Are Your Skincare Products Toxic? Deodorant and Antiperspirant
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Are Your Skincare Products Toxic? Deodorant and Antiperspirant

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The aluminum found in many deodorants could contribute to diseases such as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. Find out what you should use instead.

is deodorant toxic
Deodorant is a necessary part of life but it also contains ingredients that can be toxic to your skin. CandyBoxImages/istock/Thinkstock

In the first two articles of this series, I talked about chemicals you might want to avoid in your soap, shampoo, lotion, and makeup. In this article, I’ll focus on deodorants and antiperspirants. These products are cocktails of many different chemicals, including several I’ve already covered, such as parabens, phthalates, and triclosan. But the most concerning (and most researched) ingredient in deodorant is aluminum, which is what I’ll focus on here.

Aluminum is the active ingredient in most antiperspirants, and it functions by forming a precipitate that physically blocks sweat glands. (1)

Much has been made of the potential link between aluminum and breast cancer, although the limited epidemiological evidence that exists on breast cancer and use of antiperspirants is equivocal. One study found that people with breast cancer who use more antiperspirants were diagnosed at an earlier age, while another study found no relationship between antiperspirant use and breast cancer. (2)

Can Aluminum in Deodorant Be Absorbed?

Before we consider the health effects of aluminum in deodorant, we need to know whether it can even be absorbed through the skin. There isn’t consensus on this point, but most evidence indicates that it can be. One 2001 study found that aluminum from a single application of antiperspirant was absorbed, but only to a small extent, especially relative to the amount of aluminum absorbed in the gut from food. (3)

However, a case study of a woman who had used an aluminum-containing antiperspirant for 4 years had toxic blood levels of aluminum, which resolved 8 months after discontinuing use of the antiperspirant. (4) Her symptoms of severe bone pain and fatigue also ceased.

Is there aluminum in your deodorant? Here’s why you should check:

A more recent study using an in vitro model shows that aluminum can be absorbed through human skin, and that stripped skin (such as freshly-shaved underarm skin) is significantly more permeable to aluminum than intact skin. (5) Aluminum is also regularly detected in both normal and cancerous breast tissue. (6) This suggests that aluminum indeed can be absorbed by the skin as well as into the breast tissue.

Can Aluminum Contribute to Breast Cancer?

What about the link with breast cancer? We know that estrogen plays a key role in the development of breast cancer, and one study demonstrated that aluminum can interact with estrogen receptors on human breast cancer cells. (7) Additional preliminary research indicates that aluminum might promote breast cancer growth in other ways as well, though more research is needed before any conclusions can be drawn. (8,9)

Human mammary epithelial cells grown in media with aluminum concentrations around 100-300µm (which is around 100,000 times lower than aluminum concentrations in antiperspirants, and comparable to aluminum concentrations found in breast tissue), resulted in DNA double strand breaks and loss of contact inhibition, two occurrences that often precede cancer. (10) Aluminum might also contribute to oxidative damage in breast tissue and increase breast cancer cells’ invasive and migratory tendencies. (11)

There is also speculation that the blockage of sweat glands caused by aluminum-based antiperspirants could lead to the dermal absorption of abnormal levels of sex hormones and pheromones, which could contribute to cancer development. (12)

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease

We can’t discuss the potential health dangers of aluminum without mentioning Alzheimer’s disease. Like breast cancer, the link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s has been a popular topic in the media. But does this link have merit?

A review conducted in 2011 says “yes.” (13) The author points to evidence that aluminum tends to accumulate in brain tissue and is capable of producing Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, and that only small amounts of aluminum are necessary to have a neurotoxic effect. If aluminum from deodorant does indeed make it into systemic circulation, this evidence indicates that it could accumulate in brain tissue over time and possibly contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

Nontoxic Alternatives to Deodorant

Conventional deodorant isn’t always the easiest thing to replace, but at the very least, try to find a brand that doesn’t contain aluminum. This means avoiding anything that is an “antiperspirant.” For completely non-toxic deodorants that don’t contain aluminum, parabens, or any other questionable chemicals, you can try Primal Pit Paste or Primal Life Organics.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous (or want to save some money), you can try one of the many recipes online for homemade deodorant. The most popular formulation is based on baking soda, like this recipe from Mommypotamus. Other recipes use diatomaceous earth, bentonite clay, or magnesium oil as the active ingredient, and some people find that simply applying magnesium oil as deodorant eliminates odor. (Plus, you get an extra dose of magnesium – something you actually want your skin to absorb!) Wellness Mama also suggests that using bentonite clay to “detox” your armpits can reduce odor and make deodorant less necessary.

