Ever since I was a little girl my mom always told me that antiperspirants were harmful. She claimed that they caused breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, so her answer was to wear nothing at all. While that “natural” smell worked for her, being a long-lived hippie and all, I didn’t find that it was the best path for making friends and attracting boys in the school yard. Therefore, I completely ignored her sage advice for a larger part of my younger years in return for a dry, powder smelling under arm. Once I began to get into the health field, the dangers of heavy metals, toxins and chemicals became clear. I was determined to get rid of every toxic cosmetic, body, hair and household product that lurked in my home, and that project began with my antiperspirant. So today I am going to share with you what I’ve learned about antiperspirants by answering the question, are antiperspirants safe, and how harmful are they.
Have you ever wondered exactly HOW this good smelling stick called antiperspirants literally STOPS you from sweating? I can wrap my head around the making you smell good part, but seriously… no more sweating? Too good to be true, and unfortunately it is.
How do Antiperspirants work?
Well there are two components here that we need to address. There are deodorants and there are antiperspirants. Most products on the market contain both, but there are some products that are just deodorants. Deodorants are used to neutralize the smell of sweat, while antiperspirants are used to stop you from sweating.
Antiperspirants work by closing, blocking or clogging the pores within the sweat duct with aluminum ions. These ions are drawn into the cells causing them to swell and therefore to be squeezed closed. As a result, no sweat can pass through.
Aluminum can be labeled as the following on your antiperspirant:
- Aluminum Chlorohydrate
- Ammonium Aluminum Sulfate
- Potassium Aluminum Sulfate
- *Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Glycine (most common)
- Aluminum Chloride
Why are Antiperspirants Potentially Harmful?
The harm lies in the ingredients used in antiperspirant. Antiperspirants use aluminum to prevent sweating, and other chemicals ingredients.
The ingredients used, especially aluminum have become a hot topic in the medical world, leading numerous studies about their effects in the body. The problem is that these potentially harmful ingredients can be absorbed into the body system. It has been found that humans absorb aluminum through the skin: a 2001 study showed that aluminum was still present in blood samples 15 days after one application of aluminum to the armpit.
Aluminum’s connection to Alzheimer’s Disease:
It has been well established that the accumulation of aluminum in the brain can cause neurological disorders. To prevent aluminum accumulation, reduced use of aluminum is of crucial importance. Awareness of aluminum is the primary factor in preventing aluminum induced toxicity. The short term symptoms of aluminum toxicity include memory loss, learning difficulty, loss of coordination, disorientation, mental confusion, colic, heartburn, flatulence, and headaches. Alzheimer’s is one of the possible long term effects of chronic aluminum exposure.
Studies have found that aluminum absorbs better through the skin than orally. When using antiperspirants, one only applies very little aluminum to the skin. However, daily use results in chronic exposure to aluminum. One study has asserted that the use of aluminum based antiperspirants increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 60%. Furthermore, post-mortem analysis of Alzheimer’s infected brains has shown increased levels of aluminum compared to people that did not die from Alzheimer’s.
On the other hand, there are studies showing that aluminum may not increase the risk for Alzheimer’s but there is much more research needed to be done. So for me personally, I err on the side of caution and avoid aluminum and therefore antiperspirants all together.
Aluminum’s Connection to Breast Cancer:
Antiperspirants contain both parabens (chemical ingredients) and aluminum. Both are “estrogenic” chemicals—meaning they interact with your body’s hormones or cells in ways similar to estrogen. That’s concerning, because excess estrogen plays a role in promoting the growth of cancer cells, according to the National Cancer Institute. Furthermore, the data from one study indicate that the degree of antiperspirant/deodorant usage and axillary shaving is associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis. This is because the series of events that eventually cause breast cancer can start many years before the symptoms become noticeable. Studies indicate that the chance of developing breast cancer increases when women are exposed to cancer causing agents at a young age. Consequently, young girls that use antiperspirants/deodorants are more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.
