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Milk of Magnesia?

If you look around on the internet you'll find a lot of people recommending using Milk of Magnesia as a deodorant, a facial primer, or a treatment for acne. While using this product actually can work quite well, there are hidden dangers to using this seemingly innocuous "home remedy."

Milk of Magnesia is a milky-looking liquid made up of a suspension of a mineral called magnesium hydroxide. It's slightly alkaline and is used as a drug treatment for stomach upset and a laxative. (Read more about drug usage here.) The alkalinity of the substance may be one way in which the product works so well as a deodorant. 

But, looking more closely at the label, you'll find an ingredient hiding in the "inactive ingredients:" sodium hypochlorite. Seems simple enough...sounds like a simple salt? Nope. That's actually bleach.

THIS is why Milk of Magnesia works so well as a deodorant! The anti-bacterial activity of the bleach kills the odor-causing bacteria. The diluted bleach is what's doing the job of drying your skin out and killing the bacteria on your skin that are causing the acne. And it's causing it to be slightly inflamed--thus why it's popular as a toner/primer, because it temporarily firms your skin by irritating it. (My theory.)

So, what are the risks of using diluted bleach on your skin? 

  • First is the obvious risk of skin irritation. Considering the alkalinity of the magnesium hydroxide combined with the irritating nature of bleach, your skin's acid mantle could become seriously disrupted, leading to redness, dryness, and irritation. While the tightening/firming effect may be nice temporarily, constantly inflamed collagen will break down, only increasing wrinkles and damage over time.  
  • Some people are highly allergic to bleach; side effects would include rash, itching/swelling (face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing.
  • Sodium hypochlorite, when combined with water creates hypochlorous acid, which is highly reactive. "HOCL generates superoxide radicals that cause oxidative injury and cell death." (Source) It's this action that kills bacteria and pathogens, but can also cause damage to skin cells. 
  • Diluted bleach (sometimes referred to as Dakin's solution) has been found to destroy skin fibroblasts and keratinocytes (cells responsible for healthy skin growth). (Source)
  • Toxic chlorine gas can be formed when bleach is dissolved in an alkaline solution (such as magnesium chloride). However, the amounts would be quite small in M.O.M. due to its presumed low concentration. (Source)

So, the next time you see Milk of Magnesia as a simple "cure-all," now you'll know how it really works!

Reader Comments (20)

Thanks for this info. I am currently using a milk of magnesia deodorant made by "MooGoo". I have checked the label and there is no listing of sodium hypochlorite. The deodorant actually seems to work quite well, so I am wondering what you think of the MooGoo formulation and how it works? Thanks

Wed, August 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYoseadam

As long as there's no hidden ingredients (which I would contact them and ask them if it contains sodium hypochlorite) it looks like there's no problematic ingredients. The magnesium hydroxide itself does likely aid in the deodorizing, but also the hops extract, which acts as an antimicrobial.

Wed, August 13, 2014 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Not all MOM's seem to list sodium hypochlorite as an inactive ingredient.
For example:
Does this mean they may be hiding this additive? Or not?
Should I contact them just to double check?

Also... if these particular brands do not have 'bleach', then would it be ok
to use them on the skin?


Tue, November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIinquisitive

You can just use diluted Magnesium oil instead of MoM with no worries. Its all natural and helps with the magnesium deficiencies that most people suffer from.

Tue, May 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

I mix pure magnesium hydroxide with water in very small batches (to avoid contamination) and it works perfectly - better than anything I have ever used. The bleach in MOM is not the reason it works as a deodorant - it is a preservative and in such a small quantity I doubt it could have very much deodorizing effect. Mix it yourself and there's no need to worry about added chemicals.

Mon, September 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterH

The MOM I buy has only water an added ingredient and it does work as en effective deodorant. You do have to be a label reader and it is true most have added stuff, but not all brands. I know of 2 places to buy it with nothing but water added. I have also used mag oil for deodorant but it stings and causes red bumps.

Sun, October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterShell

Was considering this product, which I saw on Shark Tank:

It doesn't have "Milk of Magnesia" but it does have "magnesium hydroxide." What I gather from your article is that the bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in Milk of Magnesia is what's bad, not the magnesium hydroxide, right?

