One important thing to clear up before we start.... we're British and so if you're reading this from 'across the pond' we say 'aluminium' not 'aluminum'.
Regardless of how you pronounce it, (and there definitely is a correct way!) I'm going to try to explain the reasoning why aluminium (or aluminum) is used in deodorant and then fact check 4 common arguments people make when claiming that aluminium in deodorant is bad.
By the end, I really hope you'll be equipped with the knowledge to continue your own research on this controversial topic and, most importantly, make informed decisions about the products you use on a daily basis.
Be sure to add your comments / questions / critique in at the bottom
Ok! Let's get going!
So why is Aluminium in deodorant in the first place?
Aluminium is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust and it has no recognized role in biological systems.
Due to its abundance and versatile chemistry, aluminium is included in a variety of industrial products of daily use including food additives, anti‐acid drugs, household products, vaccines, and cosmetics.
Aluminium is generally assumed to be safe, but, the biological consequences of it and its salts interaction with biological systems are largely unknown. Aluminium salts are used in a specific type of deodorants called antiperspirants.
Wait a minute are deodorants and antiperspirants the same?
Actually no, antiperspirants are a type of deodorant.
The key distinction between deodorant and antiperspirant is the mechanism.
What causes body odour is bacteria breaking down the sweat in your armpit and being warm and dark it's the perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive.
Deodorant either masks, neutralises the odour or may have anti-bacterial properties which keep the bacteria at bay.
Antiperspirant cuts the problem off at source hence the name "antiperspirant" no perspiration, therefore,e no sweat no smell.
The aluminium we are referring to comes in the form of Aluminium salts which are the active ingredients used in antiperspirants.
The molecules of the aluminium salts are absorbed into the cells surrounding the sweat glands taking water with them.
The water causes the glands to swell forcing closed the sweat duct. After a while the concentration of water is the same on both sides of the cell and the water is released.
The salts commonly used for this include
Aluminium chlorohydrate, and
Aluminium zirconium chlorohydrate complexes (1).
There are other salts sometimes listed on deodorants or ingredients including “natural mineral salts”, “natural rock salts”, or “potassium alum” potassium aluminium sulphate). These are NOT antiperspirants and It's important to differentiate these from synthetic salts as they are topical and antibacterial and are not absorbed by the skin.
So, what are the main health concerns linked with these chemicals? We list these
here and will try and deduce if the claim is fact or fiction.
Reason #1 - Aluminium salts cause Cancer
There are no studies that have determined a direct causal link between Aluminium salts and Breast Cancer in humans (Breast Cancer UK). Breast Cancer UK is a fantastic resource in compiling and simplifying some of these studies in a way that is easy to understand.
Read more about it in our article "Is your antiperspirant slowly killing you?"
They cite one study that conducted a ‘systematic review which aimed to estimate the risk of aluminium salts/antiperspirant use for breast cancer concluded that although there was no evidence of risk, insufficient studies had been undertaken to obtain reliable results’ and 3 other studies that found evidence of increased risk although not a direct cause.
Their final conclusion was ‘Scientific evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants to breast cancer is inconclusive. However, as the above shows, there is clearly some research that suggests the need for a precautionary approach to be taken’.
However, a 2016 study published in Molecular Cancer Biology found that Aluminium salts did indeed cause cancer in mouse breast cells grown in a laboratory not live mice.
Although they stated ‘A harmless compound is not expected to have such profound effects on the behavior of cultured cells at concentrations in the range of those measured in the organism’
FACT. Aluminium salts do cause cancer although no direct cause has been found to link them to breast cancer in men and women.
Reason #2 - Aluminium salts cause Altzimers/ALS
Unlike cancer, there are no studies that have been conducted to determine if underarm antiperspirant use has any impact on the development of ALS/Altamers symptoms.
There is plenty of evidence of Aluminium’s impact on the neuro system as a neurotoxin and studies have been conducted to link aluminium in drinking water and antacids.
An article in Cognitive Vitality Concluded that There is no consistent or compelling evidence to associate aluminium with Alzheimer's disease.
Although a few studies have found associations between aluminium levels and Alzheimer's risk, many others found no such associations.
Due to the inconclusive nature of the findings, it may be advisable to limit excessive exposure.
FICTION. There is nothing linking Aluminium salts to Altzimers although there is
plenty of evidence to show the health impacts of aluminium on the nervous system
Reason #3 - Aluminium Salts clog up your sweat ducts
The way that aluminium salts work as an antiperspirant as a result of the molecules of the aluminium salts being absorbed into the cells surrounding the sweat glands taking water with them.
The water causes the glands to swell forcing closed the sweat duct.
After a while, the concentration of water is the same on both sides of the cell and the water is released.
How Stuff Works has a good underarm care article explaining this in more detail,
FICTION - Contrary to belief the salts do not clog the sweat ducts directly instead
they cause the sweat glands to close.
Reason #4 - Aluminium Salts cause yellow pit stains on clothes
I guess we have been there at some point self-consciously wondering why sweat is staining our clothes yellow?
Have you let your personal hygiene slip?
Have those turmeric shots given you more than you bargained for?
Probably not, so why not stop it at the source with an antiperspirant?
No that doesn’t work either, in fact, it seems to be getting worse!
Once again our friends at How Stuff Works come up trumps again.
The Aluminium salts in your antiperspirant deodorant create quite acidic mix with the sweat under your arm and is absorbed into the material of your clothes as the water content is driven off the residue leaves an unsightly yellow stain intertwined into your best dress shirt or limited edition Supreme Box logo tee that are notoriously difficult to remove as the art of manliness can testify.
So, by putting on more antiperspirant you are in fact making it worse and the only way to stop these stains is to revert to a natural aluminium free option or go without altogether.
FACT – Aluminium salts stain your clothes yellow
So then, Why is Aluminium in Deodorant bad?
Hopefully, we have been able to clear up some of these key questions for you but we suggest you follow the links and do your own research. The evidence is not always cut and dry and you would be advised to draw your own conclusion.
Many of the articles and studies I researched came up with the same proviso that ‘more research is needed’ into the possible harm that aluminium salts can have on your health and there was sufficient evidence to be cautious.
This is the reason why we created UPROAR's Natural Aluminium Free Deodorant. We were fed up of consuming the artificial and we knew so many who were of the same mindset.
But if you are happy to be a Guinea pig and conduct this research on yourself then you are braver than me.