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What's In Your Armpit?

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It's that time of year when most people use an antiperspirant at least once a day. That's because the heat and humidity are causing us to sweat up a storm. When we sweat a lot the bacteria lurking on our skin start feasting on fats and protein in our perspiration. The result: Body Odor! When temperatures exceed 90 degrees F the chances are good that we will be sweating and stinking.

Since no one wants to smell bad, most people reach for an antiperspirant without thinking twice. But have you bothered to read the label? If you did, would you even know what those chemicals are and what the potential risks might be of applying them regularly to the delicate skin of your armpits?

Here are just a few of the ingredients you are likely to find in antiperspirants. If you have a hard time pronouncing these complex chemical names don't be surprised:

ACTIVE INGREDIENTS:

• Aluminum Zirconium Trichlorohydrex
• Aluminum Zirconium Oxtachlorohydrex
• Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex


INACTIVE INGREDIENTS:

• Cyclomethicone
• Cyclopentasiloxane
• Dimethicone
• Dipropylene Glycol
• Fragrance
• Hydrogenated Castor Oil
• Hydrogenated Soybean Oil
• Parafin
• Pentadecalactone
• Petrolatum (petroleum jelly)
• Propylene Glycol
• Silica
• Sodium Silver Aluminum Silicate
• Tripropylene Glycol
• Trisiloxane

Have your eyes glazed over yet? Not surprising. If you doubt us, take a moment to go get your antiperspirant. If it doesn't have Aluminum Zirconium something-or-other we would be astonished. That's because the FDA requires manufacturers of antiperspirants to use aluminum-based salts in order to make claims like "protects against wetness," or "long-lasting antiperspirant action."

How safe are aluminum salts in your pits, day after day, year after year? Most people probably assume that they don't absorb the chemicals from their antiperspirant through the skin. That may not be true. Women may be especially vulnerable to absorption of such chemicals because they shave their underarms. That may create portals for entry. But men may also absorb such chemicals through delicate underarm tissue.

Italian researchers writing in the Journal of Applied Toxicology (April 3, 2011) noted that "Aluminium [aluminum] is not a physiological component of the breast but has been measured recently in human breast tissues and breast cyst fluids at levels above those found in blood serum or milk. Since the presence of aluminium can lead to iron dyshomeostasis [imbalance], levels of aluminium and iron-binding proteins (ferritin, transferrin) were measured in nipple aspirate fluid (NAF), a fluid present in the breast duct tree and mirroring the breast microenvironment...The reasons for the high levels of aluminium in NAF remain unknown but possibilities include either exposure to aluminium-based antiperspirant salts in the adjacent underarm area and/or preferential accumulation of aluminium by breast tissues."


British researchers writing in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry (Nov. 2011) state that:

"The human breast is exposed to aluminium from many sources including diet and personal care products, but dermal [skin] application of aluminium-based antiperspirant salts provides a local long-term source of exposure. Recent measurements have shown that aluminium is present in both tissue and fat of the human breast but at levels which vary both between breasts and between tissue samples from the same breast. We have recently found increased levels of aluminium in noninvasively collected nipple aspirate fluids taken from breast cancer patients (mean 268 ± 28 μg/l) compared with control healthy subjects (mean 131 ± 10 μg/l) providing evidence of raised aluminium levels in the breast microenvironment when cancer is present.

No one yet knows whether aluminum causes cancer, Alzheimer's disease or any other serious health problems. But Swiss researchers writing in the Journal of Applied Toxicology (March, 2012) conclude: "Our observations do not formally identify aluminium as a breast carcinogen, but challenge the safety ascribed to its widespread use in underarm cosmetics."

Put aside the aluminum for a moment. The so-called inactive ingredients in antiperspirants don't seem all that inactive to us. Hydrogenated oils, petroleum jelly, silicone and goodness knows what else might clog pores. Of course plugging sweat glands is what the FDA is striving for in antiperspirants. We're not convinced that is as safe as the FDA believes. Kris McGrath is a Professor in Medicine-Allergy-Immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. McGrath is concerned that if apocrine (sweat) glands in the armpit are plugged by antiperspirants there could be negative health consequences.

Until the final word is in on the safety of the ingredients found in most antiperspirants what can people do? No one wants body odor.

Here are some suggestions from visitors to this website:

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"I have found dipping a cotton ball in witch hazel and applying it to the underarms keeps me odor free and dry!"
Emily, May 29, 2012

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"I've used baking soda with perfect results for 2 years."
SSM, June 17, 2012

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"My husband was having a real problem w/ underarm rash. After trying an antifungal cream which worked temporarily, I told him about milk of magnesia.

