Everyone sweats, and everyone’s sweat can create unpleasant odors. To stop sweating and sweat-related odors, most people use a product – a deodorant helps keep you smelling nice, but an antiperspirant deodorant will create a pleasing smell, but also stop you from sweating. Antiperspirants have gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, though. Do they really cause damage to the body? What should you know about it?
The Difference between Deodorant and Antiperspirant
First, let’s discuss the difference between an antiperspirant and a deodorant. While marketed the same way, they’re very different, and you’ll need to carefully read the label on the product(s) you use to determine whether you’re using one or the other. A deodorant does exactly what the name implies – it helps deodorize your armpits and other areas of the body. Generally, it does this by applying a long-lasting layer of smell-good gel.
An antiperspirant may smell good or it may be unscented. Its primary job is not to make you smell better, but to keep you from sweating in the first place. While deodorants may be blue, or even clear, antiperspirant sticks are almost always white because of the chemicals they contain. Deodorants are generally safe to use, although some can cause mild underarm irritation. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, contain dangerous ingredients that are thought to lead to lasting harm.
The Danger with Antiperspirants
The real danger with antiperspirants comes from the aluminum in the mix. It’s the aluminum that stops your sweat glands from secreting sweat and causing odors and stains. The primary worry here is a potential link between the aluminum in antiperspirant, and some forms of cancer, particularly breast cancer. Note that there is no conclusive scientific evidence of this link. While there have been multiple studies that support the connection between antiperspirant and cancer, there are just as many studies that show no correlation.
The US government notes that while there is a possibility of causation here, there is no proof yet. The National Cancer Institute states, “Because underarm antiperspirants or deodorants are applied near the breast and contain potentially harmful ingredients, several scientists and others have suggested a possible connection between their use and breast cancer. However, no scientific evidence links the use of these products to the development of breast cancer.”
There is also a seeming connection between the use of antiperspirants (and deodorants to some extent) with damage to the microflora that lives in our armpits. Recent scientific research has found that the microbiota that lives within our gut has an incredible impact on our health, and the bacteria that lives on and in our skin can have just as large an impact. One UK study showed that antiperspirants damaged the microbiota found in human armpits, leading to greater odor, and an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, but this is insufficient evidence to prove the case.
In the end, there is no universally acknowledge link between antiperspirants and cancer, or damage to the body’s microbiota. However, the evidence available is compelling, and many people have chosen to stop using antiperspirants as a result.