The Great Antiperspirant Controversy
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) (Inaccurately and commonly attributed to Mark Twain)
Imagine what Mark Twain, or Mr. Spurgeon, might think of the way that truth (and fiction) travel at the speed of light today with the advent of the internet, email, Facebook and other forms of communication. Although technology has changed, the problem remains the same. Misinformation travels quickly and the truth is usually playing catchup.
Antiperspirant or Deodorant or Au Natural?
So we attempt to mask the smell, stop the smell or stop the perspiration. Before we get to the Great Antiperspirant Controversy, let’s clarify some definitions.
- Deodorant: Deodorant prevents unwanted odor. It “de” odors. It does not prevent sweat. Most deodorants contain ingredients that are recognizable such as aloe vera leaf juice, witch hazel water, glyceryl laurate and fir needle oil.
- Antiperspirant: Antiperspirants are designed to prevent our body from producing sweat by blocking sweat from reaching the skin. Most aantiperspirants contain aluminum as the active ingredient (the sweat stopper) and also may contain chemicals such as cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone or tribeheninound.
- Au Natural: Some people prefer using nothing other than soap and water, or using totally natural ingredients. There are DIY deodorant recipes using ingredients such as shea butter and coconut oil. Those who use homemade deodorants claim that they tend to sweat less as time progresses.
Antiperspirants and Disease
Much like the belief that vaccinations cause autism (20 years of research has failed to find a link), there is a persistent belief that antiperspirants, or the active ingredient in antiperspirants, causes cancer or is harmful in other ways. Let’s break that down.
- Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer. “There is no convincing evidence that antiperspirant or deodorant use increases cancer risk,” said Ted S. Gansler, MD, MBA, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society. Likewise, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of the National Institutes of Health, is not aware of any conclusive evidence linking antiperspirants or deodorants to breast cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food, cosmetics, medicines, and medical devices, agrees. Given the percentage of women who develop breast cancer, and the number of women who also use antiperspirants close to the breast tissue, it may feel natural to make the link. The link is not, however, supported by science.
- Antiperspirants and Alzheimer’s. “There was a lot of research that looked at the link between Alzheimer’s and aluminum, and there hasn’t been any definitive evidence to suggest there is a link,” says Heather M. Snyder, PhD, senior associate director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. The rumor started back in the 1960s when it was discovered that Alzheimer’s patients had high concentrations of aluminum in their brains. However, aluminum salts do not work as antiperspirants by being absorbed in the body. They work by forming a chemical reaction with the water in the sweat to form a physical plug which is deposited in the sweat duct, producing a blockage in the areas to which it has been applied. So although it would be great to find a cure, or cause, for Alzheimer’s, it appears that antiperspirants are not the culprit.
- Antiperspirants and Kidney Disease. This is another false connection that seemed to start many years ago, when dialysis patients were given a drug called aluminum hydroxide to help control high phosphorus levels in their blood. For a while, the FDA required antiperspirant labels to carry a warning that reads, “Ask a doctor before use if you have kidney disease.” Leslie Spry, MD, FACP, spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation said that it’s almost impossible to absorb enough aluminum through the skin to harm the kidneys. “Unless you eat your stick or spray it into your mouth, your body can’t absorb that much aluminum,” says Spry.
- Antiperspirants and Parabens. Some antiperspirants contain parabens. A 2004 study found a high concentration of parabens in breast cancer tumors, but the study didn’t determine whether the parabens caused the cancer, or whether the parabens came from antiperspirants. Most antiperspirants no longer carry parabens so this may be a moot point.
In short, there is no real scientific evidence that aluminum or any of the other ingredients in antiperspirants pose any threat to human health.