“Crystal” deodorants are another popular choice, although I have mixed feelings about them. These deodorant stones are made of alum, which is a compound made up of aluminum sulfate bonded to either potassium or ammonium (plus a bunch of water molecules). On the one hand, this compound is larger than the aluminum compounds found in conventional deodorant, and is therefore unlikely to be absorbed through the skin, but I haven’t been able to find any actual data on dermal absorption of alum. So while crystal deodorants are a better choice than conventional deodorants, you might be better off forgoing aluminum altogether and trying a baking soda or clay-based deodorant.

138 Comments

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  1. Chris, you should take a look at Beauty Counter. They provide a full line of safe skincare products and I’m sure would love to work with you, as I know you do endorse affiliate programs. They’ve got some talented people backing them! I’d love to hear what you think after researching their products. This is not an affiliate link. http://www.beautycounter.com/

  2. I find that splashing on some isopropyl alcohol on and letting it dry before applying my ‘natural’ deodorant is the difference b/w it working all day or quitting on my half way though. Works for me. I’m done with Secret and it’s toxic ingredients. I discovered that secret seemed to sort of get into my breast tissue while breastfeeding (I’m assuming it was the aluminum). I was constantly fighting blocked ducts until I switched nature’s gate brand deodorant. I wish I had known sooner but I’m glad I know now!

    • Isopropyl alcohol passes through your skin and has been associated with cancer. Perhaps ethanol would be a better choice?

  3. I get the Newsletter from Peoplespharmacy.com. They sell a roll-on using milk of magnesia.

    Personally, I have been using just use regular MOM and a finger to apply. Fast and easy.

    I quit using an antiperspirant a few years ago. I will not wait for the final results of what aluminum is doing to our bodies.

  4. I stopped using commercial deodorants long ago… I have used Primal pit paste and it is AWESOME! As a female, I shave under my arms and you can use this right after without the burn and it actually works.

    Recently I forgot to order some and made my own using equal parts coconut oil, cornstarch and baking soda, and it works better than anything else (although it stings if you just shaved). It lasts over 24 hours and is cheap and easy to make. I also added a few drops of lavender essential oil.

  5. Primal Life Organics “Stick Up” (aka “Pit Stick”) works really well! I also like Lavanila’s line of deodorants. Great scents! And neither one makes a mess on your clothes like drugstore antiperspirants do.

  6. For the past few years my husband and I have used a homemade paste of (rough measurements for a batch):
    5 TBS coconut oil
    1 TBS cornstarch
    1 TBS baking soda

    I usually use more than 1 TBS of each cornstarch and baking soda because I like it to be more solid/crumbly than creamy.

    It doesn’t take much under each arm to last all day long. The only downside I’ve found is that it can create an underarm “shadow”. I think it’s just built up oil. A couple of times a month I easily remove the shadow with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol or apple cider vinegar.

    • I make a similar recipe, but lately have added 1 tsp of ACV which seems to have kicked it up a gear in its effectiveness. I also add a few drops of essential oil. I wouldn’t go back to conventional deoderant now for anything.

    • With this recipe I would think it necessary to buy organic cornstarch that would not be GMO and contain Roundup and other toxins.

  7. While I know it’s bad to use a deodorant with aluminum in it, it’s hard for me to make the switch to natural because I need an antiperspirant. I’m someone who sweats more than the average person (even just sitting I’ll be sweating under my armpits) and I don’t want to keep ruining my clothes with those stains.

