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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Antiperspirant Health Hazards

By July 2, 2011

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You've likely suspected antiperspirant isn't all that good for you, but do you know what exactly poses a threat to your health? Here's a look at some of the ingredients found in antiperspirant and why you might want to seek a safer alternative, at least part of the time.


The active ingredient in nearly all antiperspirants is an aluminum compound, usually aluminum chloride, AlCl3. You encounter aluminum everyday in cans and foil. As a pure metal it still isn't good for you, but as a salt in antiperspirant it is better-able to participate in biochemical reactions. Aluminum acts as a neurotoxin and has been implicated in a number of health issues.

Penetration Enhancers

Ingredients such as propylene glycol and disodium EDTA help other ingredients travel deeper into the skin, making the antiperspirant more effective. While penetration enhancers tend not to be toxic, they increase your exposure to the other chemicals in the product.


Triclosan is an antibactial agent that is absorbed through the skin into the body. While you might want your antiperspirant to be antibacterial because bacteria produce odor, you probably don't want the negative health effects associated with Triclosan exposure, plus the antibacterial agent promotes the development of resistant strains of bacteria.


BHT is a preservative that has been associated with nervous system effects, among other health concerns. This chemical is not found in all antiperspirants, so it is easier to avoid than aluminum or penetration enhancers.


Most fragrances are potentially toxic synthetic chemicals. The biggest problem with fragrance is that the exact chemicals used to create the characteristic scent of a product are not disclosed so you don't even know what the ingredients are. Fragrances may cause headaches and allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Safer Alternatives

So... if you want to avoid some or all of these chemicals yet remain welcome in polite society, what are your options? You can seek antiperspirants which contain fewer of the offending chemicals (e.g., unscented, without antibacterials) or use a deodorant part of the time rather than an antiperspirant. If you have a favorite safe alternative to the usual chemical-filled antiperspirant, you're welcome to post a reply to share your experience with other readers.


July 12, 2010 at 9:40 am
(1) Skeptical says:

Based on the enormous number of people who use antiperspirants on a daily basis without dropping dead or withering from chronic poisoning, it is my opinion that this column is unnecessarily alarmist and fear mongering. Toxicity is always, always, always a function of the dose, and there is nothing in this column that suggests that these “hazardous and toxic” ingredients pose any substantial risk to users. I mean, asprin will kill you if you take enough of it, not to mention the water you wash it down with… to say that a topical treatment containing chemicals with toxicity (upon ingestion!) is a “threat to your health” is irresponsible.

July 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm
(2) Princess Buttercut says:

You can’t look at the median of a bell curve and ignore the rest of the data. Doctors are slowly coming around to this realization as they change normal data to include the range from three to 97 percent, for example, in children’s growth charts and that’s why there is now and autism spectrum of disorders. So if dropping dead, or suffering from measurable toxic exposure, doesn’t fall in the median you propose that the chemist who wrote this article is irresponsible for suggesting that you limit your exposures to chemicals know to be toxic? The medical community, FDA, and other agencies are woefully ignorant of current research and their policies, procedures, recommendations, and laws are usually years behind.

July 12, 2010 at 10:01 am
(3) mike says:

I disagree with Skeptical.

I only use deodorant because I understand that toxicity is also a function of duration, since many of these chemicals build up in the body over time.

Toxicity from metallic salts HAS been proven to be cumulative.

July 11, 2011 at 4:12 am
(4) mark santiago says:

You better use Tawas, you can find it in Philippines. This really works against body odor.

July 12, 2010 at 10:10 am
(5) Open minded says:

Great column! As teacher of 7th graders it is important for kids/people to know that minute amounts of substances CAN be toxic. The hormones in our bodies work on parts per trillion levels and what you get slathering these chemicals under your arms goes directly into the blood and lymph system.

Here’s an untested hypothesis – could the rise in breast cancer be correlated to the use of these products? Just because there hasn’t been a study doesn’t mean there isn’t a connection.

