The human body contains over 1 million sweat glands, distributed all over. Unfortunately, as we all know, increased sweating occurs in times of high stress, making us reach for the anti-perspirant. But is it safe?
What is the purpose of aluminum?
Aluminum is included in deodorants due to a chemical reaction that prevents your armpit from sweating and producing odor. Most deodorants that contain no aluminum will not prevent sweating.
There are two classes of aluminum-containing deodorant: aluminum-based and zirconium-based actives, the latter of which still includes aluminum.
In an acidic medium (like your sweaty armpit, ew), aluminum is reduced to salts of aluminum chlorohydrate. These salts can vary in their ratio of aluminum : chloride of 2:1 to 1:1 with other aluminum-based complexes. Zirconium-based actives can have ratios of metals : chloride of 2 : 1 to 0.9 : 1. In essence, these complexes serve as “plugs” for the armpit, preventing you from sweating.
Why are people often advised to use aluminum-free deodorant?
There has been widespread internet speculation that aluminum applied to the arm pit may cause breast cancer, but most doctors do not yet acknowledge these claims (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2002). Studies have not been able to prove a link between aluminum-containing deodorant use and an increased risk of breast cancer. One widespread study of 813 aluminum-containing deodorant users versus 793 non-users (control) found no significant difference in breast cancer occurrence over the two groups over the course of 5 years (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2002).
What alarms me about aluminum-containing deodorants is that aluminum has been classified as a metalloestrogen (Journal of Inorganic Chemistry, 2005). Results demonstrate that aluminum chloride or aluminum chlorohydrate can interfere with the function of estrogen receptors of certain human breast cancer cells. The interference occurred both in terms of ligand binding and estrogen-regulated reporter gene expression.
Okay, I know the scientists out there are thinking, those findings occurred in damaged breast cancer cells. True. However, a recent study shows significantly higher levels of aluminum are found in the breast fluids of women with cystic breast disease (Journal of Applied Toxicology, 2008). While cystic breast disease is completely benign and is in fact the most common breast disorder, it can also create cysts within the breasts that are alarming to many women. While scientists overseeing the study could not conclude the aluminum was the result of anti-perspirant use, it may be a good idea to avoid the products anyway.
What are aluminum-free alternatives?
The most popular aluminum-free alternatives include natural stone crystals. Most of these crystals are made of potassium aluminum sulfate, but have a significantly lower level of aluminum, so many experts feel they are safe. Unfortunately, these crystals also do not form the “salt plug,” so you will ultimately sweat.
Both aluminum-containing and aluminum-free deodorants contain neutralizing agents, which essentially modify low molecular weight fatty acids that are secreted from your sweat glands. Many of these ingredients are anti-microbials.
After doing the research for this article, I’ve become a little skeptical of the safety of aluminum-containing anti-perspirants, not so much for the risk of breast cancer (of which I’m quite skeptical), but for the risk of cystic breast disease. (Even if it’s completely benign, it’s irreversible, so why not avoid it?) I’ve also decided to switch to a crystal deodorant, like Crystal Stick Body Deodorant, to be on the safe side.
Other Posts & Sites You Might Enjoy
- US National Cancer Institute Information on Antiperspirants/Deodorants
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- Spotlight On: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
- 4 Common Skin Care Products to Avoid for Great Skin
- Is Your Dry Cleaning Habit Bad for Your Skin?