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When you’re looking at deodorants and antiperspirants, you might notice that the packaging spends as much space talking about what a product doesn’t have as what it does: paraben-free, aluminum-free, cruelty-free, artificial fragrance-free, dye-free, phthalate-free, and so on. This is all well and good, but let’s break down what aluminum does to merit being in a body odor product in the first place.
Though you might be imagining infinitesimal flecks of tin foil melted into your antiperspirant, that isn’t the form of aluminum used in antiperspirant sticks. It’s actually aluminum salt. Aluminum salts plug pores, so you don’t sweat as much. Because of this, the FDA classifies it as an over-the-counter drug.
You can actually read all of the FDA guidelines on antiperspirant requirements on their website. There are also websites likes SweatHelp.org run by the International Hyperhidrosis Society that works as a reputable resource on the very subject of sweating, including links to reputable research databases and medical associations that dedicate themselves to the subject.
There is a pervasive myth that antiperspirant is more likely to cause cancer than deodorant, but this has since been categorically debunked. Straight from the American Cancer Society: “There are no strong epidemiologic studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim.”
Another ingredient often villainized in product packaging is the paraben, which is a preservative. For starters, it isn’t in most antiperspirants, according to the USDA, but even if it were, it’s not linked to lifelong illnesses.
Studies examining aluminum absorption in the body noted that the absorption of aluminum from antiperspirants reached only 0.012% — it’s less than the amount you’d be absorbing from food containing aluminum (spinach, potatoes, tea) at the same time. Breast cancer tissue doesn’t contain more aluminum than healthy breast tissue either.
The connection between the degenerative brain disease Alzheimer’s and aluminum came about during the 1960s when aluminum was identified as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. But the studies examining this supposed link were unreliable and later debunked. According to the Alzheimer’s Association: “Studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.”
If your main concerns are exposure to an ingredient that can lead to serious diseases like the above — you’ll be OK. Limiting your exposure to aluminum by choosing an aluminum-free deodorant doesn’t make a negligible difference in your consumption of it in the first place since it is such an insignificant amount absorbed topically (<.01% of the product applied), and you consume more of it eating things like potatoes and spinach. Marijuana and tobacco also contain aluminum, for example, so cutting those out would yield a slightly more significant change to your intake, and yield more healthy results overall in general. As for your antiperspirant use? Don’t sweat it.