Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Analyzing Aluminum in Antiperspirants: Hazard or Hoax?

August 25th, 2009 · 41 Comments · Big Changes, Food for Thought

analalum1My husband is not a violent man at all, but he may just kill me if I tell the world I haven’t worn deodorant since last Christmas.  So I won’t tell you that.  I like sleeping in my bed and don’t want to make up the couch each night.  So I’m not going to tell you I haven’t worn deodorant for eight months. That would be silly.  Let’s just talk about what I might do if I decided that aluminum is a big risk on my underarms and I wanted to take a baby step away from antiperspirant.  Just hypothetical, mind you.  :)

I had a conversation with a friend in December, right around the time I was reading voraciously on nutrition and eco-considerations (Living Green by Greg Horn is great).  Whenever the same information comes from a few different sources, I tend to feel convicted that perhaps I should do something about it.  I don’t like to be overwhelmed or buy new ingredients for something that might not work, though, and I hate spending more money on natural products.  I wasn’t about to go buy some $5 deodorant that could make me stink and wish I had my five bucks back.  You know?

So I thought:  What is a baby step that I could take without a big commitment? I have a Parmesan cheese container of baking soda under my sink for cleaning the counter and stove and pot scouring, and I decided I would realized I could take it into the bathroom and apply it to my underarms after my shower.  It took would take about 30 seconds to make this change in my life if I was going to go without antiperspirant.

Why did might I bother avoiding antiperspirant?  I didn’t know this until December, but antiperspirants (not deodorants) have aluminum as an active ingredient.  Aluminum has been pegged as a contributor to Alzheimer’s Disease, and there’s a chance it has an impact on breast cancer as well.  (See this post for aluminum factoids.)  Because antiperspirant goes on skin that has often just been shaven, it’s going to be absorbed even more quickly than other products you put on your skin.  Which, consequently, have as great an impact on your system as what you put in your mouth.  Your skin is your largest organ, and one of its jobs is to absorb.

This little experiment in Greg Horn’s Living Green proves my point:  rub a cut clove of garlic on the sole of your foot.  Within 15 minutes, you’ll taste garlic in your mouth. !!!  How cool is that?

So Why Avoid Antiperspirant?

The simple fact that my skin absorbs what I put on it is one reason to be cognizant and careful about any personal product, but antiperspirant has a few more.

  1. Aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s.
  2. Aluminum may impact breast cancer risks.
  3. Parabens in conventional deodorant are increasingly being linked to cancer and other diseases.
  4. Is blocking my sweat glands a good idea?

There’s an awful lot of controversy (seems to be a theme around here) about the links between aluminum in antiperspirants and breast cancer.  An email went around a while back with a lot of false information about how the aluminum sends natural body toxins right into the lymph nodes and becomes a tumor.  That’s been discredited, but it is true that aluminum in an antiperspirant serves to block the sweat glands and stop us from sweating. Deodorant simply masks the odor and attempts to kill odor-causing bacteria.  Blocking sweat glands sounds a little more serious to me, but maybe I’m just falling for the propaganda on the “natural health” websites.

My mother tells me that in her youth (before antiperspirants were on the market, even though she’s not that old), everyone was just used to the feel of sweat.  Now we’ve become accustomed to dryness, and sweating in the armpits seems like a problem.  Isn’t sweat a bodily function that serves a purpose? I tend to believe that God had reasons for what He gave us, even if it feels a bit unpleasant.

Another common ingredient in antiperspirants, along with volumes of other personal products on the market today, is parabens.  They’ve been in the spotlight lately, proof of which is the number of bottles in your local pharmacy that now proudly proclaim “No parabens!”  Parabens are linked to…of course…cancer – another reason to move away from conventional antiperspirants.

The National Cancer Institute and the FDA have not found any evidence or research data to prove that ingredients in antiperspirants cause cancer.  But they haven’t proven otherwise, either. This CBS News/WebMD story says up to one quarter of the volume of the antiperspirant is aluminum salts (!!!), and even though there’s little evidence to link them to cancer, aluminum does mimic estrogen.  That’s never a good thing.  And even if antiperspirants aren’t going to give me breast cancer, I still have a concern about aluminum’s impact on my chances of getting Alzheimer’s Disease.

When there’s a question about the safety of something, especially when that something is relatively new in the scope of human history, AND especially when the alternative is an easy, non-commital, low-cost choice, I’m going to err on the side of caution and try it out.  Maybe by the end of the week my husband will soften up and let me tell you about how I haven’t been wearing antiperspirant since December some choices you have for baby steps away from antiperspirant.  Come back and see!  :)

You can view my Baby Steps Story to Homemade Deodorant here.

