Let’s make it clear. Just because it makes you feel comfortable in your skin on a hot summer day, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. A typical deodorant or antiperspirant contains many harmful chemicals you don’t want your body to deal with. You’ll find on the label ingredients that inhibit odor-causing bacteria like triclosan chloride and some sort of fragrance to mask the odors. Antiperspirant deodorants, however, usually contain an additional sweat-stopping component – aluminum. There has been a lot of controversy in the past few decades over whether aluminum has a negative long-term effect on health. Until final conclusion has been set once and for all, it doesn’t do harm to look for aluminum-free alternatives.
Why and how is aluminum used in deodorants/ antiperspirants?
You sweat to protect your body from overheating. And that’s ok. The unpleasant odor that accompanies this process, however, is one reason it turns into a problem to seek solutions for. Where does it come from? The average person has 2 to 4 million sweat glands. There are two main types of glands that produce sweat in the case of armpit perspiration. Eccrine glands secrete sweat that is sterile, has no odor at all and consists of 98–99% water. The rest is electrolytes. The apocrine sweat, on the other hand, contains water, proteins, lipids, and steroids. It gains odor if contaminated with bacteria. And, the welcome habit of shaving your armpits aids in bacterial growth.
To solve the issue with bacterial growth deodorant manufacturers employ ingredients like triclosan chloride. Aluminum comes in handy in dealing with the odor problem through keeping sweat to a minimum. Most deodorants/ antiperspirants contain aluminum salts – aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum chloride – as an active ingredient. Their function is to temporarily block sweat glands, thus, inhibiting sweat secretion.
Both sides of the coin
Is aluminum in deodorants/ antiperspirants doing more harm than good? Decades of research have tried to give a definitive answer to this question. Throughout the years, long-term usage has been linked to elevated levels of aluminum in the user’s system (the so-called “body burden”), kidneys shut down, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2005 a research1 suggested that aluminum compounds regularly applied on the skin near the breast may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like (hormonal) effects. The estrogen promotes the growth of breast cancer cells. Thus, the research claims that the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer.
However, researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of the National Institutes of Health, denies the existence of ‘any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer’. ACS, the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation, the National Cancer Institute, and BreastCancer.org also supported this position.
At the end of 2016, a group of scientists from the University of Geneva announced the results of a new study2, arguing that long-term exposure to aluminum chloride can trigger the development of tumors which spread to other parts of the body. Medical research institutes view it with caution. The final verdict is still unknown.
Similarly, 30 years of studies on the aluminum-Alzheimer’s link have yielded conflicting results.This led to a difficulty in funding aluminum research, though many scientists believe there is a connection. ‘You can try to limit your aluminum consumption by choosing aluminum-free products, scientist Daniel Perl says for Washington Post “but we don’t really understand enough about [aluminum’s possible association with Alzheimer’s disease] to make good recommendations.”
Though the debate on the link between antiperspirants and breast cancer still continues, the harmful effect of aluminum compounds on kidneys has already been officially declared. At least, in the United States, the FDA requires that all antiperspirant deodorants be labeled with a warning ‘Ask a doctor before use if you have kidney disease.’ Too much aluminum in body system can be fatal – it causes kidneys to stop functioning. And people with renal dysfunction are at highest risk. But we all should take this warning into consideration when choosing a deodorant.
The Alternatives – Getting Aluminum-Free
While waiting for the final word on the potential health hazards caused by the regular use of deodorants with aluminum salts, you’d rather stay on the safe side and look for Aluminium-free alternatives. And there are plenty. You can buy it or you can make it yourself. DIYs take more time than going to the store, but it can last long and you are sure what you put in it. You can use ingredients that prevent excessive sweating like salt, lime juice, lemon, coconut oil, tea tree oil, cornstarch or baking soda.
If you are not really into mixing your own cosmetics, you can easily purchase one of the many Aluminum-free alternatives available online or in your local healthy store.
- Dr. Hauschka – Deodorant Sage Mint, for example, is absolutely organic, and not even a thought of Aluminium in it. It avoids aluminum in favor of sage and witch hazel extracts that work to naturally control odor caused by skin bacteria. Tapioca starch helps absorb moisture. This deodorant has a fresh scent from pure essential oils. Some might find it a bit strong but it virtually disappears some 10-15 minutes after application. In a day with normal physical activity, it can last the whole day with one application only.
- There are also great and effective cream options if that’s what you’re looking for. PurelyGreat Natural Deodorant has something to offer for her and for him – unscented, citrus, lavender, patchouli or spice. EWG Verified to prove that it contains no harmful or toxic ingredients. The scent is subtle and very pleasant and usually, lasts for a day.
- Erbaviva Lemon Sage Organic Deodorant – another product that skips Aluminum and uses organic essential oils that naturally fight underarm bacteria. Very few ingredients, indeed – organic grain alcohol, lemon, sage, tea tree oil, and patchouli – all USDA certified organic ingredients. Lemon sage version works perfectly for both women and men.
- Bali Secrets Natural Deodorant – Organic & Vegan contains no baking soda, parabens, or aluminum chlorohydrate. A perfect match for those seeking an effective product that is absolutely vegan and gluten-free. Natural fragrant, non-sticky. It is specially designed for sensitive skin. Several different fresh scents to choose from! Contains essential oils with antibacterial properties.
- Darbre PD. Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 2005; 99(9):1912–1919. [PubMed Abstract]
Mandriota S.J., Tenan M., Ferrari P., Sappino AP. Aluminium chloride promotes tumorigenesis and metastasis in normal murine mammary gland epithelial cells. International Journal of Cancer 2016; pages 2781–2790, Volume 139, Issue 12, 15 December 2016