The stinky problem with antiperspirants

Deodorant – man’s greatest invention. I want you all to smell sweet and fresh at all times. But I do want you to be aware of the hidden dangers lurking inside your antiperspirant deodorant. Antiperspirant deodorant products often contain extremely toxic chemicals and heavy metals that can cause severe harm to the human nervous system. To rub such products under the arms is inviting the absorption of these harmful chemicals, which many believe will inevitably lead to cancer or neurological problems (such as Alzheimer’s disease).

But rest assured, there are plenty of safe and natural alternatives to keep you popular at work and home. Making an informed choice is the key to good living. 

truth about aluminium deoAntiperspirants use aluminium compounds — such as aluminum chloride, aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum zirconium (which aren’t natural) — that enter the sweat ducts and plug them closed so no sweat comes out. This means you end up with little aluminium plugs all throughout your underarm pores and very close to breast tissue.

Not only does this block one of your body’s routes for detoxification (releasing toxins via your underarm sweat), but it raises concerns about where these metals are going once you apply them.

A study at Keele University found aluminium salts can get into breast tissue. Worryingly, these salts are more concentrated in the areas of the breast where cancer is more likely to develop – on the side and towards the armpit. This study follows on from one done in 2005 at the University of Reading, which showed aluminium salts can behave like oestrogen in the body. This study also found that the preservative parabens used in these products has also been found in breast cancers.

Research, including this study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, has shown that the aluminum is not only absorbed by your body, but is deposited in your breast tissue and even can be found in nipple aspirate fluid a fluid present in the breast duct tree that mirrors the microenvironment in your breast. Researchers determined that the mean level of aluminum in nipple aspirate fluid was significantly higher in breast cancer-affected women compared to healthy women, which may suggest a role for raised levels of aluminum as a biomarker for identification of women at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Because aluminium is the third most common element in Earth’s crust, it is very difficult for scientists to definitively determine the link between it and cancer. Because aluminium is so abundant, through food ingestion (food additive), injection (as a vaccine adjuvant) and topical application (antiperspirant) and other forms of aluminum intake, it may be contributing to the increased cancer epidemic in the exposed population on the planet today.

Though a direct link with cancer has not been established, my view on deodorants is based on the available evidence and informed common sense. We are surrounded by carcinogens and we can handle a certain amount, so the sensible thing is not to add to your exposure unnecessarily.

Plus there’s a host of other nasty chemicals hiding in your antiperspirant


Propylene Glycol

Ingredients such as propylene glycol and disodium EDTA help other ingredients travel deeper into the skin, making the antiperspirant more effective. While penetration enhancers tend not to be toxic, they increase your exposure to the other chemicals in the product.


Parabens are similar to oestrogen, the human hormone that can increase the risk of breast cancer at high levels. One of estrogen’s roles in the body is to promote the growth of breast tissue, so an excess might lead to cancerous overgrowth.

Breast cancer is high on the list of concerns, not only because of the underarm’s close proximity to breast tissue but because several common ingredients in deodorants are estrogenic compounds. Parabens are often identified with a prefix such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben or benzylparaben. They’re estrogenic and may act as hormone disruptors in the body. Estrogenic compounds have the ability to trigger some of the same effects as the body’s own hormone estrogen.

A study in 2003 in the “European Journal of Cancer” found the age of diagnosis of 437 breast cancer survivors was significantly earlier in women who shaved and used deodorants, the presumption being that nicks in the skin from shaving procured higher exposure. The diagnosis was even earlier in people who began these habits before the age of 16.


Some deodorants will also contain triclosan. Triclosan is a common antibacterial ingredient that, when combined with water, will form chloroform, a probable carcinogen. You will also find it in antibacterial hand washes and acne face washes.


If you’re using a spray-on, consider what you’re inhaling as well as the propellant itself. Aerosol antiperspirants are designed to work via a thin film which is propelled onto the skin. To create this film, products contain low, medium and high pressure propellants which produce a spray to reach the skin. These propellants are commonly butane, isobutane and propane.

And who knows what else

You may also recognise other ingredients from my previous post, including fragrance.

And if you need more reasons to avoid antiperspirants, consider its environmental impact

Aluminium is a non renewable resource. Like all non-renewable metals, we should be careful about their use. If renewable alternatives to the product exist, we should use them instead.

Consider how aluminum is produced. The raw product is bauxite, which is mined from the ground then transformed to aluminium in two energy-intensive and quite toxic process. First bauxite is refined into alumina using caustic and high heat, then alumina is transformed in a smelter to aluminum. The process to remove bauxite from earth than transform it into aluminium has a considerable environmental footprint.

Rather than waste such resources on beauty products that may have a detrimental impact on our health, there are dozens of effective and safe alternatives we can use. Let’s save our aluminium resources for products we really need.

There are so many safe alternatives to antiperspirant deodorants

Advertising will tell you that you will stink and be an unattractive mess if you give up the Rexona. Rest assured, this is not true. There are hundreds of natural alternatives that are effective in keeping unpleasant smells at bay.

Check out your local health food shop or for dozens of effective alternatives. See my post on some of my favourites and my recent post on Mukti Roll On Deodorant.

If you’re a little braver try making your own. There’s plenty of recipes online to easily whip up your own, here’s one from me.

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