Antiperspirant Safety: Should You Sweat It?
What to know about the rumors about antiperspirants.
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.
Antiperspirants have no proven impact on the risk of diseases like breast cancer and Alzheimer's. "Breast cancer and Alzheimer's are two complicated diseases which are difficult to associate with one singular cause, such as antiperspirant/deodorant use," Paul Pestano, MS, research analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said in an e-mail interview.
So why do the rumors about antiperspirant use and disease persist?
"The Internet, by its very nature, is a great medium for recycling old issues over and over again," Bailey says. "And I think there is a tendency for some people to use these scare tactics to their own advantage."
"Part of the reason that the discussion about aluminum and Alzheimer's disease continues to be a topic is Alzheimer's is a devastating disease, and people want to know why their relative has this disease, and they want an easy answer," Snyder says.
She says there are no easy answers when it comes to Alzheimer's. The factors that may reduce your risk of getting the disease -- such as being physically active, eating a healthy diet, and staying mentally engaged -- don't involve antiperspirants. The same goes for reducing your cancer risk.
Even though the evidence doesn't support a connection between antiperspirants and diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's, if you're still worried about using them, Pestano advises reading the product labels and learning about the ingredients they contain.
If you'd prefer to go natural, you could try an aluminum-free antiperspirant alternative, or even rub items from your kitchen -- such as tea or lemon -- under your arms. Just be warned: The resulting aromas and wet spots could cause your friends to flee. "A lot of people may want to try things, but if they want to be dry, then they need to use an antiperspirant," Pariser says.