On another note, millions of americans use these products and you know what great health we have as a nation! All these synthetic chemicals in our foods and drinks are taking a terrible toll on our nations health.

August 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm
(6) Tony says:

Speaking of untested hypothesis…
“On another note, millions of americans use these products and you know what great health we have as a nation! All these synthetic chemicals in our foods and drinks are taking a terrible toll on our nations health.”

How can you reach that claim when there are many more factors that could and do contribute to health than “synthetic chemicals”.

Seriously, I hope you actually teach your students with a little more open mindedness than you present your statements.

July 12, 2010 at 10:11 am
(7) Mark says:

Thanks for the artical. I have read something similar at other times. One thing that needs to be considered is that there are lymph nodes close to our underarm areas. Anything put on our skin can be absorbed into the body and then transported to other areas. The amount put on might not be much each day, but many days put together makes for larger amounts.
Just because information is brought to light does not mean we must run to the hills. Each must decide for themselves whether he must act on that information.
Thanks for the good information you continue to provide on a regular basis.

July 12, 2010 at 11:48 am
(8) Skeptical says:

Correlation is not causality (for more on this google “spurious relationship”). Furthermore, the ppt toxicity of hormones does not imply toxicity of anything else. The LD50 of BHT (Oral – rat) is 890.0 mg/kg. Even with penetration enhancers, you’d have to slather yourself with a LOT of antiperspirant to come close to making yourself sick. I maintain that this article overstates the “dangers” of a well-tolerated product.

July 3, 2011 at 1:16 am
(9) More Skeptical says:

I’m an extremely skeptical person, but “skeptical” doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He says this article is overstating the dangers, but he (or she) seems to be looking at this situation in a completely isolated way. The real problem is that we are inundated with literally THOUSANDS of different artificial chemicals everyday, each of which is only toxic to a very small extent and only has a minute chance of causing cancer, yet record numbers of people worldwide are dying of cancer because each of these thousands of chemicals cumulatively adds up to a Very Significant risk of causing cancer! For more info and lots of scientific references (better than doing a Google search), read the book Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, and M.D. who got brain cancer, then researched the heck out of the topics of how to get rid of it.

August 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm
(10) Tony says:

“Skeptical” seems to be the only science minded person on here. Everyone else seems to have fallen prey to media scar tactics.

Keep up the good skepticism. I can only hope that there are enough of us who can think for ourselves to get this country to turn around someday.

July 12, 2010 at 12:09 pm
(11) Terry Gaule says:

Skeptical could not be more wrong, not to mention ignorant. We are inundated by toxins in our environment, yet we do not fall over dead. Does that mean they are not harmful to us? Of course not. The human body is complex and can function under severe circumstances. But as we age -prematurely in most cases – the slow build-up of toxins contributes and complicates the aging process. They prevent our bodies from functioning at maximum potential. Besides, hasn’t Skeptical heard that Alzheimer’s patients have been found to have abnormally high amounts of Aluminum in their brains? I never buy antipersperants, and have taught my kids to use only quality deodorants, usually only found in health food stores (e.g., Nature’s Gate, Jasons, etc.). These products are directly applied to, and absorbed by, your skin, so you should only want the purist and most toxin free. Salt chrystal deodorants are great, too! I am in total disagreement with Skeptical, and want to thank Anne Marie for the valuable information that she always sends to us. Skeptical needs to do more research and educate him/her self. Geeez, you sound like a cigarette smoker rationalizing why not to stop smoking! I may be reached at tgaule@hotmail.com if anyone wants to discuss this further.

July 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm
(12) Geoff the Genetic Engineer says:

Thanks for the article. It’s important that we weigh harms and benefits carefully and rationally rather than either blindly accepting modern technology or lapsing into blind opposition to it.

Eventually we will be able to engineer the very microbes that live on skin to be less uncomfortable and less offensive. Hopefully, some of the possible options will be less toxic than current chemical antiperspirants.