    Is there any natural alternative to antiperspirants or is it solely for deodorant? I’ve known for a while that the aluminum in it is bad but I’m at a loss for what to do because I really don’t want to sweat so much. The only one that works for me right now is Degree clinical protection.

    Suggestions welcome!

    • Poona, I have a list of some recommendations. Go to www. Care2/greenliving/6-alternatives-to-toxic-deodorant.html
      The deodorant you are using has very toxic ingredients-petroleum based chemicals, fragrance chemicals, and BHT (possible human carcinogen) GMO corn – Hope the link above helps. We use Crystal. There’s some concern because it still has alum. in it, but due to particle size, it may be safe(r)? Good luck.

    • Have you looked into why you sweat more than average? I had the same problem, and ramping up my iodine intake really helped (kelp 2x a week). I think many people’s iodine intake is a bit low, so it could be worth a shot.

  8. There are two products out there for the ladies that I can’t recommend highly enough. 1. Meow Meow Tweet baking-soda free deodorant cream (for anyone with a sensitivity to baking soda). 2. Nudy Patooty undershirts for women. These sit virtually invisibly under any top and help you make that adjustment from anti-perspirant to deodorant since they provide a barrier between your skin and your shirt or blouse.

  9. My father in law uses a stainless steel roller called De Odor Works. He swears by it and I have never noticed him smelling. I am thinking of giving it a try as I have yet to find an alternative that didn’t make me sweat or stink more.

  10. I have been using Primal Pit Paste for over a year and I love it! I live in AZ and I am quite a sweater. I use a combination of their light and regular paste, because I have found I am a little sensitive to the baking soda. While transitioning I used a little wipe of apple cider vinegar before applying to cut the bacteria….I was a bit smelly. Only took a couple of weeks and now I don’t need it. Cant say enough good things about it!

  11. Thanks Chris for spreading the word about skincare products and the harm they cause our bodies if they contain chemicals! It’s a habit to use the same skincare product every day without even glancing at the ingredient list!

    Deodorant is one of the first products I suggest people change to chemical free- especially ditching the antiperspirants! One of the other products I always suggest switching to chemical free is toothpaste. It’s loaded with chemicals that harm the body AND it does nothing to strengthen the teeth! I just hosted a ! free webinar on how to remineralize the teeth back to health: http://www.primallifeorganics.com/collections/dirty-mouth/products/dirty-mouth-primal-toohpowder

    Readers, enjoy 20% off your order at Primal Life Organics with coupon code KRESSER15.

    Primal Life Organics… Because You’re A Natural Wonder!

  12. I tried using plain ole’ baking soda-dusting on my underarms….AMAZING. No stink. No stain. Works great! Who knew?

  13. Alvera works well – I used it for years. I recently found out that it contains Alcloxa, an aluminum compound. Specifically, Aluminum Chlorhydroxy Allantoinate. Not impressed.

  14. I tried everything, literally. Cheap, expensive, most brands in Whole Foods, products I found online researching and nothing worked, my Holistic Dr. recommended a deodorant from herbal allies.com and I don’t stink anymore. This deodorant it’s made by a professional herbalist, she creams and remedies, essential oils and tinctures. The deodorant is not listed you you might need to call her to order, her name is Julia Gurlitz and the # is: 510.524.2482. You can be sweating for ours and I promise you won’t stink and it is safe, she uses only organic and non toxic ingredients. I wouldn’t use anything else.

  15. I’ve been using Aubrey Men’s Stock Deodorant for years. (I’m a woman, but no one seems to find the smell particularly manly.) I bought some Green Beaver Tea Tree Deodorant Spray to try it. It doesn’t last as long as the Aubrey deodorant, so I wear it on weekends.

    Homemade coconut oil and baking soda-based deodorant works pretty well on me, but I often want the convenience of a spray.

    I’ve been off antipersperant for about 10 years. I must have tried a dozen natural deodorants before I found one that worked for me. Deodorant crystals don’t work at all on me.

  16. I’ve been using “Kiss My Face” deodorants, which are aluminum free, ever since my blood and hair testing showed high levels of aluminum. The “Kiss my face” products say they are aluminum free. Any problematic ingredients in these products?