Everybody has at least one Facebook friend who posts about the dangers lurking in everything we eat, drink, and put on our bodies. They may have even shared articles claiming that deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or kidney failure. But is there really scientific evidence to back these claims up?
Deodorant and antiperspirant, while often combined into a single floral- or pine-scented stick, are two different compounds that work quite differently. Deodorant fights underarm stank by killing or blocking odiferous underarm bacteria. Antiperspirants keep your armpits dry by sealing off sweat glands with aluminum salts and other compounds.
Neither product is good for your body. (Your social life is another story.) But that doesn’t mean they’re hurting you.
MYTH 1: ALUMINUM PARTICLES IN ANTIPERSPIRANT CAUSE CANCER.
A handful of widely circulated articles have raised concerns about using aluminum to stop sweat from escaping. Many breast cancers originate at the top of the breast, near the armpit. Some scientists famously argued that antiperspirant chemicals were leaching into the skin there, damaging DNA and leading to tumor growth.
The Facts: As with so many studies of possible carcinogens, the results are mixed and inconclusive. Some say antiperspirants are harmful. Many others say they do not cause cancer. "There is no convincing evidence that antiperspirant or deodorant use increases cancer risk," Ted S. Gansler of the American Cancer Society told WebMD.
THE MYTH 2: PARABENS IN ANTIPERSPIRANT CAUSE CANCER.
Parabens have been used as a preservative in cosmetics, foods, and toiletries for decades. But recently, concerns about their safety have been making headlines.
The Facts: While parabens have been found in breast tumor tissue, there is no evidence that the parabens caused the cancer. But, more importantly, almost all of the antiperspirants currently on the market are paraben-free.
THE MYTH 3: ANTIPERSPIRANT CAUSES KIDNEY DISEASE.
This worry likely stems from the warning label the FDA requires all antiperspirants to carry: "Ask a doctor before use if you have kidney disease."
The Facts: The FDA requires the warning label because, historically, aluminum in large doses is harmful for people whose kidneys are functioning at 30 percent or less. Many years ago, people on dialysis were given a drug containing aluminum. Their kidneys couldn’t process the high doses and the metal accumulated in their bodies, eventually leading to an increased risk for dementia.
But these patients were swallowing a lot of aluminum. Daily use of antiperspirant involves a far lower dose, and very little of that is absorbed through the skin, let alone reaches your kidneys. "Unless you eat your stick or spray it into your mouth, your body can't absorb that much aluminum," nephrologist Leslie Spry of the National Kidney Foundation said on his organization's website.
MYTH 4: DEODORANT DESTROYS YOUR MICROBIOME.
Your personal microbial ecosystem is a vital part of keeping you healthy. Some people fear that toiletries like deodorant will throw off the balance of the ecosystem and make us sick.
The Facts: Deodorant (and especially antiperspirant) does affect your body’s bacteria. That’s literally why you buy it. But there’s no evidence that this is a problem. Trust us: We love bacteria. If we hear otherwise, we’ll let you know.
MYTH 5: ALUMINUM IN ANTIPERSPIRANT CAUSES ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE.
Fifty years ago, scientists raised alarms about a possible link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. People began to worry about cooking with aluminum foil, using aluminum pots and pans, and applying aluminum particles to their skin in antiperspirant.
The Facts: Decades of subsequent experiments have yielded no conclusive evidence that using antiperspirant can cause Alzheimer’s. As we've already discussed, aluminum can be dangerous in high doses—but to get a high enough dose you’d have to eat it. A lot of it. While scientists today continue to debate the role aluminum may or may not play in causing Alzheimer's, the Alzheimer's Association goes so far as to say, "Almost all scientists today focus on other areas of [Alzheimer's] research, and few experts believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat."