You’ve heard the rumors about antiperspirants–you know, the ones that they cause all kinds of nasty stuff from breast cancer to kidney disease. Antiperspirants have gotten a bad rep in recent years, but what’s the real story? Do they cause the serious health problems people claim they do? We’re going to take a closer look and give you the facts.
What is Antiperspirant and How Does it Work?
To better understand the arguments against antiperspirants, it’s vital that we talk a little about what they are and how they work.
Anyone who’s ever sweated has likely turned to this product at one time or another, which is designed to prevent sweating. Antiperspirants work by temporarily forming a “plug” on the skin’s surface that doesn’t allow sweat to come through.
Most of the controversy surrounding antiperspirants has to do with the active ingredient that helps form this plug: aluminum. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Does Deodorant Work the Same Way?
People use these two names interchangeably, but deodorant and antiperspirant serve different purposes. Antiperspirants stop sweat, whereas deodorants are designed to eliminate odor in our armpits, whose moist, bacteria-rich environment is the perfect breeding ground for funky smells.
Deodorant does not contain aluminum, the ingredient responsible for stopping sweat, which is why it won’t keep you dry. The lack of aluminum is also why deodorants don’t have the same bad reputation as antiperspirants.
What Is the Concern with Aluminum in Antiperspirants?
So, what’s the big deal with aluminum?
Part of the controversy regarding antiperspirants has to do with the fact that, since they contain aluminum, they are FDA regulated. You may not realize it, but antiperspirants are considered to be an over-the-counter drug. And people are concerned about the drugs they’re putting in–or in this case on– their bodies.
They’re especially concerned about aluminum, which has been linked to a fair few diseases and has raised concern when it comes to this ingredient’s presence in the sweat blockers you apply to your underarms every day. Among the questions raised about antiperspirants, the most prevalent ones include whether or not antiperspirants contribute to:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Kidney disease
- Harmful toxin release prevention
Let’s take a closer look at each of these to find out if aluminum antiperspirants are harmful to you.
Does Aluminum in Antiperspirants Cause Cancer?
The cancer-causing claim is the most prevalent and controversial of all the claims about antiperspirants, but we’ll go ahead and bust this myth upfront: the American Cancer Society affirms that no links have been found between antiperspirants and breast cancer.
What was behind this claim? Why was everyone afraid to use antiperspirant?
The idea was that by frequently applying antiperspirants to the armpits, an area that’s close to the breasts, the aluminum they contain could be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like effects. And the problem with estrogen is that it’s known to promote breast cancer cell growth, leading to the belief that antiperspirants may cause breast cancer.
While indeed a sensational claim (who can forget receiving those chain emails warning about antiperspirants?), no definitive study has proven the relationship between cancer and aluminum in antiperspirants. You can stop worrying that having dry armpits will give you breast cancer.
Does Aluminum in Antiperspirants Cause Alzheimer’s?
This myth linking aluminum in antiperspirants to Alzheimer’s disease dates back to the 1980s.
Observational studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and brain levels of aluminum are related. Given this link, other studies have been concerned with finding out whether there’s a clear association between the aluminum in antiperspirant and Alzheimer’s disease.
The supposed link between Alzheimer’s and antiperspirants was said to work the same way as it did with cancer, through the topical application that would allow aluminum to work its way into the body. However, the amount of aluminum deposited on the skin is so negligible that it would be impossible to cause Alzheimer’s.
And while there is a correlation between this disease and aluminum, it’s difficult to know if there’s causation. Trace amounts of aluminum are present in everyone. The difference in Alzheimer’s patients is that dying cells can’t eliminate toxins the way healthy ones can, which translates to higher levels of aluminum in these patients.
All this means is that aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients is likely a result, not a cause, of the disease, which is good news for everybody who uses antiperspirants. And as the Alzheimer’s Association will tell you, no clear findings supporting the claim that aluminum in antiperspirants causes Alzheimer’s have emerged.
Does Aluminum in Antiperspirants Cause Kidney Problems?
Why are antiperspirants supposedly bad for those with kidney problems? Because aluminum is problematic for people with advanced kidney disease, the FDA requires antiperspirants to notify users of these dangers on their packaging. Labeling advises consumers to consult with a doctor before use if they have kidney disease, leading to the belief that antiperspirants can aggravate kidney conditions.
But according to the National Kidney Foundation, using antiperspirants will not kick kidney conditions into overdrive. They go on to explain that the FDA-required warning is for those people with stage 4 or stage 5 chronic kidney disease–a tiny percentage of the population.
The National Kidney Foundation also states that unless you ate the antiperspirant or sprayed it in your mouth, it’s impossible for the body to absorb enough aluminum through the skin to harm the kidneys.
So, if you’re an average, healthy person, you don’t have to worry about choosing between being sweaty and getting kidney disease.
Does Aluminum in Antiperspirants Prevent the Body from Releasing Toxins?
The last major myth regarding antiperspirants is the claim that since they block sweat, these products prevent the body from releasing toxins.
The problem with this claim is relying on the belief that sweating purges toxins–it doesn’t. Sure, you can sweat limited amounts of toxic materials, but there is no evidence to suggest that these trace amounts of toxins released through sweat improve health. Our liver and kidneys perform this function, and any number of toxins released through sweat is negligible.
Since sweating is not what’s ridding our body of toxins, that’s good news for antiperspirants that block our sweat. You can forget about this claim. And keep in mind that the next time you get in the sauna, it’s likely to be relaxing, but it’s not cleansing your body of toxins like you may have thought before.
The Problems Aluminum Antiperspirants Can Cause
We can relatively safely say that antiperspirants will not cause any of the problems mentioned above, but they can carry some side effects that users should know about. The good news? These side effects generally don’t cause a lot of issues, and the ones they do cause are usually easy to fix.
The first problem is that antiperspirants can cause irritation. For people with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, or those with skin sensitive to things like soaps and jewelry, the underarms can be ground zero for irritation–even though this might not be the first area that comes to mind when talking about sensitive skin.
The underarm’s propensity to sensitivity can be attributed to a couple of different factors. The armpits are a warm, moist area, which makes them an excellent breeding ground for bacteria that thrive in this environment. Plus, the skin in this area is thin and fragile.
When you add the fact that antiperspirants contain ingredients like aluminum and alcohol that can be especially drying to this already sensitive zone, you’ve got a recipe for irritation.
If antiperspirants are causing you irritation, any number of ingredients might be to blame–the aluminum and alcohol we’ve already mentioned, plus fragrances and parabens. Look for products without these ingredients if you’re experiencing sensitivity issues.
The other problem doesn’t even have to do with harm to you–it’s about the harm antiperspirants do to your wardrobe. Yep, they can damage clothes, but you probably already know that. They absorb into clothing, and when combined with sweat, antiperspirant produces hard-to-remove yellow stains.
What You Need to Know
What’s the bottom line when it comes to aluminum antiperspirants? Do these products pose any serious health threat? The answer is no. They don’t. There is no scientific evidence suggesting that aluminum in antiperspirants causes any of the diseases or conditions mentioned above. You can continue using your favorite products without the need to worry.
If these claims have been debunked, why are they still so well-known? Part of the reason these rumors persist is because of the internet. The internet is an excellent platform for peddling misinformation and bringing up unsubstantiated issues time and again, which is unfortunate for those seeking accurate facts.
Aspel Fragrances–Natural Deodorant Alternatives
While we hope we’ve put some of these myths to bed, if you’re still a little nervous about what you’re putting on your body, we understand. Check out Aspel Fragrance’s line of all-natural, aluminum free options, which are fantastic for anyone looking to make the switch from traditional deodorant to a natural spray.