The pits! Asking someone to ditch their deodorant would be a little unrealistic. Ok, who am I kidding? It’s VERY unrealistic. You don’t want to risk scaring a girl away on the first date or showing up a sweaty mess for a job interview, right?

Woman using deodorant

First of all, what is the difference between a deodorant and an antiperspirant? Antiperspirants prevent sweating from occurring, whereas deodorants block odor by killing bacteria. It seems then that using a deodorant would be better since it’s more of a natural process. Most people utilize antiperspirants and deodorants 365 days a year. The ingredients remain on our bodies for 10+ hours a day, so we want to be very careful about what products we’re using.

What to Look Out For

The ingredients you want to be cautious of are triclosan, petrolatum, talc, carrageenan, fragrance, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), PEG compounds, and color additives. Wait, you forgot aluminum. Let me elaborate on that since many companies market their products as aluminum-free these days.

aluminum in deodorants

By now, we’ve probably all heard that aluminum in antiperspirants causes breast cancer. Is there any science to back this up? Well, actually no. So, where did this rumor come from then? There was an email circulating around years ago that stated the leading cause of breast cancer was antiperspirant use.

People reasoned that antiperspirants prevent the body from sweating, resulting in trapped toxins. The toxins would then supposedly get into lymph nodes and cause cellular changes, leading to cancer. More recent studies theorize that aluminum causes breast cancer because half of all cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant, near the location of antiperspirant application. The studies suggest that the skin absorbs aluminum, which then interacts with DNA and interferes with the action of estrogen. (Estrogen influences the growth of breast cancer cells.) These arguments are faulty.

Here is the truth.

Aluminum-based compounds help prevent sweating by reacting with water and forming a physical plug. The plug, deposited in the sweat duct, then stops the flow of sweat to the skin’s surface. So you see, aluminum salts do not work by being largely absorbed into the body. One study found that aluminum chlorohydrate applied to the underarms was absorbed at only 0.012%.

As far as the argument that toxins get into the lymph nodes from the sweat glands, the two are not even anatomically connected. Lymph nodes help clear out bacteria and viruses, but they do not eliminate toxins through sweating. Lymph vessels do not even open out directly to the skin surface. Just look at the anatomy.

anatomy of skin

Half of all breast cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant probably due to the fact that more breast tissue resides there. It is not because antiperspirants are applied near that area.

What have studies shown?

An epidemiologic study published in 2002 found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant/deodorant use or underarm shaving. The study compared 813 women with breast cancer to 793 without the disease. Another study showed no difference in the concentration of aluminum between cancerous breast tissue and normal tissue.

Aluminum in antiperspirants has also been a cause for concern in people with kidney disease. Why? Aluminum hydroxide, a common drug given to dialysis patients, helps to regulate phosphorus levels. Since their kidneys aren’t functioning properly, the aluminum accumulates in patients’ bodies, leading some to develop dementia. Taking a drug orally versus applying a topical product is vastly different though. Again, remember aluminum in antiperspirants are not absorbed into the skin in large quantity. Even if there was a nick in the skin from shaving, the amount absorbed is so small that it couldn’t possibly harm the kidneys. Nonetheless, this is why the FDA requires a warning on antiperspirant labels to consult a doctor before use if you have kidney disease.

ingredient label for men's antiperspirant with kidney warning

Parabens are another group of chemicals linked with breast cancer, but it’s still very questionable. Parabens have estrogen-like properties, but they’re much weaker than the natural estrogen found in our bodies. A 2004 study found large amounts of parabens in breast cancer tumors. However, they didn’t determine a causal relationship nor did they investigate the source of the parabens. Most deodorants on the market don’t even contain parabens, so it’s irrelevant.

What does this mean for you?

If you want to continue using your aluminum-based antiperspirant, you can. But, make sure it doesn’t contain the harmful inactive ingredients I mentioned in the beginning (it probably does). Even though there’s no scientific evidence that antiperspirant use contributes to breast cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease, if you prefer to go natural, here are the best recommendations for effective aluminum-free deodorants.

Best Deodorants I Like

Best Deodorants North Coast Organics All Natural Deodorant

North Coast Organics All Natural Deodorant

Why I Like It: North Coast Organics created a natural, vegan, USDA organic deodorant, made with edible ingredients. Don’t eat it though–no matter how tempting! It received 4.2 stars from Amazon users–not bad. They offer it in lavender, cedarwood & sage, coconut, douglas fir, and an unscented version for those with sensitive skin.

Best Deodorants Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant

Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant

Why I Like It: This deodorant is natural, vegan, and free of aluminum, parabens, and phthalates. Schmidt’s has 4.1 stars on Amazon. I’ve used the lavender + sage scent, and it works great! It also comes in bergamot + lime, tea tree, ylang ylang + calendula, and a fragrance free option, which is perfect for those with sensitivities.

Best Deodorants Naninaturals Natural Deodorant

Naninaturals Natural Deodorant

Why I Like It: Naninaturals deodorant is natural, vegan, and organic, receiving 4.2 stars from Amazon users. It comes in lavender, citrus spice, and unscented.

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