Is it time to ditch your deodorant?

January 29, 2018 Swedish Blogger

Smiling woman giving high five to her friend after exercising.


In this article:

  • Many deodorants contain antiperspirants that contain aluminum; this may cause irritation or increase the risk for cancer.

  • Natural deodorants can be effective while minimizing health concerns.

  • Talk to your Swedish dermatologist about ingredients to avoid in personal care products.

Natural deodorants may be worth a second look

If your go-to deodorant contains an antiperspirant, is it time to give it up? Going without isn't an option for everyone, but there are alternatives to consider.

Is it time to give up your go-to deodorant? For many people, the "go without" choice isn't an option, but there are alternatives to consider.

Most traditional antiperspirant products contain aluminum and, right now, we don’t have enough information to confirm that the amount of this ingredient in these products is harmful to your health. However, if you are concerned, there are an increasing number of options with more natural ingredients that could provide more peace of mind.

If you choose to switch, here are a few things to know. First, underarms produce sweat, which is unfortunately unpleasant smelling, as part of the body’s natural ventilation process. One of the most effective chemicals for fighting sweat and odor is aluminum, which inhibits perspiration.

The problem is that the skin under the arms is quite sensitive. Applying heavy chemicals to the area can cause skin irritations such as a rash or itching. Also, because the skin is quite thin, it is possible that the lymphatic system (which also resides under the arms) could be impacted by an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the deodorant. In this case, the immune system could respond and the nearby lymph nodes might swell in response.

While the jury is still out, some studies suggest a tie between aluminum products and an increased risk for cancer, particularly breast cancer. In one study, cancer patients had significantly higher levels of aluminum in their breast tissue. Researchers concluded that the "reasons for the high levels of aluminum in fluid aspirated from the breast remain unknown but it is possible that exposure to aluminum-based antiperspirant salts in the adjacent underarm area could be the cause". An additional study was not conclusive in showing a link between frequent underarm shaving and antiperspirant use among cancer survivors who reported using the products and shaving at an early age.

But even if aluminum doesn’t cause a problem, you might want to check your products for these ingredients:

  • Parabens are used to kill bacteria in water-based solutions. However, studies have shown that parabens mimic estrogen, thereby disrupting hormone function and increasing cancer risk.
  • Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that can interfere with your hormone system and have been linked to hormone imbalance, diabetes, obesity, cancer, developmental disabilities and even infertility.
  • Propylene glycol is actually an ingredient in antifreeze. This additive is found in many personal care products and is used as a penetration enhancer, meaning that it helps other chemicals go deeper into the skin, carrying the risk of immuno-toxicity and allergies.
  • Formaldehyde is also a carcinogen, or a substance capable of causing cancer.

Fortunately, there are many new options for natural deodorants. Some contain coconut oil, which helps prevent the growth of unpleasant-smelling bacteria and is good for people with sensitive skin. Or you could make your own.

Finding the best option may take time, as people react to natural products differently. Some may find that the more natural products aren’t as effective as their old standbys, so it helps to invest in a few options and experiment with what works best.

Besides minimizing your risk for health concerns, it’s also been found that natural products are better in preventing skin irritation and helping unclog pores.

People with skin issues should also talk to a dermatologist to find the right combination for them. We all sweat, but selecting the right deodorant is obviously a very personal issue. Since using deodorant is a daily routine, it makes sense to find products that are both effective and help allay your concerns about exposure to potentially problematic ingredients.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about sensitivities or skincare ingredients, contact the dermatology department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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