Mon, January 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterD

@D--Correct, from the info we currently have, it's the bleach that's the harmful component. However, do keep in mind that the product you mention uses japanese honeysuckle extract, which some call a form of hidden parabens.

Tue, February 2, 2016 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

your theory is opposed to the known facts, sodium hypochlorite in dilute mixtures has a scientifically proven antinflammatory effect, its use as an eczema treatment has been recorded for decades, bleach in very small doses is known to have medicinal value.

Thu, March 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterg

I am one of the many people who have been using MOM to make magnesium bicarbonate solution as a REAL magnesium supplement (recent independent tests have shown most supplements are fake) that has improved my health beyond what I thought was possible. Magnesium deficiency is the biggest single cause of health issues today and my research has shown it is deliberately being kept out of the food supply. Heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are all caused by magnesium deficiency. Recently I have noticed that all brands of MOM have added deadly toxic ingredients like aluminum hydroxide or bleach. This is most likely due to the plethora of info on the internet about magnesium and the bicarbonate recipe. Obviously big pharma is worried that many will get off their drugs and avoid costly surgeries. So they have probably forced the MOM manufacturers to include these additives to counteract our attempt to stay healthy. That's just how they roll, being pure evil along with the FDA. It should be possible to boil off the chlorine if you boil your MOM with bleach, but on no account use any with aluminum hydroxide, which will cause brain damage.

P.S. To help the uniformed, milk of magnesia is magnesium hydroxide

Fri, March 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Salaman

As has been said, there are some brands of milk of magnesia without the sodium hypochlorite, which are, ironically, mostly the cheaper/generic ones.

Stephanie, speaking of the hidden parabens in honeysuckle, as a daughter and granddaughter of 2 breast cancer victims, I'm on a quest to learn more about similar, after recently discovering that sage, yucca, and the oh-so-common evening primrose oil and rooibos that are included in a lot of natural skincare products are also estrogenic.

Could you recommend a good resource or sites to learn more about these hidden parabens or phytoestrogens, including also which ones are safe (such as the healthy lignans found in flaxseed vs. the potentially unhealthy isoflavones in soy products)?

Thu, August 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSabura

[piggybacking on my own comment here] I just re-found this resource at the Sloan Kettering site and did a search for 'estrogen' to get a nice list of 56 common herbs and botanicals with the positive and negative aspects of each in terms of estrogenic cancer risks (not quite sure about the logic of the ordering, it's not alphabetical, but can also use the Search function at top right). I'd still appreciate finding out about any other sites or groups regarding this subject too.

Flaxseed is on there, e.g., as it should be, but reading the individual sections for that entry elucidates the beneficial effects of lignans (versus, say, the isoflavones in soy). Yay for flaxseed, one of my favorite foods.

Thu, August 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSabura

Just an FYI: NOT ALL BRANDS contain the additive(s) you refer to. I make my Milk of Magnesia deo out of a brand that does NOT include bleach.

You may want to do a Google search and amend your article. Let consumers know what to look for, certainly, but be advised that, as with most things, not all mom-based deos are created equal!

Fri, September 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca Rippelmeyer

My milk of magnesia does not contain sodium hypochlorite; only magnesium hydroxide and water

Wed, September 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGL

I am going to check out a few things but, I have been using MOM for years and it works better than deodorant. As I said I'm looking into the bleach and other junk it could have in it. I'm in my 70's and smell is not a problem... Keep us informed..Tks. Steve

Mon, November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Martin

The plain CVS brand does not have sodium hypochlorite in it.

Wed, December 28, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterajn

I've used toms deo and arm&hammer with no aluminum or parabens..this because my recent mamo found breast micro-crystals and swollen lymph nodes under my arms in both sides.. Prior, I used dove, secret, etc.. I also consume almost daily kashi cereal with soy, and sometimes soy milk for years which for me prevents hot flashes.. Now I'm worried all the time.. I was using Walmart mom by itself under arms for a few month.. Worked but not all day.. Now after reading article I checked and it does have mag hypochlorite as other active ingredient ..
Just the past two weeks I've been applying the arn$ hammer as above then with a bit of the mom added over the a&oh..found it to be the perfect deo combo..
However, I am switching to the cvs brand of mom without the mag hypochlorite .. If I see here that the A&H deo is ng, I will switch to using the toms/mom combo.