July 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm
(13) Nancy says:

Ah Skeptical, ignorance can be bliss! I have 3 autoimmune disorders and learned the hard way. My experience has been that this garbage that I was putting in and on my body almost killed me. I have become so sensitive to chemicals that my doctor says I need to live in a bubble. Once these chemicals build up in your body it can cause a devastating reaction. Before this happened I was thyroidless due to a rare tumor but I didn’t have any other health problems this severe. Chemicals, preservatives and fake sugar is not meant to be put in or on our bodies. One of my biggest issues is migraines which are caused by chemicals and cortisol fluctuation because of my adrenal issues. I was not this way until I apparently got toxin overload. I haven’t used aluminum in any form for 4 years since I first got sick. For deodorant I use a crystal. Works fine for me. Way up and realize that this stuff isn’t good for you before it is too late.

July 12, 2011 at 10:00 am
(14) Skeptical says:

Nancy, I’m sincerly sorry that you suffer from hyper-sensitivity and migraines. Honest, I would not wish suffering on ANYONE. However, your response to products is the fringe of the bell curve and would not be considered typical. This is the challenge for the study of toxicology– to determine what is generally considered safe. I concede that we live in a very complex society where we exposure ourselves to a very wide variety of chemicals. But everything in the universe is made of chemicals – even that crystal you use as an alternative to aluminum based deoderant. Heck, it’s probably just another metal salt, based on my brief google search of the topic. I still hold to my original point – the skin is a great barrier and the toxicological “dangers” presented do not seem germaine to topical treatment.

July 12, 2010 at 5:30 pm
(15) Gary says:

Why introduce known toxins to your body if they can be easily avoided?
My guess is that not too many readers were alarmed by the column but perhaps were enlightened.
Nothing in the article suggests that people are “dropping dead” from using anti-perspirant.
I wouldn’t use aspirin or ibuprofen on a daily basis either.

August 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm
(16) Tony says:

“Why introduce known toxins to your body if they can be easily avoided?”

Sure, stop eating anything that 100% all-naturally contains Vitamin A, several of the Vitamin B’s, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, iron, etc. Heck, even the dreaded “dihydrogen monoxide” has a chance of toxicity, yet your body is composed of ~60-80% of that compound.

Nearly *EVERYTHING* is toxic given certain levels. Labeling things as “toxins” is just pretty ridiculous when you look at how much is toxic to us at certain exposure levels. And before there is any disagreement about water, or it being ridiculous to worry about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_intoxication

It’s only wiki, but I don’t feel like tracing anything else down. My guess is that people don’t view “toxins” in a healthy way at all, and if nothing else, the constant stress from worrying about all the “nasty synthetic chemicals and toxins” potentially has a more adverse set of health effects than the toxins themselves. See the link between stress and health effects like heart disease, raised blood pressure, etc.

July 13, 2010 at 6:57 am
(17) Ray says:

Personally, I have found that daily use of these products is not necessary; at most every two or three days is sufficient to produce the desired result. I do shower every day and that does not seem to reduce the effectiveness. I suspect they are far more potent and effective and we can use less than advertising would have us believe. No surprise there!

In a greater sense, I believe that’s a lesson for all of the products and technology of modern life. True technological sophistication is not blindly filling our lives with the “latest, greatest and most”, it’s identifying what we need and what works in our individual circumstances and using just that, no more and no less.

July 20, 2010 at 8:02 pm
(18) Mr Wizard says:

Good article. I recall a story about a college professor who ate a teaspoon of DDT in class to show how “safe” it it. No sane scientist would do that today – based on what we know now, of course. Caution without panic is a wise course of action.

