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The Truth about Antiperspirants

What does the research say about the safety of aluminum in these products?

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Dear Doctor:

I sweat a lot, and I’m really self-conscious about smelling bad, so I always use a combination antiperspirant and deodorant. But I keep seeing posts online about how the aluminum in antiperspirants is bad and may even cause breast cancer. Is this true? Should I switch to a natural deodorant?

“Sweaty Betty”

 

Dear Sweaty Betty:

I hear this question from patients often these days, as people become more conscious of the ingredients in the products they use. Here’s why I don’t think you should be overly concerned.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants because they contain different ingredients. Deodorants will mask odor, but they won’t stop you from sweating. Antiperspirants work by plugging the pores in your skin, so you perspire less. And it’s the aluminum salt in antiperspirants that actually stops the sweating.

But you should also know that aluminum isn’t just in antiperspirants. The chemical element is also used as a preservative for food, it’s in water filtration systems, and it’s found in antacids and buffered aspirin. So we’re exposed to it on a regular basis in many different ways.

Right now, there’s not clear evidence showing that the aluminum in antiperspirants can cause breast or any other kind of cancer. While animal studies have found that injecting mice with aluminum leads to changes in their cells that could make it more likely for tumors to form, there’s not research showing that this ingredient is a problem for humans.

Researchers have done studies where they’ve applied a fine layer of antiperspirant to people’s skin, left it there for 24 hours, and then did blood tests to see how much of the aluminum was absorbed. What they’ve found is that there really isn’t much absorption—most of the chemical stayed on the surface of the skin. Still, we don’t yet know for sure whether long-term use of these products can be dangerous.

Based on the evidence we have right now, I recommend you use whatever you feel comfortable with. If you are willing to tolerate a product that just masks odor rather than stopping sweat, then you should use a deodorant. But if you prefer to stick with an antiperspirant, that is fine because the evidence that it’s dangerous just isn’t there.

We need to watch the studies, though, and as we learn more, my advice may change.

“Right now, there’s not enough evidence to show that the aluminum in antiperspirants is harmful.”
Dr. Tochi Iroku-Malize, Family Medicine Specialist
Dr. Tochi Iroku-Malize, Family Medicine Specialist Photo credit: Jackie Molloy/The Well

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Published July 17th, 2018

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