Tue, March 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSJ

Having my education grounded in biochemistry (since I'm a pharmacologist), I find. several faults in this article. To start off with, milk of magnesia should only be used as an antacid. Its purpose is almost explicitly for the gastrointestinal system. Why? Because it neutralizes acid. The only other purpose I've ever heard of is balancing irregular dermal pH. Other than what I mentioned it has no other medicinal purpose. Secondly, Milk of Magnesia should not be used as deodorant as it will offset the dermal oH.

Milk of Magnesia may have a minute amount of Sodium Hypochlorite but, it has a purpose. Like said earlier, milk of magnesia is intended for the stomach. It works by neutralizing stomach acid; however, doing this robs the body of valuable chloride ions which are essential for regulating water in the body. The Hypochlorite ion reacts the hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) to create chlorine. Chlorine is a heavy gas the stays in the stomach. This is may sound scary but it actually has a positive effect on this scenario. The chlorine that's left in the stomach slowy reacts with the water in the stomach to make hydrochloric acid (stomach acid). This allows the body to "recycle" some of its chloride ions.

I noticed this article contained some falsehoods regarding chemistry. First, sodium Hypochlorite does create Hypochlorous acid unless it's reacted with a strong acid excluding hydrochloric (which reacts differently). Sodium hypochlorite is actually basic. It dosent form hypochlorous acid when reacting with water. In fact it dosen't react with water because it cant exist outside of water or it become sodium chlorate. In all my experience and education, I've never heard of Hypochlorous acid creating superoxide ions or any haloxic acid for that matter. Finally, bleach dose not react with alkaline solutions (except ammonium hydroxide for unrelated reasons). Bleach is an alkaline solution. The only thing bleach reacts with to form chlorine is hydrochloric acid. Some people say it forms chlorine when combined ammonium hydroxide but it actually forms trichloramine, a known mutagen. So... "now you know how it really works".

Tue, June 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKaelinM

Just an added note, you can buy brands of Milk of Magnesia that don't include the added ingredient in question. There are brands that list only distilled water as the inactive ingredient. So, your problems may be solved. I use a combination of Mild of Magnesia, magnesium oil, essential oils, witch hazel, and apple cider vinegar with great results. The essential oils that I use are antibacterial and for added fragrance.

Sat, October 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEvelyn W

I’m wondering why KaelinM has said that magnesium hydroxide should not be used as a deodorant for the mere fact that it is alkaline. Surely if the alkalinity isn’t too high, dermal use of such a chemical shouldn’t be harmful. I do not know the pH differences between sodium bicarbonate and magnesium hydroxide but I’ve only ever heard of skin irritation and chafing with baking soda, not magnesium hydroxide. In fact, I’ve never heard or read of a side-effect from using magnesium hydroxide as a deodorant or in a deodorant formulation. So it’s okay to use a base chemical as an antacid for the stomach, but not in a small quantity to neutralise the acids produced by bacteria which are responsible for bad body odours? If baking soda and magnesium hydroxide are out of the picture, what can be used as an effective active deodorising ingredient? Zinc oxide? Well, I haven’t heard that this one is exactly the most effective deodoriser out there... non-nano silver? Hmm, I’m suspecting someone on the Internet is going to talk about excessive silver absorption. Okay, let’s avoid all of these... then let’s try exactly the same deodorising chemicals which are used in mainstream deodorants today - aluminium salts?! Let’s scrap all the metals, their carbonates, salts, hydroxides etc. What are we left with? “Coconut oil as a mild anti-fungal, antimicrobial?” Well, guess what, I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. Actually, it had the opposite to a deodorising effect. Hmm, what about bentonite clay? Oh, aluminium salts in there too? Darn it. Activated charcoal absorbed into the bloodstream and absorbing nutrients? Scrap that too. Essential oils? Oh... they can cause irritation too, as well as allergic reactions in some people. There really doesn’t seem to be much to use when each individual chemical used for alternative deodorants is scrutinised like this, while the big stores are selling us anti-perspirants which work in a far more un-natural way; not letting our body release toxins and sweat. Open to corrections and open to new suggestions.

Thu, November 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLuis

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