Friday, July 8, 2011

Sorry, Tom, But I'm Not Happy

It's summertime. That means hot, outdoors, and sweaty. And it means deodorant if we'd like our summer to be social. So, out on the road I needed some deodorant and found myself in a mainstream pharmacy looking for something "natural". My best option? Tom's of Maine. In a rush, with two impatient children awaiting our trip I grabbed it and ran. How bad could it be?

Then my armpits turned bright pink and started to peel. Yes, peel. No sunburn there so I decided it was time to look at the ingredients in the deodorant I picked up. The very first ingredient: propylene glycol. Hmmm. That could be it.

So what do we know about propylene glycol? Propylene glycol PG) is a chemical that is commonly used in coolants and de-icing solutions for cars, airplanes, and boats. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), "Hazardous in case of ingestion. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant, permeator), of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation." Funny, in my world deodorant is actually applied to the skin. What to do in case of accidental skin contact? According to the MSDS "Skin Contact: In case of contact, immediately flush skin with plenty of water. Cover the irritated skin with an emollient. Remove contaminated clothing and shoes. Cold water may be used.Wash clothing before reuse. Thoroughly clean shoes before reuse. Get medical attention." While propylene glycol is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by government officials, high levels of exposure have been linked to seizures and cardiac arrythmia in infants. Breathing propylene glycol ethers in paint have also correlated with higher rates of asthma and eczema among children.

So perhaps my Tom's of Maine Deodorant needs to come with a warning label? I guess that couldn't fit on the product. Instead what I found was some great marketing. Their label asks "What makes a product good?" In their book, no animal testing, no artificial colors, and sustainable practices are among the great reasons why their products are "good". Although PG is considered to be relatively non-toxic in the environment, the USDA's own studies show that PG vapors may be toxic to corn and soybean plants. And while the risk levels are touted as safe by the chemical industry and government, many of the environmental watchdogs have chimed in on the dangers of PG and possible alternatives.

I applaud Tom's of Maine for their efforts and their cited commitment to "natural" (albeit an unregulated term) products, sustainability, and their support of environmental causes and of their employees' volunteer efforts. But let's raise the bar a bit here and make products that shouldn't need a warning table and truly reflect a commitment to safety and eco-conscious living.


  1. Tom's of Maine is a crock. They were bought by Colgate years ago. All of their 'natural' toothpastes contain decidedly unnatural ingredients like SLS, except for one

  2. I read a while back about Tom's trying to replace PG with vegetable glycerine, and the feedback from their users was terrible. They give a quick summary of this here:

    I've personally tried a number of more natural deoderants, and honestly none have worked for me besides Tom's. Luckily I don't react to this ingredient.


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