The majority of breast cancers occur in the part of the breast that is the closest to the armpit called the upper outer quadrant (UOQ), where we apply antiperspirants. The proportion of breast cancer in the UOQ has been rising steadily with the increased use of antiperspirants. In 1926, 31% of breast cancers occurred in the UOQ, in 1947-1967 this percentage increased to 43-48%. Currently the majority of breast cancers occurs in the part of the breast that is the closest to the armpit: 60.7% in 1994. Furthermore, the majority of UOQ breast cancer cases concern the left breast. One theory is that this is due to the vast majority of right handed people applying more antiperspirant to their left armpit.
This is from the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology:
The potential toxicity of Al (aluminum) has been clearly shown and recent works convincingly argue that Al could be involved in cancerogenic processes. Nowadays, for example, Al is suspected of being involved in breast cancer. Recent work in cells in culture has lent credence to the hypothesis that this metal could accumulate in the mammary gland and selectively interfere with the biological properties of breast epithelial cells, thereby promoting a cascade of alterations reminiscent of the early phases of malignant transformation. In addition, several studies suggest that the presence of Al in human breast could influence metastatic process.
While there are studies showing no connection between breast cancer and antiperspirants, I believe that we don’t know enough now to make a conclusion. In these such cases, my recommendation is to always err on the side of caution by going natural and avoiding any chemical or metal that has the potential to interrupt how the body functions.
Other than Aluminum, How else are they harmful?
Well… unfortunately, much like all other wonderful body care products on the market, antiperspirants also contain a few other chemicals that are harmful. While the FDA claim that the dosages are so low they cannot cause any harm, do they take into account the following?
1. We shave our underarms often creating little abrasions and cuts, and then apply antiperspirant, allowing direct access for the chemicals to get into our bloodstream.
2. If you live in 100 degrees or workout out, you apply deodorant many times a day. I mean I have friends that literally carry it in their purse!
3. Antiperspirants are only 1 of maybe 5 to 20 different body care products that contain chemicals that you use everyday. Constant exposure to these chemicals create what is called body burden. Body burdern is a term that shows that chemicals accumulated over time and from many sources increase to a level that can be dangerous to the body system. FDA regulations do not take this into account when labeling a chemical as safe.
The problem lies in total amount of chemical exposure. A chemical might not be harmful in a small dose, but add it to all the other chemicals that we use on our body (shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, perfume, nail polish, makeup, lotion) and then it becomes a problem.
The reason these chemicals are harmful is that they can cause the following:
- Organ toxicity
- Endocrine disruption (hormone imbalance)
While there are many chemicals used, here are main ones to avoid:
1. Talc: Talc is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer if it contains asbestiform fibers.
2. Propylene Glycol: originally developed as an anti-freeze, it is a neurotoxin known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver damage.
3. Triclosan: The American Medical Association recommends that triclosan and other “antibacterial” products should not be used, as they may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics that can allow resistant strains to flourish. Furthermore, some recent studies show that it may disrupt thyroid and hormone function.
4. TEA & DEA: These chemicals are already restricted in Europe due to known carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects.
5. Fragrance/Parfume: Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.
6. BHT: Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a toluene-based ingredient used as a preservative in food and personal care products. It may cause irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), and organ system toxicity (non-reproductive).
7. Cyclopentasiloxane: Cyclopentasiloxane (cyclomethicone) is a silicon-based cyclic compound; may be associated with environmental toxicity. Persistence and bioaccumulation, and organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
Most conventional antiperspirants and deodorants contain harmful chemicals that we need to avoid. Here are the labels of some of the most common brands. Check out how they all contain these chemicals.
Chemicals contained: aluminum, talc, petrolatum, fragrance
Chemicals contained: aluminum, fragrance, cyclopentasiloxane, steareth-100, dimethicone
Chemicals contained: aluminum, cyclopentasiloxane, talc, frangrance, BHT
Chemical contained: aluminum, triclosan, fragrance, polysorbate 20
Okay, okay, No More Toxic Deodorants and Antiperspirants… Am I to be Sweaty and Smelly Forever Then?