November 28, 2010 at 10:48 am
(19) ViVi says:

I agree with the article, only I feel deoderant with any chemical ingredients should be avoided. It has been proven that aluminum (found in anti-perspirant deoderant) has caused breast cancer and altzeimers. Also, out armpits sweat cuz it’s a dumping ground for waste in our body. With anti-perspirant, we’re telling our bodies to keep all da waste inside which isn’t good. So my opinion, avoid these toxic deoderants and go for a natural brand that’s safer and healthier. And for now, if u go work out, shower right after.

June 16, 2011 at 11:05 pm
(20) painful says:

I have always used deodorant but have struggled all my life with allergies to it. I’ve tried all of them. I mean every kind with or without perfumes and even those made for people who are allergic to deodorants. My skin under my arms break out so bad it is so painful that I have to go without deodorant until it heals. I’ve even tried baby powder, Toms deodorant (who claims it won’t break you out but it does) I even tried men’s unscented deodorant. Nothing works. Any suggestions for someone like me? I sweat heavily and don’t want to smell. But the pain is unbearable.

July 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm
(21) Elle says:

I’ve heard people use baking soda by making it into a paste. I am about to try that myself.

July 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm
(22) Kevin says:

I keep a box of baking soda next to the sink. Wet finger, swirl, and wipe – works GREAT!

July 11, 2011 at 6:25 am
(23) leesa says:

I have the same problem but with unbearable itching that takes weeks to subside. I believe it is a chemical sensitivity, developed after years of using these products. Do you mean deodorant or antiperspirant, because they are different.
I am now exploring liposuction of the armpits to remove the sweat glands. Botox is only temporary and cutting the nerves sounds too risky. Anyone had it done?

July 15, 2011 at 11:32 am
(24) Sayeed says:

yeah ! It really sounds risky ! I am so afraid of it ! I have not done it,even I didn’t hear anybody has done it….

July 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm
(25) ViVi says:

@Painful.. I like Trader Joes brand of unscented different. Doesn’t break me out and I have sensitive skin. Just gotta keep reapplying it when doing strenuous activity. Or try making ur own. U can find recipes online. Hope this helps! :)

July 11, 2011 at 12:02 pm
(26) ViVi says:

I meant to say deoderant, NOT different. Also baking soda is great!

July 11, 2011 at 4:56 am
(27) MARVIN DAVIS says:


July 11, 2011 at 8:47 am
(28) Mike says:

A great many responders make a distinction between synthetic and natural chemical substances. I wonder if this differential is all that significant.

After all, one doesn’t need to look far to find natural substances that are highy toxic and/or allergenic. It is also possible to find numerous synthetic molecules that we use quite safely.

I submit that we tend to overreact to real or perceived dangers. Let’s look for knowledge and facts rather than emotion.

July 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm
(29) Adolphus Adolphus says:

I do enjoy your educational articles. Thanks for enlightening about the hazards of the antiperspirant. Keep up the good work.

West Indies.

July 11, 2011 at 1:11 pm
(30) cpatter says:

In general I agree with limiting your exposure to compounds which are toxic in one way or another. However, a factor to always consider is the dose-response curve for each compound. Many people confuse acute dose (high concentration, single exposure) with chronic exposure (low concentration, steady long-term exposure). Typically, acute doses produce an immediate reaction “poisoning”, while chronic exposure to a toxin generally produces different effects such as cancer or neurological issues over a span of perhaps 20 years. The difference in dose level is generally up to many orders of magnitude.
What is being discussed here is chronic exposure. I teach Environmental Science at a small college, and my consulting practice has been mainly in community education with regard to the difference between chronic and acute exposures. Since I live in Boulder, Colorado (the land of overreaction to chronic levels of exposure; acting as if it were an acute exposure and getting more or less hysterical about it), I deal with these issues almost daily and have come to feel that:
a.) The stress caused by the needless dread and paranoia is more harmful to your health than any of these compounds at the chronic dose level;
b.) By and large, the human body is incredibly resilient and can handle a large amount of toxic insult. I think the serious downside to the awareness of these toxins is the sense that the human body is fragile-not so! The majority of us, including those who think otherwise, are tough as nails.
c.) The greatest danger of chronic dose toxins is to children, who are still developing, and one should be very aware of what children are exposed to and attempt to minimize that exposure.
d.) Toxicological Science knows almost nothing about multiple toxin interactions. That is a strong reason to avoid and minimize exposures to toxins, even at chronic levels.
e.) Beware of fearmongers; they always want something from you.
CP, PhD (geochemistry)

July 12, 2011 at 11:29 am
(31) Mikayla says:

try using tom’s of main deodorant, there are also other all nature brands. I cannot remember the name of the brand I use now.

