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Antiperspirant Safety: Should You Sweat It?

What to know about the rumors about antiperspirants.
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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.

As a result, the FDA requires antiperspirant labels to carry a warning that reads, "Ask a doctor before use if you have kidney disease." Yet this warning is only meant for people whose kidneys are functioning at 30% or less.

In reality, 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 nephrologist Leslie Spry, MD, FACP, spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation.

Other Antiperspirant Ingredients

An aluminum-based compound is the active ingredient in antiperspirants, and the one that's most often connected with antiperspirant worries. But what about the inactive ingredients? Do they pose any risk?

One common antiperspirant component -- a group of chemicals called parabens -- has been linked to breast cancer, but that link is questionable, at best. Although parabens have estrogen-like qualities, they are much weaker than the natural estrogens found in the body.

A 2004 study did find a high concentration of parabens in breast cancer tumors, but the study didn't determine whether the parabens actually caused breast cancer, or if those parabens came from antiperspirants. Pariser says cancer isn't an issue with parabens, although some people can have an allergic reaction to the preservative. Most antiperspirants/deodorants on the market today don't even contain parabens.

Antiperspirants: Should You Worry?

In short: No. There is no real scientific evidence that aluminum or any of the other ingredients in these products pose any threat to human health.

"These products can be used with high confidence of their safety. They've been used for many years, and there's no evidence that suggests a problem," says John Bailey, PhD, chief scientist with the Personal Care Products Council, the trade association that represents the cosmetic and personal care products industry.

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