There’s no science linking aluminum to cancer, dementia, or other serious health conditions. But if you want to avoid aluminum, there are lots of alternatives to try.
Lots of folks seem to think aluminum in deodorant or antiperspirants is linked to a litany of serious health conditions like cancer and dementia. But is there any science to back this up? Spoiler: Not really.
Here’s everything you need to know about aluminum in deodorant, plus some aluminum-free alternatives.
Aluminum isn’t generally found in deodorants, but it is the top ingredient in antiperspirants. Yup! Deodorants and antiperspirants are not the same thing. Deodorants go to work making your armpit less smelly, while antiperspirants decrease how much you sweat.
Believe it or not, sweat is odorless when it comes out of your pores. But when the bacteria on your skin interacts with that sweat… watch out. Depending on your particular body chemistry, your bacteria/sweat combo might give off a potentially unpleasant aroma. Your armpit – all warm and moist – is a great place for microbes to hang out and brew up some sweaty stank vapor.
This is where aluminum comes into the picture. It’s all about chemistry. The aluminum compound in antiperspirant dissolves into your pores and essentially blocks the sweat from ever reaching the skin’s surface. So your armpit microbes have no sweat to mingle with. Hence, no odor.
On the other hand, deodorants contain stuff that helps the sweat-and-bacteria concoction from smelling rank. It’s like how a spoonful of sugar makes coffee less bitter or a well-placed potpourri can save your party from being ruined by someone’s stomach flu.
Fun fact: Your left armpit might even smell different than your right one depending on what “flora” is lurking on your armpit skin.
We know what TikTok or Reddit might say, but what does the scientific community say about the potential risks of rolling aluminum compounds into your armpits? The bottom line is that research has found no connection between aluminum and major health conditions.
In fact, the FDA has approved the use of aluminum compounds in over-the-counter antiperspirants. Let’s address each major health concern that the deodorant and antiperspirant crowd is buzzing about.
The major rumor surrounding aluminum in antiperspirants is that it is linked to breast cancer, but the National Cancer Institute wants to put that rumor to rest.
Concerns arose that since the aluminum compound in antiperspirant essentially plugs up the skin pores, it might then prevent your body from “sweating out” cancer-causing toxins. But your skin is not the main agent of detoxification. Your kidneys and your liver get rid of that nasty stuff through pee and poop.
There was also some concern that aluminum compounds could be absorbed into the skin and mimic estrogen, a hormone that has been shown to be related to the development of breast cancer. One study pointed out that even if aluminum is linked to cancer, people are exposed to aluminum virtually everywhere including food, antacids, toothpaste, and drinking water. So it’s impossible to pin it on antiperspirants.
A meta-review concluded that there is no clear link between aluminum compounds and cancer. Even if your armpit is right next to your breast tissue, not enough aluminum is absorbed through antiperspirants to cause health concerns.
Another rumor is that antiperspirant is linked to kidney disease. Again, too much aluminum in your body is definitely a bad thing. But the National Kidney Foundation says it’s pretty much impossible to absorb enough aluminum through your skin to damage your kidneys. So if you have a healthy kidney, you shouldn’t worry.
If you have low-functioning kidneys, though, definitely talk to a doctor before using an antiperspirant that contains aluminum. That’s why the FDA slaps a warning on all products that contain aluminum: steer clear if you have kidney disease.
Aluminum in antiperspirants has not been linked to bone disease. But, again, for people who have acute kidney disease and need ongoing blood transfusions (aka hemodialysis) to filter out toxins from the body, aluminum buildup in the blood is a real risk.
If those toxins can’t be filtered out quickly enough, the patients might have from several side effects, including the build-up of aluminum in the blood and the development of a bone disease known as osteomalacia which is a weakening of the bones.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, rumors started as early as the 1960s linking aluminum in all its forms to dementia. Folks pointed fingers at pots, pans, beer cans, and, yes, antiperspirants.
Some older studies may have found a link, but these were either discredited or refuted. As of now, experts overwhelmingly agree that there is no link between Alzheimer’s and aluminum. One study even called the initial suspicion linking aluminum to Alzheimer’s a “fringe theory.”
So now you know that aluminum in antiperspirants is nothing to worry about unless you experience acute kidney disease. It’s really the only game in town when it comes to an over-the-counter option to stop sweating.
If your sweating is really excessive, you may have hyperhidrosis. In that case, your healthcare provider may suggest prescription-strength antiperspirant which contains slightly higher levels of aluminum compounds.
Another FDA-approved option to stop excessive sweating is Botox, which blocks the nerve functions of the sweat glands in your armpits. The treatment of hyperhidrosis is complex and might require a combo of a few different treatments.
But maybe you’re looking to avoid aluminum altogether, not for health reasons but because it mixes with your sweat and stains all your shirts in the armpit region. In that case, deodorant might be the way to go. But deodorants contain other chemicals besides aluminum that might turn you off or give you allergies. There are a bunch of deodorants on the market today that tout their list of less chemically inclined ingredients.
You can also go the DIY route. Here’s a list of some natural alternatives:
- hypoallergenic deodorant
- perfume-free or fragrance-free deodorant
- baking soda deodorant
- cornstarch powder
- arrowroot powder
- alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) (but keep it gentle and low concentration to avoid skin irritation)
Although social media might have you believe otherwise, there is no scientific evidence connecting aluminum compounds in antiperspirants to major health conditions. Deodorants don’t contain aluminum at all, so tell your friends on TikTok to slow their roll. Yes, too much aluminum in your body is definitely a bad thing, but you won’t get it from antiperspirants.
Remember, deodorant and antiperspirant work differently. Sweat is naturally odorless until it mixes with your unique skin bacteria. Antiperspirant uses aluminum compounds to block sweat from ever reaching the skin. Deodorants work after the fact to make the bacteria-and-sweat mixture smell better. (Or at least not super gross.)
If you have hyperhidrosis, your healthcare provider might suggest Botox treatment. But if you have kidney disease, make sure to read the label and avoid products with aluminum. Going with a deodorant might be your best bet. There are more alternatives than ever when it comes to keeping your pits smelling non-toxic.