Deodorants, Antiperspirants and Your Health

I still remember the brand of my first deodorant / antiperspirant, the store I bought it at and the reason I bought it for. I also remember that I bought the brand and the scent that was being advertised at the time. For teenagers, deodorants / antiperspirants have become a right of passage, a part of a teenager’s identity. The beginning of a lifelong routine…

As an adult, most of us apply deodorant or antiperspirant at least once per day. One is expected to prevent or mask body odors, and as a result deodorants / antiperspirants have become a part of our lifelong personal hygiene regime. The majority of people don’t know the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants; many just use whatever appealing brand smells the nicest.

I used to do the same, until I learned that the antiperspirant that I used on a daily basis contained ingredients that I now consider to be harmful. I found a better and much cheaper alternative, which I especially appreciate after the research I have done for this article.

The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the health risks that come with the regular use of most deodorants and all antiperspirants.

This first part of the series will explain the basics: the cause of body odor, the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants, and a short overview on both products. The second part of this series will look into the connection between the aluminum in antiperspirants and Alzheimer’s Disease. The third part will focus on the aluminum in antiperspirants and Breast Cancer. The fourth part will talk about the connection between Deodorants, Parabens and Breast Cancer. The final part will delve into alternatives to aluminum / parabens containing antiperspirants / deodorants.

Sweating and Body Odor

Sweating is your body’s mechanism to cool down. The average person has about 2.6 million sweat glands, and sweat glands come in two types: eccrine and apocrine.

Eccrine – The majority of sweat glands on your body are eccrine, these are the glands you have on your forehead, on your hands and on your feet. The eccrine glands are active from birth, and produce sweat free of proteins and fatty acids.

Apocrine – These glands are in your arm pits and in your genital area. The apocrine glands usually end in hair follicles and become active during puberty. The sweat produced by the apocrine glands contains proteins and fatty acids.

Sweat has no odor, the familiar unpleasant odor is caused by bacteria that live on our skin and hair. These bacteria metabolize the proteins and fatty acids from our apocrine sweat, causing body odor. [1]

Deodorants deal with the smell by neutralizing it and by killing the bacteria that metabolize the proteins and fatty acids.

Antiperspirants on the other hand, try to prevent sweating by blocking the pores using aluminum. Without sweat, the bacteria cannot metabolize proteins and fatty acids that cause body odor.[2]

The Semantics of Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Many antiperspirants also have a deodorant component. It might be for this reason that ‘deodorant’ and ‘antiperspirant’ are used interchangeably.

For clarity, this article will consider deodorants to be products that mask, suppress or neutralize odors [3].

Antiperspirants are products that try to prevent sweating by using aluminum. However, most antiperspirants also have a deodorizing component.

There are deodorants available that do not have the harmful ingredients, but only have safe natural ingredients. These deodorants will be referred to as ‘natural deodorants’. The sections that talk about ‘deodorants’, do not refer to ‘natural deodorants’.

Antiperspirants – The Over-The-Counter Drug

It might be a surprise to learn that the antiperspirant you use daily is in fact an over-the-counter (OTC) drug. As mentioned, Antiperspirants work by clogging, closing, or blocking the pores with aluminum salts in order to prevent the release of sweat, effectively changing the function of the body. Antiperspirants are considered to be drugs because they affect the physiology of the body. [4]

Because antiperspirants are drugs, they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Consequently, every antiperspirant sold in the US has a Drug Identification Number (DIN), which you can find on the label. A document called ‘monograph’ states requirements for categories of nonprescription drugs such as antiperspirants. It defines for example what ingredients may be used and for what intended use. If the standards of the OTC monograph are met, premarket approval of a potentially new OTC product is not necessary.[5]

Antiperspirants contain many ingredients. However, part II and III of this series will focus on the active ingredient for antiperspirants: Aluminum. Most antiperspirants also contain paraben, an ingredient that is also used in deodorants.


As mentioned, deodorants deal with body odor by neutralizing the smell and by killing the bacteria that metabolize the proteins and fatty acids that occur in sweat.

In the last decade one particular ingredient in deodorants has become controversial: Paraben, a widely used preservative. Part IV will focus on paraben and its health effects.

Deodorants and Antiperspirants are Considered to be Safe

Both antiperspirants and deodorants are considered to be safe by the FDA [5][6], the American Cancer Society [7], the National Cancer Institute[8] and the Mayo Clinic [9].

However, as you will learn in this series, FDA regulation does not mean that a drug is without danger. Like prescription drugs, the FDA oversees OTC drugs to ensure that they are properly labeled and that their benefits outweigh their risks.[5]

There are many products or ingredients of products that have become controversial in regards to health effects. However, this does not mean that products will be taken off the market until deemed safe. Often, the FDA does not consider the evidence of danger to consumer’s health strong enough to take action.

The FDA will be the main subject of a future article, but if you want to research some of the bad decisions the FDA has made in the past, then Google some examples of product that only got pulled off the shelves when it became too obvious that people were dying due to heart attacks caused by these medications: ‘Vioxx’, ‘Celebrex’ and ‘Bextra’. The conclusion of this debacle according to leading cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol:

Neither of the two major forces in this 5-and-a-half-year affair — neither Merck nor the FDA — fulfilled its responsibilities to the public [10]

However, I believe that the articles in this series will help you to educate yourself and allow you to decide for yourself rather than having to rely on often well-meaning but sometimes misdirected organizations and institutions.

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Craig C. Freudenrich, “How Sweat Works,” How Stuff Works, 10 Jan. 2008 <>.

Annie B. Bond, “Deodorant or Antiperspirants?” Green Living At Care2, 10 Jan. 2008 <>.

“Deodorant,” The Free Dictionary by Farlex, 10 Jan. 2008 <>.

“Antiperspirant/Deodorant Stick: How Products are Made,” ENotes.Com, 11 Jan. 2008 <>.

Carol Rados, “Antiperspirant Awareness: It’s Mostly No Sweat,” FDA US Food and Drug Administration, July-Aug. 2005, 11 Jan. 2008 <>.

“Parabens,” FDA US Food and Drug Administration, 20 Mar. 2006, 10 Jan. 2008 <>.

“Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk,” American Cancer Society, 8 July 2007, 10 Jan. 2008 <>.

“Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer: Questions and Answers,” National Cancer Institute, 10 May 2004, 12 Jan. 2008 <>.

“Cancer Causes: Popular Myths About the Causes of Cancer,” MayoClinic.Com, 16 May 2007, 12 Jan. 2008 <>.

“Merck: Vioxx Pulled When Risk Was Seen,” CNNMoney.Com, 16 Nov. 2004, 13 Jan. 2008 <>.