Rumor Has It - the hazards of aluminum in antiperspirants

The Internet is full of rumors suggesting that the use of underarm antiperspirants is linked to such health conditions as breast cancer, Alzheimer disease, and kidney disease. But for every rumor there is a scientific evidence. We take a look at the assumptions related to antiperspirant use and relevant research.

Millions of people use antiperspirant daily. Antiperspirants are a common defense against embarrassing underarm wetness and the unpleasant aroma caused by odor-producing bacteria. By temporarily blocking sweat ducts, antiperspirants are able to reduce the amount of perspiration produced, which means less sweat in the underarm area. One of the sweat-blocking ingredients found in many antiperspirants is aluminum, an element that’s also found in drinking water, cooking utensils, antacids and beer. The question is whether a cosmetic product you’ve been applying to your skin on a daily basis for many years can actually be potentially dangerous to your health?

Antiperspirants and breast cancer

For an ordinary consumer it might be a bit tricky to obtain accurate information online regarding the connection between antiperspirants’ use and breast cancer. Some studies show that aluminum-based antiperspirants may increase the risk of breast cancer while researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of the National Institutes of Health, are not aware of any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer. Let’s take a look at both points of view.

As it was mentioned earlier, a few studies in recent years have theorized that aluminum-based antiperspirants may increase the risk for breast cancer. According to the authors of these studies, most breast cancers develop in the upper outer part of the breast — the area closest to the armpit, which is where antiperspirants are applied. The studies suggest that chemicals in antiperspirants, including aluminum, are absorbed into the skin, particularly when the skin is nicked during shaving. These studies claim that those chemicals may then interact with DNA and lead to cancerous changes in cells, or interfere with the action of the female hormone estrogen, which is known to influence the growth of breast cancer cells. At the same time, in 2002, the results of a study looking for a relationship between breast cancer and underarm antiperspirants/deodorants did not show any increased risk for breast cancer in women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant. The results also showed no increased breast cancer risk for women who reported using a blade (non-electric) razor and an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant, or for women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant within 1 hour of shaving with a blade razor.

Another study published in 2003 looked at responses from questionnaires sent out to women who had breast cancer. The researcher reported that women who were diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age said they used antiperspirant and started shaving their underarms earlier and shaved more often than women who were diagnosed when they were older. But the study design did not include a control group of women without breast cancer and has been criticised by experts as not relevant to the safety of these underarm hygiene practices.

Although the idea that antiperspirants might somehow contribute to the disease is a pretty serious claim, experts say the claims don’t hold up to scrutiny and many of the studies that have been conducted were flawed, and even though a few detected chemicals from antiperspirants in breast tissue, they didn’t prove that those chemicals had any effect on breast cancer risk. In fact, one well-designed study comparing hundreds of breast cancer survivors with healthy women, as well as a review of all available studies on the subject, found no evidence that antiperspirants increase the risk of breast cancer.

Antiperspirants and Alzheimer’s Disease

Aluminum has also been fingered as a potential contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. While it’s true that aluminum has been found in the bodies of some people with the disease, it hasn’t been found in every person with Alzheimer’s. And although aluminum has been tied to brain problems common in people with Alzheimer’s, there’s no proof that aluminum causes the disease.

Antiperspirants and kidney disease

Concerns about antiperspirants and kidney disease were first raised many years ago, when dialysis patients were given a drug called Aluminum Hydroxide to help control high phosphorus levels in their blood. Because their kidneys weren’t functioning properly, their bodies couldn’t remove the aluminum fast enough, and it began accumulating. Scientists noticed that dialysis patients who had these high aluminum levels were more likely to develop dementia. In reality, it’s almost impossible to absorb enough aluminum through the skin to harm the kidneys.

Should you stop using antiperspirants?

While there are numerous articles advocating either the direct link between antiperspirant use and increased breast cancer risk or no link at all, neither of those assumptions seem to be definite. The important thing to remember is that aluminum is still a chemical ingredient. Regardless of whether or not aluminum plays role in increased risk of breast cancer or other health conditions, your skin does absorb it and we bet most of you would like to avoid or at least minimize the amount of chemical absorbed through your skin. Aluminum-free antiperspirants is probably the most convenient alternative. A perfect natural alternative to antiperspirants is coconut oil. Not only you will smell good, your armpits will be moisturised as well. If you would like to avoid aluminum, remember to create a personal alert with CosmEthics app.

Stay healthy!

CosmEthics Team

Download CosmEthics app for iOS in Europe.


American Cancer Society, Antiperspirants and the Breast Cancer Risk

Alzheimer’s Society, Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease

Is antiperspirant toxic?

National Cancer Institute, Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer

WebMD, Antiperspirant Safety: Should You Sweat It?

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