I certainly thought so. After reviewing all of this information, I took my little list of toxins to the market, parked myself in front of the deodorant and antiperspirant section and reviewed each product. The first step was to ditch the antiperspirants all together, because all of them contain aluminum. Next, I had to find a deodorant free of these harmful chemicals. After about ten weird looks and 40 minutes of eye-crossing research, I took a “natural, aluminum-free, paraben-free, alcohol-free deodorant” home.
This was my experience: rolled the deodorant on in the morning, noticed the fresh herbal smell, enjoyed the smell, noticed it dried quickly and left no residue. So far so good. 1 hour later, still smelled good, still dry, but haven’t had any reason to sweat so far. 3 hours later… been active, its been getting hotter, and noticing I am not smelling so peachy. 4 hours later.. most definitely sweating, most definitely not smelling fresh and herbal. Thinking, I hope no one notices… I better wipe myself down. Yukk!
That was pretty much my experience on repeat for about, lets see… 9 different brands. This process felt extremely hopeless, helpless and expensive! Here are the ones that I have tried that did not work, so definitely avoid these following brands:
- Hugo Naturals
- Crystal Stick
- Thai Crystal
- Burt’s Bees
- Tom’s of Maine
The Safest Alternatives that Actually Work
Now to the good news – my favorite deodorants that are free of chemicals and aluminum, and that work! What a blessing! As I have mentioned numerous times before, I have tried almost all the natural deodorants out there and the majority do not work. These two on the other hand keep you dry and healthy! Take my word for it, try these and the switch to natural will never be so easy.
Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant
Schimdt’s natural deodorant is the one I use daily. It completely works, proving itself effective even in the hottest of weather, hiking, biking and sun tanning. I personally love the Ylang Ylang scent. It is mild yet floral. I highly recommend this brand that either comes in a deodorant stick, or a deodorant paste. Both work equally well, just depends on your preference.
Native deodorant is a new brand that I got introduced to recently. Similar to Schmidt’s, it is an all-natural deodorant that contains clean ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter, jojoba oil, probiotics and vitamin E. It comes in a few scents but I think the coconut and vanilla is too good to pass up.
I’ve been using antiperspirants for so long? Any detoxifying techniques?
Absolutely. If you are concerned about body wide heavy metal toxicity, I would urge you to consider following my Heavy Metal Cleanse. This is a very gentle yet effective cleanse for clearing all types of heavy metals including aluminum, lead and mercury. We are exposed to these metals not only from the antiperspirant, but from eating sushi, fish such as shark, tuna, and orange roughy, vaccinations, water, old lead paint and older plumbing. This is an excellent path if you are considering getting pregnant, or are experiencing any symptoms of heavy metal toxicity.
Another route would be to detoxify the area locally. Using topical therapeutic mud under the arms, you can help to draw out toxins in the area. I did this after long-term antiperspirant use, and I couldn’t believe the effects. I actually broke out for 1 week as the toxins purged from the area. I personally recommend using the high-grade, therapeutic mud called Medi-Body Pack by Premier Research Labs. This mud has both absorptive and adsorptive properties, making it one of the most gentle yet effective ways to detoxify from antiperspirant-use locally.
If exposure to aluminium in antiperspirants presents health risks, its content should be reduced Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2014, Pages 147-150 Alain Pineau, , Bernard Fauconneau, , André-Pascal Sappino, , Roger Deloncle, , Olivier Guillard
World Health Organization: http://www.searo.who.int/en/Section1174/Section1199/Section1567/Section1823_8066.htm
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease: http://iospress.metapress.com/content/wb0qym7m9212er2t/
“Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk,” American Cancer Society, 8 July 2007, 10 Jan. 2008 <http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MED/content/MED_6_1x_Antiperspirants.asp?sitearea=MED>.
“Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer: Questions and Answers,” National Cancer Institute, 10 May 2004, 12 Jan. 2008 <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/AP-Deo>.
“Cancer Causes: Popular Myths About the Causes of Cancer,” MayoClinic.Com, 16 May 2007, 12 Jan. 2008 <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cancer-causes/CA00085>.