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

UPDATE: Another great expose on the dangers of antiperspirant

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If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.

Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Analyzing Aluminum in August:

Real Food on your armpits?  (Hint: There’s coconut oil on mine.) See how normal people eat Real Food at Cheeseslave this week.

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41 Comments so far ↓

  • Pam

    I have tried to go that route numerous times. I just can’t seem to swing it. I have made several at-home versions of natural deoderant. They all tend to break my pits out in a painful rash. I’ve tried just cornstarch also. Nothing seems to keep the smell at bay. I’m just not that willing to be stinky. Hopefully, other women won’t have that problem, though.

  • steadymom

    I’d love to know HOW you apply the baking soda, just shake into your hand and put on – isn’t that messy? Do you just have to apply once a day? Do you feel sticky throughout the day, but don’t notice the smell?

    I’m also on the lookout for a natural deoderant, but the store ones I’ve tried haven’t been very effective.

    Jamie

    Katie Reply:

    Aha…just what I was hoping to do for you with this post – whet your whistle for Friday’s post, with all the “how-tos” and your questions answered! :) Can you wait that long?

  • Sarah

    I’ll be interested in seeing your follow-up post on this! I haven’t been pleased with the aluminum-free, natural deodorants I’ve tried . . . not even in the middle of winter! :)

    Though I have liked the ones offered by Lush . . . but I don’t live near one of those anymore, unfortunately.

    Best,
    Sarah

  • Kristie

    I tried Tom’s and other natural commercial versions, but they just didn’t last until the end of the day. I tried making a coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch version about a month or so ago, and it works like a champ! I still sweat of course, but there’s no smell and no residue on my clothes when they come out of the wash. I feel good about making that baby step. Thanks for addressing it here on your blog! Here’s a link to the recipe for the one I made (I omitted the oils simply because I didn’t have any): http://www.instructables.com/id/Deodorant/

  • Staci

    So you didn’t go into too much detail of what you “didn’t” do with the baking soda in the shower. Did you just wash with it, or leave some on, and what is baking soda supposed to do? Just stop the stink? or kill bacteria?

    Katie Reply:

    Answers coming, I promise! (And the baking soda doesn’t come into the shower, actually.) More on Friday!!

  • Lisa RM

    Well, I’ve just gone au’naturale for the past oh, five years now? Husband has never complained, and I’ve never had a complaint to my face, or heard of one behind my back. Husband has actually complimented me a couple of times, saying the smell of “just me” is really quite pleasant (in a- ahem- husbandly sort of way).

    Katie Reply:

    Awwww…good husband. I have a friend for whom that system works well, too. I don’t know if it’s for me!

  • Jen

    When my husband and I went NT 5 years ago, I noticed a lack of b.o. on the weekends, when I would forgo the deodorant. I didn’t pay too much attention to it, as I was still working full time–the thought of going into the office without deodorant was pretty abhorrent to me! However, after the birth of my daughter 4 years ago, when I made the decision to stay home with her, I gave up the Secret altogether, and haven’t looked back since. I truly believe the NT diet has done away with the stinkyness–makes sense, doesn’t it? Also, I agree that clogging your sweat glands can’t be good for you! They are there for a reason….oh and one more thing: I too have never had anyone complain about smelling me…

    LOL, I didn’t mean to write a book! Katie, thanks for a great post.

    Katie Reply:

    If anyone is long-winded, Jen, you’re in good company with me! ;) That’s a REALLY interesting note about the diet changing the B.O. I may just have to mention it in Friday’s post. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Alyss

    Great post! Last march I did one on my experiment with coconut oil deodorant. I still use it and still love it! Here’s the post:

    http://realfoodmyway.blogspot.com/2009/03/coconut-oil-killed-my-stink.html

  • tina

    Doesn’t baking soda contain aluminum?

    Katie Reply:

    No, but you’re close. Baking POWDER contains aluminum, but there are other options. Next week’s Monday Mission will actually cover that in full! Great question – Katie

  • Carrie

    Tom’s of Maine has worked pretty well for me, although I must admit in the summer in humid DC I can smell myself by the end of the day sometimes. Blame Tom, or blame me trying to walk to the store more and keep the A/C down… but the aluminum scares me more than a bit of smell, and thankfully my husband hasn’t commented yet!

  • Millie

    Excellent post. I can’t wait until Friday!

