Why is a dog eating chemical-free deodorant?

During this past winter, Atoms and Numbers saw an incredible spike in traffic to my post on chemical-free chemistry sets. Most of the additional visitors came from Facebook, and due to their privacy setup, I could not locate the posts that generated the traffic, but I trust the readers enjoyed that post.

I reread that post after I found this recent article on CBC News, which describes an entrepreneur from Fredericton (the capital city of my home province) who “turned homemade, all-natural deodorant into [a] full-blown business”.  I like reading stories of entrepreneurs, particularly younger people who build an idea or a concept into a sustainable business.  However, the second and third sentences of that article filled me with dread: “[Margaux] Traboulsee and her husband Josh were simply trying to find a chemical-free deodorant. When they couldn’t find an effective product, they made one themselves.”

The next sentence explains that “the original recipe was simple: some coconut oil, baking soda and essential oils.” So, in other words, they failed spectacularly in creating a “chemical-free deodorant”, since they wound up with something containing lauric acid, linoleic acid, oleic acid, sodium bicarbonate and other chemicals.

I don’t know if the Traboulsees used the term “chemical-free deodorant” themselves, or whether it was invoked by the journalist.  I will admit that when I (and other scientists) make the point that everything is a chemical, it can seem like we are playing a game of semantics; however, there is a deeper point – marketing “chemical-free” products perpetrates the myth that “chemicals” are always bad, and therefore, a “natural” product is always good.  A “100% natural” product can contain only ingredients from natural sources, but it still contains chemicals; and it doesn’t mean that the product is any better or safer than its less-than-100%-natural alternative.

The article also links to a whimsical promotional video for the company, which you can watch in the middle of the article.  In the video’s first seconds, Margaux asks if you have a difficult time selecting “which deodorant scent you’re going to clog your pores with”.  She confuses the role of a deodorant, which serves to cut the odor of bacteria that thrives in the humidity of a sweaty armpit, with antiperspirant, which does clog the pores with certain compounds (more chemicals!).  Antiperspirants keep you from sweating, deodorants cut down the smell from sweating.  (That said, her gag of installing car fresheners on a woman’s armpits does capture nicely the essential role of a deodorant…)

At the 0:30 mark of the video, she makes the bold claim that her deodorant is “the only one that is safe enough for you!”  Perhaps she can provide some reliable evidence to back that up?

Finally, at the 0:50 mark, she makes the most interesting claim – after the common “100% natural”, “all-organic” product pitch, she then declares her product “free from animal testing”, pops the lid, and feeds it to her dog Sophie.  Let’s consider that for a moment.  If her point is “my dog ate this and didn’t get poisoned, therefore it is safe for humans”, then she did engage in animal testing – after all, she made her dog eat her deodorant, which has never been actual dog food.  Besides, one should be careful about drawing links between “what a dog can eat” and “what is safe for human use”.  After all, dogs will get very sick, from eating chocolate, avocadoes, onions and garlic – all foods that can be obtained naturally, and are perfectly safe for human consumption.

As I pointed out in a previous discussion about 100% natural products, I am making no comment on whether this is a good product.  It may be an excellent deodorant, and I’m not dissuading anyone from purchasing it – perhaps I would even like using it.  I just wish that they would market their product with integrity, instead of relying on myths and preying on fear to draw customers to their product.

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