Aluminum deodorant safety is an issue that generates a lot of controversy. Research has shown a link between aluminum levels and a number of conditions including breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, but how much topical aluminum products like deodorant or aluminum antiperspirant make a difference to that is much-debated.
What Are The Health Risks of Aluminum and What About Aluminum Deodorant Safety Research?
First off, aluminum is everywhere. It is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and happens to be highly useful in industry so most people have high levels of exposure. The biggest source for aluminum by far is through foods and medicines, as it’s added as an additive and anti-caking agent to flour, and baking powder and also to food colors and food additives. It is a major ingredient in some medications including antacids and buffered aspirin and also aluminum cookware and food packaging contaminates foods. Aluminum is detoxified from the body via the kidneys, so those with kidney impairment are at greater risk.
In their exhaustive toxicology reports, the Centers for Disease Control reports many risks of orally ingested aluminum including:
- Reduced immunity
- Memory loss
- Behavioral changes
- Learning impairment
- Muscle Twitching
- Bone pain
- Alzheimers – maybe? Studies are mixed but :
- brains with Alzheimers have higher levels of Aluminum than normal
- Aluminum is clearly neurotoxic
- Areas with high aluminum levels in the water typically have higher rates of Alzheimer’s
- ALS, or Lou Gherig’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Breast Cancer? – Studies have shown higher aluminum levels in breast tumors, but it’s not clear if the aluminum is related, or if it just happens to deposit there.
Obviously aluminum isn’t a health food, but this still doesn’t tell us anything aluminum deodorant safety or risk. A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology indicates that about 0.012% of aluminum applied to the skin is absorbed. Another study published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry shows that in stripped skin absorption of aluminum from stick-type antiperspirants is actually much higher – almost 10x higher. Both of these studies emphasize the safety of single usages of aluminum deodorant, but give cautions about long-term use.
Why is Aluminum in Deodorant Anyway?
There is a lot of talk about aluminum deodorant safety, so it seems like manufacturers would remove it, but aluminum is largely why deodorants work – or at least why anti-antiperspirants work. The aluminum forms gentle plugs in the skin that blocks the ducts so that sweat is trapped in the skin. Aside from being mildly gross, sweat is a detoxification method for your body and clearly aluminum blocks that process.
Are There Natural Alternatives?
Yes, but they don’t do the same thing because there is nothing natural about blocking sweat from leaving the body. Honestly – my experience has been that the natural products work, but don’t last as long and don’t hold up as well to extreme situations (like job interviews or first dates or marathons). With the natural products you may find you have to carry some with you to reapply. You will also find that the natural products don’t reduce sweating at all – sadly that doesn’t really happen without the aluminum. So you still sweat, but you smell just fine. My real-life compromise has been to use the natural home-made deodorant most of the time because I have enough concern about aluminum deodorant safety to avoid regular use, but I will break down and use the aluminum one if I’m speaking at a conference or in some other higher-pressure situation.
Great DIY Natural Deodorant Recipe:
I’ve been trying this one lately and really like the way it feels on my skin – it’s an adaptation from one I found on Wellness Mama but I add a little more baking soda because I found it just a little too oily without it – but try both ways and see what you like. Also if you’re looking for a great source for clean oils, herbs and essential oils try Mountain Rose Herbs. Starting out you may have to buy a few ingredients, but overall this is a super-thrifty, super healthy alternative because believe it or not this works out way cheaper in the long-run. God I *love* thrifty health. It’s such a bonus when the best way to do it is also cheaper than the way we normally do it.
- 3 Tablespoons coconut oil
- 4 Tablespoons baking soda
- 2 Tablespoons shea butter
- 2 Tablespoons arrowroot powder (or you can use baking soda if you don’t have arrowroot)
- Essential oils (optional – but I always like it to have a light scent.)
Mix the coconut oil and shea butter and heat gently on a double-boiler (I use a stainless steel bowl placed over the top of a pot with a little boiling water at the bottom – that way the steam heats the bowl but it isn’t directly on the stove top). Warm the oils just until the shea butter melts and you can mix them together then take it off the heat and add the baking soda and arrowroot powders. Stir this really well – a little whisk works or even pour it into the blender if you’re feeling a little lazy, but it’s a heavy oil base so the blender will take some thorough washing afterward. Add 20-40 drops of an essential oil once it’s all mixed and stir that in. Now it’s ready to pour into a small wide-mouth jar and set for a while. I just let mine sit overnight so that it can solidify.
For this batch I added about 30 drops of grapefruit oil and maybe 4-5 drops of lemon oil just because the citrus smells always make me feel happy and perky so they’re perfect for morning, but have fun playing around and finding the best combo for you. Once your natural deodorant has re-solidified then it’s ready to use! Just a small amount rubbed under each arm will do the trick but it’s not a bad idea to put a little bit in a tiny lip gloss jar to keep in your purse or pocket. Just don’t leave it in the hot car because it will melt.
Making the Switch to Natural Deodorant
So – it sounds kind of goofy, but if you’re been using an aluminum based product that reduces sweating then your body is probably going to have to detox a bit as it pushes the residual aluminum plugs out of those sweat glands and then pushes out all the toxins that have been building up behind those plugs. It can take a couple of weeks and what I hear most from people (and certainly what I experienced) was just kind of a funky two weeks. Your body may produce some interesting odors during this time in it’s joy at getting rid of the junk that has built up. Don’t worry – there are some strategies to manage it:
Wipe your armpits a few times per day with distilled white vinegar or rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball or cotton pad – it will help to kill any funky bacteria or yeast that may be growing in that slightly toxic environment as well as to pick up the toxins. Every time you clean your pits this way then re-apply your natural deodorant. Risking a too-much-information situation here, I will tell you that I tend to be a sweaty kind of gal, so I always used vinegar at home before and after work and carried alcohol wipes to work with me to use maybe three times in the middle of the day. It was a weird transition, but after about a week and a half it seemed like everything calmed down so that I didn’t need to do anything other than reapply the deodorant towards the end of the day. Just be careful because if you’ve just shaved then both the vinegar and alcohol burn a little. Also I’ve noticed that since the switch my skin texture in that area has totally changed – there’s a big difference in the softness of the skin and also I’m realizing that my armpits are less irritable, for lack of a better word. It just seems like that whole area is healthier overall.
Aluminum deodorant safety is still not especially well researched, but there is enough evidence about aluminum and serious illness that I feel uncomfortable using it. The switch to natural deodorant takes a little bit of dedication, but is well worth it in the long run. Our bodies have enough challenges without slathering on the heavy metals!