  • tina

    Oh, that’s good to know. I just starting using a mixture of baking soda and coocnut oil to brush my teeth. I was going to see if there was a baking soda without aluminum on my next visit to the health store. But now I don’t have to.

  • Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    Cute post and great reminder, thanks, Katie!

    Kelly

  • Sarah W

    Does anyone else have a hard time finding *just* deodorant for women? I ONLY see antiperspirant/deodorant, except in the form of sprays… no roll on deodorants for women…. I get annoyed with antiperspirants b/c they build up on my clothes and it doesn’t ever wash out. DH feels the same way and always requests that I buy him deodorant only, which is easy to find in roll on form for men. I would lik a women’s roll on deodorant!! (especially one that I could buy with coupons!)

  • Rachel R.

    Unfortunately, it is societally unacceptable to stink. ;) And I have yet to find *anything* else that works. I’ve tried baking soda, coconut oil, and just about every variety of “natural” deodorant on the market. Within 30 minutes of sitting still on a chair in an air-conditioned house, I still stink. :(

  • tonya

    “The National Cancer Institute and the FDA have not found any evidence or research data to prove that ingredients in antiperspirants cause cancer. But they haven’t proven otherwise, either. ”

    this comment doesn’t sit well with my scientific mind. you do you prove something doesn’t cause something? you’re asking the impossible. if this is your philosophy, i don’t think that you could safely use any product.

    Katie Reply:

    Thanks for challenging my logic, Tonya. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the world of academia full time! You’re right, you might not be able to safely use any product. On the one hand, maybe that’s the point. A “product” is made by chemists and scientists. Maybe that’s NOT what I want. On the other hand, there ARE some studies that are pointing to a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s and aluminum and breast cancer. They may not be massive, thrice-replicated studies (yet), but they’re a cause for concern, a small red flag in the sea of products on the shelves. Because of that, not because it hasn’t been proven safe, I will question and seek alternatives.

    I hope that didn’t sound angry – I’m not at all! I like to have my thinking pushed. How’s the logic in the answer?

    Thanks!! :) Katie

    tonya Reply:

    it’s fine htat you feel that way, however, making a comment that while antiperspirant/deoderant hasn’t been linked to cancer but also hasn’t been ruled out as cancer causing/promoting seems to be “fear mongering” to me. I think your stance & decision would be more legitimate (truthful?) if you’d left out that second sentence.

    I’ll admit, I haven’t looked at your sources yet, but the Nat’l Cancer Institute lead me to this one (from my neighbors @ the Hutch):

    J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 Oct 16;94(20):1578-80. Links
    Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer.

    Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB.
    Program in Epidemiology, Division of Public Health Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 98109, USA. [email protected]

    The rumor that antiperspirant use causes breast cancer continues to circulate the Internet. Although unfounded, there have been no published epidemiologic studies to support or refute this claim. This population-based case- control study investigated a possible relationship between use of products applied for underarm perspiration and the risk for breast cancer in women aged 20-74 years. Case patients (n = 813) were diagnosed between November 1992 and March 1995; control subjects (n = 793) were identified by random digit dialing and were frequency-matched by 5-year age groups. Product use information was obtained during an in-person interview. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals were estimated by the use of conditional logistic regression. P values were determined with the Wald chi(2) test. All statistical tests were two-sided. The risk for breast cancer did not increase with any of the following activities: 1) antiperspirant (OR = 0.9; P =.23) or deodorant (OR = 1.2; P =.19) use; 2) product use among subjects who shaved with a blade razor; or 3) application of products within 1 hour of shaving (for antiperspirant, OR = 0.9 and P =.40; for deodorant, OR = 1.2 and P =.16). These findings do not support the hypothesis that antiperspirant use increases the risk for breast cancer.

    Katie Reply:

    Wow…thank you so much for taking the time to share this resource with us. The more I learn, the more I find out I need to learn!
    –Katie

  • tonya

    Bull Cancer. 2008 Sep;95(9):871-80. Links
    The use of deodorants/antiperspirants does not constitute a risk factor for breast cancer][Article in French

    Namer M, Luporsi E, Gligorov J, Lokiec F, Spielmann M.
    Centre Antoine-Lacassagne, Nice, France.

