Most studies that raise concerns came from the ’60s. Here’s what we know now (and what we still don’t).
https://www.huffpost.com-Malte Mueller via Getty Images
You’re likely familiar with the routine: You dry off after a shower and apply a layer of deodorant to your underarms, or perhaps you use an antiperspirant, or a combination of both.
There’s actually a key difference between the two, with one being much more controversial than the other.
“Antiperspirant is a skin care product that controls sweat and consists of aluminum salts,” explained Dr. Janice Johnston, the chief medical officer at Redirect Health. “Deodorant is a cosmetic product that controls and reduces body odor by minimizing bacterial growth from body parts, especially the armpits.”
Simply put, antiperspirants stop sweat and deodorants improve your overall smell. Many underarm products will contain both. But some people may prefer to stay away from products containing antiperspirants.
Why? The safety of antiperspirants has been controversial for almost 60 years.
“Many worry that the aluminum found in antiperspirant can be linked to Alzheimer’s due to a few studies conducted in the ’60s and ’70s, as well as pose a risk for breast cancer due to the proximity of the armpits to your lymph nodes and breasts,” Johnston said.
While aluminum has been found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease, scientists are still unclear whether this is from exposure to too much aluminum or a result of the disease.
All of us are exposed to aluminum daily ― it’s found naturally in the soil and water, and can be found in food. Using an antiperspirant would not lead to excessive aluminum exposure ― you’d need something like a job as an aluminum welder for that.
What is clear is that recent studies agree there is no link between Alzheimer’s disease and antiperspirant use. Numerous studies also have explored whether antiperspirants cause breast cancer, and have failed to find a connection.
Another concern about antiperspirants stems from the fact that they literally clog your pores to reduce sweat. Some people say this means toxins are staying in your body. But that isn’t true.
“The body excretes harmful toxins and chemicals by the filtration system in the kidneys and the liver, not by sweat glands,” said Michelle Henry, a New York-based dermatologist.
That being said, you don’t have to sweat about breast cancer, toxin buildup or Alzheimer’s disease when you roll on your antiperspirant. However, like any skin care product, there is the possibility of allergies, which may not be attributed to the antiperspirant itself.
“Allergies to the product may and do develop, which may be due to different offending ingredients such as fragrance, lanolin, vitamin E or others,“ explained Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, double-board certified facial plastic surgeon and founder of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa. “If this becomes the case, one should stop using the product in question and ask a health professional for advice.”
Natural ways to cut back on your body odor
Although antiperspirants are safe, some may prefer to go with a more natural method and leave unnecessary chemicals and ingredients out of their routine. Or, perhaps you just want more ideas to cut back on bothersome sweat.
Here are experts’ suggestions for alternates to antiperspirants:
Shaving or waxing
Shaving underarm hair is commonplace for many women, but removing that hair also serves a secondary purpose: It cuts down on sweat. “The hair under your arms retains moisture and can make sweating much worse,” Johnston said. “Staying on top of shaving your armpits can reduce the moisture buildup.”
Make your own deodorant
You can forego store-bought products by making your own deodorant at home with ingredients from your kitchen. Just mix baking soda and water into a paste, then apply it to your armpits.
You can also add lemon juice or witch hazel to the mixture. “Witch hazel can remove excess moisture from the skin while lemon juice can eliminate odor-causing bacteria,” Henry said.
Eat a healthy diet
The foods you eat actually contribute to how much you sweat.
“Processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods can all contribute to excess sweat under your arms,” Johnston explained. “However, drinking lots of water, and eating foods like bananas, vegetables and foods high in calcium, can all help reduce the sweat your body can produce.“