"He will never go back to any deodorant and absolutely raves about the effectiveness of MOM [milk of magnesia]. Thanks to People's Pharmacy for great information. I'm a nurse and it has helped me give sound and simple advice to a lot of people!"
Sylvia S., May 29, 2012

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"I am a man who has used MoM (milk of magnesia) to quickly and effectively treat both underarm rash and a rash in the genital area. Doctor recommended treating them with standard antifungal treatments to no avail. I saw this and tried it and now swear by it! What a relief!"
DTC, July 4, 2012

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Anyone who doesn't want the inconvenience of dabbing baking soda or witch hazel on underarms and prefers a roll on product may want to check out this link to our MoM deodorant. Take a second to read the ingredients. You will be surprised at how pronounceable they are compared to what might be found on the typical antiperspirant bottle. By the way, there is a 15% savings if you use the discount code MOM15 when you reach checkout.

Regardless of what you do to prevent body odor, please do read ingredients and make informed decisions. We have assumed that the FDA protects us from harmful chemicals, but the rules that have been in place for antiperspirants came long before the latest research on aluminum. Perhaps one of these days the feds will evaluate the new data and revise their regulations. In the meantime, buyer beware.

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13 Comments

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I've used magnesium salt, AKA epsom salts, for several years as a way to prevent underarm odor because my skin breaks out from using commercial anti-antiperspirants and deodorants. After washing my arm pits I run a little epsom salts in my pits and then rinse. If my arm pit odor is strong I wash and rub with salt twice. It's very effective, very cheap, and usually works for a full day at the office and the evening.

I use Crystal deodorant. It doesn't stop the wetness, but there is no odor. It lasts a very long time. It is a salt. My Pakistani friend uses it too. In Pakistan they can collect the crystals from the dessert, but the Made in America version is easier to use in a twist up stick.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE:

We know that a lot of folks think "crystal" deodorant is super safe since it is "natural." If you read the label, though, you will discover that such products frequently contain "alum" or some for of aluminum salt. They work on the same principle as aluminum salts in antiperspirants.

I use a "crystal" deodorant which I thought had addressed all my health concerns so was surprised by your comment above as my product carries a Komen pink ribbon on the cap which says "No Aluminum Chlorohydrate" and also indicates on the front label that it is hypoallergenic and both fragrance and paraben free. The ingredients are listed on the back as: Purified Water (Agua), Natural Mineral Salts (Potassium Alum), Cellulose." This product is made in the US and is readily available at drug stores. Should the fact that it utilizes a "potassium alum" make a difference or should I be concerned?

i just read these comments and was very surprised, unpleasently so. i checked my "naturally fresh" deodorant ctystal and found it contained ammonium alum . doesn't sound good. i will throw it in the trash.
thank you for helping us make informed desesions,.

Thanks to your web site, I use white vinegar now, and it works very well. Once at the gym I smelled a vinegar odor, but it beats the antiperspirant break-down I always had.

Is propylene glycol the same a dipropylene glycol? I am surprised and saddened to see that this chemical is in my Tom's of Maine roll-on deodorant.

A book titled No More Dirty Looks is about the toxic ingredients in our lotions and creams, cleansers, deodorants and other body products. It gives alternatives to these. It is carried in public libraries. It does not go into the same detail that Peoples Pharmacy articles do but makes very interesting reading.

Hi! I had a question about MOM not in regards to its use as a deodorant, but rather its use on the face. I have been reading recently that MOM is a cheap and effective alternative to more expensive face primers. Is it safe to use MOM on the face?

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Yes. Some readers find it helpful against rosacea or acne as well: http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2010/10/18/search-for-acne-remedy/

I do use lemon juice (from fresh lemon)first and "Tom's of Maine" deodorant and have no problem even during very hot day.

I'm sure this is not new information to some, but I discovered that rubbing alcohol splashed under arms after a shower or before dressing works marvelously for me. We've had some very hot and humid days and nary a stink that I can perceive. I now have it in a spray bottle and use it like ordinary deodorant.

I must be among lucky and unusual minority. I rarely use deodorant because I rarely have underarm odor. On rare occasions, I may have some odor and I reach for the bad stuff...deodorant with aluminum in it. It works. Since I only rarely use the deodorant, I see no need to switch.

Comments?

Well, I was using Crystal deodorant, but have now switched to MoM with great results! I have a spray bottle that I saved because it had a wonderful sprayer thing on it that does not seem to clog. I shake it & spray! Perfect! Thank you for alerting me to the Aluminum controversy!

I recently stopped using commercial deodorants and made my own. I used Shea butter, coconut oil, baking soda, a little corn starch, and lavender essential oil. I had heard good things about this combo and it smells great, but I'm still in the early phases of use and I think I'm either having withdrawal symptoms or I'm having a reaction to my homemade mix.

I'm not allergic to any of the ingredients I used, so I'm thinking it's some kind of withdrawal. I have a painful red rash under my arms that only subsided when I put on some commercial deodorant in a moment of desperation. Is this common?

I've been using pure rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle for some time. It seems to prevent odor if not sweat.

If you are looking for a good commercial spray deodorant, try Weleda Sage spray. I does not contain aluminum and has a pleasant fragrance and controls odor if not sweating.

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