    Based on the observation of a high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant adjacent to the usual area of application of deodorants and/or antiperspirants, several scientific teams have advanced the hypothesis of a possible link between antiperspirants and breast cancer. The possibility of the involvement of parabens and aluminium salts, traditional components of a number of cosmetic products, has been advanced by the same teams. In order to ascertain whether this hypothesis could or could not be confirmed, a group of clinical experts in oncology was set up to search and analyse the literature data relating to the problem raised with the aim of answering three predefined questions: 1) does it exist experimental or biological arguments supporting a potential link between the use of deodorants/antiperspirants and breast cancer? 2) Does the use of deodorants/antiperspirants have any effect on the increase in the risk of breast cancer? 3) Could a causal relationship between the use of deodorants/antiperspirants and breast cancer be accepted? The scientific data were searched systematically in the PubMed database (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez) using standardised search equations. Fifty-nine studies resulting from the literature search were reviewed and nineteen articles with various methodologies were selected for in-depth analysis. In view of the fact that parabens are generally not present in deodorants/antiperspirants, the reflection group’s search related purely to the question of aluminium salts.

    Among these nineteen articles, many are methodologically unsound, do not answer to the questions posed or deal with the question of parabens and were therefore discarded by the reflection group. The expert group’s conclusion coincides with those of the French, European and American health authorities. After analysis of the available literature on the subject, no scientific evidence to support the hypothesis was identified and no validated hypothesis appears likely to open the way to interesting avenues of research.

  • Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    I don’t believe that it is “fear mongering” when Katie just makes us aware of the concerns with aluminum. It *has* been linked to certain things, and I’m grateful for her willingness to let people know that.

    Kelly

  • Rachel R.

    I also have to wonder how helpful such a study is (either way). If I’m understanding this correctly, they took women who were diagnosed with cancer over a several-year period, and asked them what their habits had been as regards antiperspirant, shaving, etc. But do you really think they got a solid control group of women who hadn’t used antiperspirant at all, even for a certain period of time before their diagnosis, much less their whole lives? How many American women are there who can say that, period?

    Again, I’m not saying that necessarily means that antiperspirant is dangerous, but I question the scientific validity of such a study to prove or disprove anything.

  • Anne at Catholic Mommy Brain

    THAT GARLIC EXAMPLE IS AMAZING.

    Katie Reply:

    Anne, I know…one of my friends actually had people doing it at her birthday dinner party! Ha!

  • Anne at Catholic Mommy Brain

    I just shared it at a dinner party tonight :)

  • crunchycon

    I’ve been using a variant of this for a while, and it’s worked well (I live in a warm, humid climate, though I work in an office environment — aside from my lunchtime walks, I’m not sweating buckets, so YMMV). One addition I’ve made is about 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil (you could also use tea tree oil). These have antibacterial properties, and bacteria is what causes underarm odor. It’s a backup for when the baking soda fails. Hope this helps!

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  • Teri

    This is such an important point and I am constantly amazed!

    I recently read that your sweat glands are VERY important in fact as you know they absorb but as you largest organ it also cleanses much like your internal o= organs.

    They counted the pored (with microscope) in one inch of skin and did the math. Some were hair follicles all about 1/3 in deep and end to end make up about 28 MILES!! Can you beleive that?

    I need to blog this myself lol but your digestive system only gets rid of 20-30 % of toxins so the rest goes out through the skin!

    How is that for foody thought? Ick!

    I must admit knowing that kept me awake for about the next 2 1/2 nights just pondering what that could mean…sleep deprivation was already present so let that take you where it may! I suppose if I slept well other nights it would not have been so bad lol

    Teri @ Sustainability: How sustainable can we be?

    PS I would love to read where you are going/went with this! Let me know?!
    .-= Teri´s last blog ..Fair time and crazy days - =-.

    Katie Reply:

    Teri,
    I am actually testing out a detox deodorant that I just received this week! Fits perfectly with what you quoted. I can’t wait to see what happens, and I’ll definitely blog about it when I am through. Right now, I just use the homemade deodorant linked to from this post, and it’s going okay. :) Katie

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  • Patricia

    I know this is way late but just a question. Why is it that we think the government will lie to us about the economy, or the 2 wars we are fighting (and why we got into them), about the environment, and almost everything else but——wait for it—-our health? They would never lie to us about health issues. That is an issue no one in government or with MD behind their name would even consider lying about. It’s too important! Those folks are above a bribe, looking the other way, or kickbacks! Anyone who thinks that is lying to themselves and has never really taken a good look at the human race! “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked” God says. “There is none that does good, not even one.” If you can’t eat it, don’t use it!

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  • Alyssa

    If the natural concoctions don’t work, there are some good, aluminum-free deodoarants out there. I use Lavilin and it works pretty well. I just apply it once or twice a week. No odor and no rashes or irritations. If you google Lavilin, you can easily find it online.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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