Sweating is your body’s mechanism to cool down. Sweat has no odor; the familiar unpleasant odor is caused by bacteria that live on our skin. These bacteria metabolize the proteins and fatty acids from our sweat, causing body odor.
Deodorants deal with the smell by neutralizing it and by killing the bacteria that metabolize the proteins and fatty acids. Antiperspirants on the other hand, try to prevent sweating by blocking the pores using aluminum. Without sweat, the bacteria cannot metabolize proteins and fatty acids that cause body odor.
The Semantics of Deodorants and Antiperspirants
Antiperspirants are products that try to prevent sweating by using aluminum. However, most antiperspirants also have a deodorizing component. It might be for this reason that ‘deodorant’ and ‘antiperspirant’ are used interchangeably. For clarity, this article will consider deodorants to be products that mask, suppress or neutralize odors. There are deodorants available that do not have the harmful ingredients, but only have safe natural ingredients. These deodorants will be referred to as ‘natural deodorants’
Antiperspirants – The Over-The-Counter Drug
It might be a surprise to learn that the antiperspirant you use daily is in fact an over-the-counter (OTC) drug. As mentioned, antiperspirants work by clogging, closing, or blocking the pores with aluminum salts in order to prevent the release of sweat. Antiperspirants are considered to be drugs because they affect the physiology of the body.
Because antiperspirants are drugs, they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Consequently, every antiperspirant sold in the US has a Drug Identification Number (DIN), which you can find on the label.
Deodorants and Antiperspirants are Considered to be Safe
Both antiperspirants and deodorants are considered to be safe by the FDA, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the Mayo Clinic.
However, FDA regulation does not mean that a drug is without danger. Like prescription drugs, the FDA oversees OTC drugs to ensure that they are properly labeled and that their benefits outweigh their risks. Often, the FDA does not consider the evidence of danger to consumer’s health strong enough to take action.
Aluminum chloride, aluminum chlorohydrate, and aluminum-zirconium compounds, most notably aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly and aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly, are the most widely used in antiperspirants. Most of these materials are supplied as powders, and they are typically used at levels of 8-25% based on the weight of the finished product.
We are continually exposed to aluminum due to its many uses. It is often used in cooking utensils, containers, appliances, and building materials. It is also used in paints and fireworks; to produce glass, rubber, and ceramics; and in consumer products such as antacids, astringents, buffered aspirin, food additives, and antiperspirants. Another use for aluminum is in water purification, and it can therefore occur in your drinking water.
Humans absorb aluminum through the skin: a 2001 study showed that aluminum was still present in blood samples 15 days after one application of aluminum to the armpit. Consequently, applying aluminum to the skin is a very effective way to get aluminum in your system, and in your brain.
Aluminum was first recognized as a human neurotoxin in 1886, before being used as an antiperspirant. A neurotoxin is a substance that causes damage to nerves or nerve tissue.
Aluminum as a Neurotoxin: linked to Alzheimer and other neurological diseases
Post-mortem analysis of Alzheimer’s infected brains has shown increased levels of aluminum compared to people that did not die from Alzheimer’s.
It has been well established that the accumulation of aluminum in the brain can cause neurological disorders. To prevent aluminum accumulation, reduced use of aluminum is of crucial importance. Awareness of aluminum is the primary factor in preventing aluminum induced toxicity.
The short term symptoms of aluminum toxicity include memory loss, learning difficulty, loss of coordination, disorientation, mental confusion, colic, heartburn, flatulence, and headaches. Alzheimer’s is one of the possible long term effects of chronic aluminum exposure.
Studies have found that aluminum absorbs better through the skin than orally. When using antiperspirants, one only applies very little aluminum to the skin. However, daily use results in chronic exposure to aluminum. One study has asserted that the use of aluminum based antiperspirants increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 60%.
Aluminum in Antiperspirants linked to Breast Cancer
The data from one study indicate that the degree of antiperspirant/deodorant usage and axillary shaving is associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis.
The series of events that eventually cause breast cancer can start many years before the symptoms become noticeable. Studies indicate that the chance of developing breast cancer increases when women are exposed to cancer causing agents at a young age. Consequently, young girls that use antiperspirants/deodorants are more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.
The Role of Antiperspirants in Causing Cancer
Two steps are needed to cause cancer:
- DNA has to be damaged, resulting in damaged cells and
- Growth promotion of these damaged cells.
There are several ways that DNA could be damaged as a result of using antiperspirants. According to one theory, it is caused by accumulating sweat through the use of antiperspirants. Your body normally exposes of waste products through sweat, the accumulation of these toxic waste products in the armpit can cause damage to the adjacent breast cells.
Another mechanism that can help cause DNA damage is through the aluminum and zirconium salts. It has been shown that aluminum can bind to DNA and change it, resulting in damaged breast cells.
The majority of breast cancers occur in the part of the breast that is the closest to the armpit called the upper outer quadrant (UOQ), where we apply antiperspirants and deodorants The proportion of breast cancer in the UOQ has been rising steadily with the increased use of antiperspirants and deodorants. In 1926, 31% of breast cancers occurred in the UOQ, in 1947-1967 this percentage increased to 43-48%. Currently the majority of breast cancers occurs in the part of the breast that is the closest to the armpit: 60.7% in 1994. Furthermore, the majority of UOQ breast cancer cases concern the left breast. One theory is that this is due to the vast majority of right handed people applying more antiperspirant to their left armpit.
Natural deodorants are available from your local healthfood store but many homemade recipes are also effective. Please feel free to share with us your experience with natural deodorants below!