July 13, 2011 at 9:38 am
(32) Black says:

If it so dangerous why does the FDA not stop it???????????

August 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm
(33) ViVi says:

The FDA allows vaccinations that has embalming fluid and formaldehyde in it.. The FDA permits toxic chemicals n harmful ingredients in food. U just can’t trust the government with food.. Point blank.

September 11, 2011 at 10:24 pm
(34) Alicia says:

i need to go to the Scietific Method and just type in the correct answers for just six of the major steps of the Scientific Method.

June 28, 2012 at 10:41 pm
(35) wake up you says:

Aluminum causes damage to your pineal gland, your pineal gland connects your to your psychic ability, your psychic ability lets you see the truth about yourself and the world, your sight into the real world makes you realize you are being controlled and manipulated by the powers that be. Hence the use of highly toxic chemicals in food. Wake up and realize the only one going to save you is you. Be smart and be healthy.

November 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm
(36) AgNovice says:

A daily spray of ionic silver under the arm does the trick to eliminate/prevent odors.

February 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm
(37) Leech says:

As this article asked for alternatives to anti-perspirant (regardless of your beliefs),

I have two very good options. Well, more I suppose.

1) Addidas has two options: one is anti-perspirant, and the other is an aluminum-free deoderant (I think it comes in three scents). I loved it, however stores in my area no longer stock this product.

2) Lush has a product which is made with witch hazel, and even if you don’t like the smell, you can add baking powder (shaked in a container with an essense oil of your choosing) and fluff that ontop of the product (I think it’s called aromaco?).

3) I have tried crystals in the past, but was never a fan, however I do know people who swear by them.

4) “Jason” has a line of deoderants (they are more of a natural/organic type of product).

5) I haven’t tried it, however you can find recipes for making your own deoderant, tailored to your preferences. Just google it and you’ll find several websites.

Regardless of the research into this, I think of it this way:
arm pits have lymph nodes. I’m going to play it safe (I actually had problems with mine, and miraculously the pain cleared up after a couple months avoiding anti-perspirant). If it was because of my aluminum-free ways, then great. If it had nothing to do with it, then I guess I’m not doing any worse.
Who can believe research anyways: not too long ago, doctors were prescribing cigarettes. duh.

April 28, 2013 at 11:50 am
(38) Lauretta says:

I am doing a research to find out if aluminum contained in antiperspirant (or any other substances contained in antiperspirants)has any relationship with migraine and I ran across this article, so I thought I drop a few lines before I keep searching for answers. I decided to stop using antiperspirant about 5 months ago and started using baking soda (you will still sweat but won’t smell). I have noticed that the frequency of my migraines dropped consideuorsly… I noticed that right away and I started to keep a journal…I went from having 2/3 migraines weekly to maybe 2/3 a month around my menstrual cycle !! Now… I am not a doctor, or a rocket scientist , so I do not want to come to the conclusion that antiperspirants have any correlations to migraine…(migraine runs in my family BTW). Coincidence? Maybe…or maybe not!! Whatever it is, even if I didn’t drop dead and probably won’t , I will still stick with baking soda:)

May 15, 2013 at 8:05 am
(39) MaTT says:

