rashes

There was also a less extreme version, as I found I didn’t usually need that last powdery layer.

pit love

Recently, I ran out of my potassium alum spray, due to spilling it while away from home on a brief trip. For Horrors Of Work reasons, I didn’t get around to buying a new one. Not even ordering it online. You know things are bad when you don’t have time for online shopping. Basic human right, tsk, barbaric employers depriving me… Such sufferings aside, I just used my deodorant cream. And that’s been just fine.


chagrin valley deodorant

There are other more-or-less similar ones out there. Plenty on Etsy, though nearly all are scented and the few unscented ones work out at least as expensive when you factor in postage (I usually buy several from Chagrin Valley in one order, at least 6 months’ worth at once, thus spreading the cost of shipping per item).

Next task, though, is to actually make some deodorant myself. Recipe in next post.


1. Practicality and laziness.
If the cream used alone continues to work alone, I shall stick with it. Why complicate life by using two deodorants when one suffices?

2. Economy:
By which I mean good old fashioned thrift and sound sensible household management. Not that other use of the word, associated with foolish short-term ahistoric fashion-faddy people and The Viagra Paradim. Buy one deodorant not two, save money, then spend those savings on something else. Like, say, water or school bathrooms or schoolbooks or training teachers or, heaven help us, basic nutrition and healthcare for people who lack and need them. In the developing world or in your own country (*waves* to unfortunate benighted neighbours south of the border).

3. The precautionary principle:
Now, I’m a bit iffy and squeamish and wriggly about this. Taken to extremes, you use and do nothing, curl up in mortal terror, and die. But when applied in conjunction with common sense, the result is normal everyday sensible decision-making. Of a somewhat sceptical and cynical disposition, but maintaining some rationality whilst being honest about admitting the subjectivity of your decisions. I’ve decided to be precautionary about potassium alum. I may change my mind and change what I do—be that to continue not using aluminium salts in my armpits, or to start doing so again, or to use something else—if and when further information becomes available. That’s basic common sense, and rationally and empirically sound. This is not a matter of belief, emotion, judgement, ethics, politics; not a matter of being right or wrong. It’s a molecule. And, at the end of day, it’s just a deodorant FFS. Not a big deal (OK, unless it contributes to your death).

Reasons for caution: that the aluminium salt in this kind of deodorant might be worse rather than better than the aluminium salt used in conventional antiperspirant-deodorants. The crystal rock’s aluminium ions dissolved in water applied to skin = smaller than the aluminium chlorohydrate in conventional deodorant (and, contrary to crystal deodorant companies’ green-marketeering, smaller not larger). More likely to penetrate the skin barrier and enter the bloodstream and lymphatic system (and, contrary to greenwash, not the opposite). And cross the blood-brain barrier.

Why this should be a worry: neurotoxin alert. Plus bonus consequences for vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, and iron uptake and levels (PubMed). And more and worser and worser.

Put succinctly albeit dramatically and maybe even a teensy bit histrionically:

When you wet the deodorant stone, you’re effectively putting aluminum in the most bioavailable form possible on your body’s largest organ: your skin.
Exposing more truths about alum,” Chemical of the Day (2010-03-08)

pit love

Here is some stuff. I’ve included the sublime and the ridiculous, and items that include both, and people with vested interests. I’ve even included texts that use the word “safe” at least once, and usually that word is a Bad Sign to me and any non-sarcastic use will raise an immediate contact irritation reaction, including actual hives from where the hairs rise at the back of my neck. And you’ll find further links below, including links to Actual Published Scientific Research.

Over to you the reader on assessment, analysis, and making your own informed decisions on what products to buy. Resist The Man, including the Green-looking Man: he’s still out to prey on insecurity, vanity, and ignorance; out for his own pocket and for the greater good of Lady Folly. His and our environment? You and your good? Being good and doing good more generally? A fortunate side-effect. The best way to resist? Be informed. Be critical. Criticise, comment, ask questions. Make decisions that are actually decisions, and your decisions. Be an ethical being. And/or a radical feminist, while you’re at it, which might happen to be the exact same thing.

With apologies to people who believe themselves not to be feminists but actually are: sorry. This may come as bad news to you. I hope it wasn’t too traumatic; if you feel angry, hurt, helpless, threatened, bereft, lost; if you feel you no longer know who you are and that scares you: then seek professional psychological assistance. If you’re a proper ethical human being, then you’re a feminist. Amongst other things / attributes of proper-ethical-human-being-ness. There are good sides: it’s nice to be ethical, and being ethical has been shown to make people happier.

If you find more stuff online about this topic, and especially if you happen upon more that is actually good and useful and solid: add a comment below.

See also: other posts on deodorants.

  • 2010-01: “Aluminum in crystal deodorant stones,Chemical of the Day (association with Bumble & Bee, who make non-aluminum deodorant).
    This is the original version of a text that subsequently appeared all over the interwebs, variously doctored along the way, inc. copy-pasted by Dr Mercola and otherwise continuing to appear in an uncredit way to this very day; in danger of becoming urban myth… which would be a tragedy, as the original post is all about myth-busting.
    So: COPY AND CREDIT THE LINK and pass that along. In its original complete form. Along with the actual references and links to primary sources.
  • 2010-03: “Exposing more truths about alum,” Chemical of the Day
  • 2012-11: “Dangers of aluminum,” Chemical of the Day
  • 2012-02: “Are natural alum crystal deodorants safe?People’s Pharmacy (who sell an alternative, basically old-fashioned milk of magnesia: available from any decent pharmacy…)
  • 2013-10:”Alum as antiperspirant,” Colin’s Beauty Pages
  • 2012-13: “Is alum safe? (picked for clear explanations for non-chemistry-specialists and for references)
  • and about eleventy billion pages from manufacturers of crystal deodorants claiming the exact opposite, slagging off the opposition, and not deigning to provide journal article references and suchlike unnecessaries. Because you should trust them and believe in them, because they are there for your own good. Stop asking questions, naughty little girl. Papa knows best.

pit love

For some fun recent stuff on the corporate conjunction of fear-mongering and greenwashing, see The Beauty Brains‘ podcasts:

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