Even the most skincare-savvy individuals would love to get insider intel from a dermatologist. But sometimes, it’s hard to ask a doctor your most burning questions — maybe you believe your concern is too trivial, or you’re embarrassed to get the answer in a face-to-face appointment. That’s why SpotlyteTM; brings you Ask a DermTM;, a regular column where we have professionals provide the answers to your questions, no matter how big or how small. In this installment of Ask a Derm, Dr. Corey Hartman breaks down the dangers — if any — of using aluminum-based deodorants.
As beauty shoppers get more educated about the ingredients in their products, they’re also faced with a serious question: are the formulas I love safe? One of the most popular items up for debate is aluminum-based deodorant, with many believing it could cause breast cancer or Alzheimer’s. The confusion surrounding this has caused a huge segment of the population to make the switch to natural deodorants, though if you’re a newer user of a natural formula, you know it comes with a steep learning curve.
Those aluminum-based formulas are the only kind that can actually reduce sweating, and if your sweat glands err on the side of overactive, you might find natural deodorants aren’t a satisfactory solution. (Their standard function of the natural ones is to simply mask the scent of B.O.) To break down whether or not traditional, aluminum-based antiperspirants are inherently problematic, we enlisted the expertise of dermatologist Dr. Corey Hartman, Medical Director and Founder of the Skin Wellness Center of AlabamaTM;.
“Aluminum-based deodorants get a bad rap, but there has been no hard science to prove that aluminum deodorants or antiperspirants contribute to breast cancer or Alzheimer's — the two deadly diseases they’ve been linked to most frequently,” Dr. Hartman says. “The science that people try to link [deodorant use] to Alzheimer’s can never be duplicated, which is a benchmark in scientific research.”
Because the connection between antiperspirant and these illnesses hasn’t successfully been replicated in formal studies, the direct link to breast cancer or Alzheimer’s can’t be confirmed one way or another. Plus, Dr. Hartman notes that the aluminum in deodorant isn’t absorbed into your body in a way that would get into your bloodstream (as it’s applied topically) and affect your breast tissue. Sure, you could nick yourself with your razor, but even the American Cancer Society® notes that your armpit is an unlikely way for a carcinogen to enter your bloodstream.
Furthermore, there are beliefs that aluminum can harm the liver, the organ responsible for detoxifying the body. This is also unproven: while large amounts of aluminum can impact the kidneys, Dr. Hartman states that the quantity of aluminum in deodorant isn’t concentrated enough to affect the liver trans-dermally (through the skin). In short: it’s highly unlikely that there’s enough aluminum in your deodorant to cause major issues.
However, that is not to say that general skin irritation isn’t a real possibility when it comes to aluminum-based formulas. Dr. Hartman notes that antiperspirants can be irritating and often results in itchy skin, a rash in areas where it is used and, in more extreme cases, contact dermatitis. At worst, high concentration of aluminum would be annoying for the skin on your armpits, but if it generally just makes you feel more comfortable to use an aluminum-free formula, that is also valid. “My mother is a breast cancer survivor, and my paternal grandfather died of Alzheimer’s, so she banned all of [those products] from our house when I was growing up,” explains Dr. Hartman. If you’d prefer not to use a product with aluminum, Hartman notes that there are now plenty of reputable, effective natural formulas to choose from. We’re particularly fond of Dove® Zero Aluminum Cucumber and Green Tea Deodorant, $6, which offers 24 hours of odor protection. But remember, don’t let rumors hold you back from using a product you enjoy. Says Hartman, “If it makes you feel more comfortable to find a deodorant that doesn’t have an antiperspirant component that can help to prevent odor when you do sweat, then more power to you, but you should base that on personal feelings instead of saying that there is science to back it up.”
In short, your Secret® (or whichever deodorant you’ve been using since high school) is safe.
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