The Battle of Deodorants: Natural vs. Aluminium?
Approximately 75% of the elements in the Periodic Table can be classified as metals. Examples of these metals include silver, gold, iron, copper, zinc, and aluminium. Did you know that aluminium is one of the ingredients found in mainstream deodorants? A smaller number of deodorants have natural ingredients in them and are aluminium-free. There’s an ongoing battle between this two, which side of the battlefield are you on?
Why is aluminium used in most mainstream deodorants?
Antacids, kitchenware, vaccines, food additives, deodorants, and that aluminium foil you seem to wrap everything with. What do they all have in common? The answer is aluminium. So, why use aluminium in deodorants? Before we answer this question, let’s first differentiate between a deodorant and antiperspirant. A deodorant is a cosmetic product applied to your body (armpits, feet, etc.) that prevents body odour. An antiperspirant is a special type of deodorant that prevents body odour AND stops sweating. It’s most commonly applied to your armpits. Both of them contain aluminium but in different forms.
Deodorants contain aluminium in the form of aluminium salts. They prevent body odour because the aluminium in them is directly toxic to the bacteria that cause body odour. Bacteria and your sweat combine to form body odour.
Antiperspirants contain aluminium in the form of aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex glycine and aluminium zirconium trichlorohydrex glycine. Don’t worry. These long terms just mean that they’re found as complex compounds. The bacteria in your armpits thrive and celebrate when you sweat a lot. Unfortunately for them, the two complex compounds react with the bicarbonate found in your sweat. Together they form gel plugs that block the ducts of your sweat glands. Say goodbye to bacteria and soggy armpits. These are the reasons why they put aluminium into mainstream deodorants.
But there are some health concerns about the aluminium that we are being exposed to through mainstream deodorant.
Here are some research studies stating the negative effects of aluminium and its possible link to breast cancer:
- A study published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry in 2005 stated that aluminium is a metal capable of altering your DNA (genetic material). They have theorised that aluminium may interfere with how breast tissue responds to oestrogen, making it more responsive and possibly leading to breast cancer.
- In a more recent research study (2013) found in the same journal as the first, in vitro (labs studies in human cells) findings included aluminium’s ability to mess up iron metabolism, initiate oxidative damage, and increase inflammation in breast tissues.
Health authorities around the world are not yet accepting these findings as significant. They argue that there is still no convincing research that proves that aluminium in deodorants is linked to breast cancer (or neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease) due to it not being a significant source compared to other sources like food.
What other potentially harmful chemicals can be found in mainstream deodorants? What are their health risks?
- Parabens. Parabens can be found in a wide variety of products aside from deodorants like lotions, shampoos, lipsticks, and other cosmetic products. They are of particular concern because they’re regarded as xenoestrogens. A xenoestrogen is a substance that mimics the hormone oestrogen in your body which could be a problem because it can interfere with how your body uses oestrogen. Of greater concern is a study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology in 2004 which found parabens in malignant breast tumors. More studies are needed to determine if there’s an exact link between the development of breast cancer and parabens.
- Propylene Glycol. Mainstream deodorants and some natural deodorants contain propylene glycol. It may surprise you that propylene glycol is an ingredient of antifreeze, a substance used in your car’s cooling system. And yes, it’s also found in your food and cosmetic products. According to the US FDA, propylene glycol is deemed as generally safe.
Unfortunately, it may pose some risks to certain people. It can cause skin irritation for some people and may even provoke an allergic reaction. Also, as it absorbs readily into the skin, it may aid the absorption of whatever you apply it with (like aluminium).
There are other potentially harmful ingredients in mainstream deodorants, but aluminium, propylene glycol, and parabens are the ones that deserve to be mentioned because they’re found in a lot of everyday products we encounter and use. On the other hand, natural deodorants don’t contain these three potentially harmful chemicals.
For now, it would be best to avoid deodorants with aluminium, propylene glycol, and parabens. Until we get some more solid evidence proving that they’re absolutely safe and not linked to the development of any disease, there are some good alternatives you can try. Remember to read the label before you buy your deodorant.