October 9, 2011

What's Wrong with Antiperspirants?

In the past there have been a lot of circulated stories regarding the dangers of antiperspirants. The problem, however, is that stories are not usually backed up with fact.

Let's fix that, shall we? Information has been casually tossed around, implicating that antiperspirants cause Alzheimer's and breast cancer. However, it's not as simple as all that. It never is, right?

Before we dive into the most controversial topic regarding antiperspirants, first let's start with the simple, widely agreed upon facts. First of all, it's important to be aware of the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant. Deodorants simply neutralize odor, while antiperspirants are designed to eliminate, or minimize sweat. Antiperspirants accomplish this by using an aluminum based compound. The aluminum ions in an antiperspirant are absorbed by nearby cells at the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) that line the eccrine-gland ducts. When aluminum is absorbed by the cells, water passes in with them. As more water is transported in, the cells begin to swell and squeeze the ducts closed so that sweat can't get out. The first problem you might realize is the obvious: antiperspirants prevent your body from sweating the amount it wants to. Our bodies are constantly producing sweat, it is a way of flushing out toxins and a method of active cooling. One concern with antiperspirants is that you don't want to impair your body's ability to flush out toxins, or impair its temperature regulation system. An additional concern regarding antiperspirants is with the ingredient aluminum, which is known to cause contact dermatitis in some people. As a result, aluminum can lead to a localized allergic reaction.

Aluminum has been established as a neurotoxin twice in 1989, again in 1992, and most recently in 2000. At high doses, aluminum negatively effects the blood-brain barrier, can cause DNA damage, and has adverse epigenetic effects. Research has shown that chronic aluminum exposure leads to a decrease of lipid content in the brain. Even at low concentrations, aluminum can accomplish transplacental passage and accumulate in a fetus.

Alzheimer's Disease

Now onto the big guns. Antiperspirants have not been proven to cause breast cancer or Alzheimer's disease. The scientific method, our anatomy and intervening environmental factors make studies such as these complicated. Therefore, what have been established so far are links. It has been shown that an increased amount of aluminum is present in Alzheimer's patients [1],[2]. From experiments demonstrating the passage and bioaccumulation of topically applied aluminum, this suggests a dangerous connection. A study in 1990 showed an connection between long term use of antiperspirants and Alzheimer's disease, where increasing frequency of use was associated with a higher risk.

While these studies do not prove that aluminum causes Alzheimer's, they do not prove that aluminum is safe, either. Far from it.

Breast Cancer

Similar to Alzheimer's disease, it has not been proven that aluminum causes breast cancer. However, some interesting research has emerged on the topic. A study published in 2003 by the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found a positive correlation between earlier diagnosis of breast cancer and antiperspirant use. In 2004 and 2005, studies found that parabens and aluminum in antiperspirants reach the bloodstream and accumulate in breast tissue. Both of these chemicals are xenoestrogens, (compounds that enhance or mimic the effects of estrogen) which have been shown to stimulate the growth of cancerous breast cells. As a result, of these studies, the scientific community agrees that there is enough evidence to motivate further investigations.

While these studies do not constitute proof, they do raise a certain amount of concern. I'm a big believer in the precautionary principle, which says that if an action is suspected to be harmful, the burden of proof falls on those taking the action to prove it safe. What do you think?

___________ _ ___________

Image courtesy of: 
1.Getty royalty free images


  1. Anonymous1/05/2014

    There is a lot of controversy related to aluminum-based products. My suggestion is to go with a natural product. I've tried Jason's, Primal Pit Paste, and Lavilin. Lavilin is my favorite - www.lavilin.com

    1. Lavilin doesn't have an aluminum, it's true. But they do have phenoxyethanol, polyethylene glycol and fragrance.