I tend to disagree with your conclusion. Using deodorant instead of an antiperspirant isnít an option if you want to stay dry. All deodorant does is it masks bad odor but it doesnít prevent sweating. So, by just using deodorant youíll still have to deal with sweat stains under your armpit. If you are too concerned about chemicals in an antiperspirant there are good all natural alternatives such as:
- yogurt
- lemon
- rosemary oil
- lavender oil
- coconut oil
- arrowroot extract
This is just my two cents :)

June 2, 2013 at 9:17 am
(40) Danobegood says:

I have been using RG antiperspirant for about 29yrs. Over this period of time I have always had bacne and some pimples on my chest. I decided to stop using antiperspirant (a week and a half at this point) to see if I’d feel better (gluten issues and feeling crappy) and noticed that my bacne and chest pimples are clearing on their own. I’ve used body clear to fight the bacne and the chest pimples, but it would never go away. Maybe a week and a half is not enough time to really tell if the antiperspirant and pimples are linked, but I’m 44 and I still get pimples on my face and chest and have bacne, but now all this seems to be clearing up. I suspect that if stopping the use of antiperspirant and clearing of my skin are truly linked then my body has been expelling some of the toxins from the antiperspirant through my skin.

June 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm
(41) peter says:

I’ve stopped using antiperspirants a long time ago. Just natural deodorants to stop BO and Nonchalante underarm pads to prevent wet patches from showing on my clothes.

June 11, 2013 at 10:46 am
(42) Tara says:

Try Lavilin. It’s the best aluminum-free deodorant I have ever come across – far and away! I’ve never had any irritations and it lasts up to a week for me.

July 21, 2013 at 12:07 am
(43) Jaclyn says:

Tara, I have a few friends who use Lavilin and they also speak very highly of it. Does it last a week even when you are active in the summer months? I’ve got sensitive skin, so looking for something that will be easy on my skin, but also eliminate odors!


July 21, 2013 at 10:03 pm
(44) Tara says:

Jaclyn – YES! Always lasts a week for me – doesn’t matter what time of year, or what I’m doing. It works! Fox did a test with 3 firemen who tried Lavilin at the beginning of the week. They worked out and were very active – and it worked for all of them!! Try it!

August 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm
(45) danobegood says:

so it’s August 14th and I’ve been using brut for about nine weeks. bacne is not nearly what it was. still a few pimples. hemorrhoids were an issue but seem to have disappeared. feeling better energy-wise. seems that between being gluten free and no antiperspirant , acid reflux is non-existent even on a diet that includes doritos jacked, grapes, gatorade, fudge, chicken-ziti(rice flour)-broccoli-alfredo, strawberries, steak, salad, coffee, etc. anyone have any thoughts on the brut?

September 30, 2013 at 8:30 pm
(46) Lisa D says:

I just wanted to point out another reason to stop the antiperspirant / deo applications. I’m a professor and often have what you might call “nervous sweat” while I’m teaching. I was often sensitive to many antiperspirants and deodorants and had only found one that I could withstand without a rash, but even though it was in fact an antiperspirant I found that I still sweat and still stank and what was worse, the sweat stains were starting to leave unsightly marks on my clothes which wouldn’t come off with washing.
During the summer I figured if I am still sweating and smelling then why bother? I thought I would try the Crystal Spray that is just simply mineral salts and water. Yes, I still sweat, but there is zero smell. The added bonus is that even though I sweat, it does dry and there are zero traces of sweat stains on my clothes.

January 31, 2014 at 12:49 am
(47) sophiya says:

your information is very best about the deodorants..Men and women both are gave the many preference to smell..They are attract by opposite sex to smelled..thanks..

February 4, 2014 at 4:09 am
(48) minni says:

I really impressed to read all this great information..I really appreciated that great information..thanks for sharing…

March 31, 2014 at 9:23 am
(49) Teresa says:

PureBodyScent deodorants are amazing. They are extremely effective and long lasting. I apply it in the evening and when I go to work the next day, I can still smell the deodorant (all day long). It seems to get stronger as I perspire. No toxins and no hydrogenated oils. ;)

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