Many people assume that the FDA protects Americans from dangerous drugs, especially over-the-counter drugs. But that assumption might be exposing us to unexpected risks. We recently wrote about the hazards associated with the popular pain reliever, acetaminophen. It turns out that it took the FDA decades to figure out some of the dangers of this popular pain reliever and require warnings on the label.

But have you ever thought about your antiperspirant? The FDA considers it a drug, since it changes the way the body functions (deliberately, of course: it stops sweat glands from doing their job). The agency requires all antiperspirants to contain some form of aluminum, because that is what plugs sweat glands. But how carefully has the FDA considered possible antiperspirant perils?

Researchers in Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy and elsewhere in Europe have been examining the effects of aluminum compounds on breast tissue, since the underarms are quite close to the breast and the antiperspirant chemicals appear to penetrate the skin. Studies in tissue cultures have shown that aluminum chloride exposure leads to DNA breakage and overgrowth of certain types of breast cells (Journal of Applied Toxicology, March, 2012). The authors note, “Our observations do not formally identify aluminium as a breast carcinogen, but challenge the safety ascribed to its widespread use in underarm cosmetics.”

Other scientists are also concerned. One group of investigators recently showed that breast cancer patients have higher levels of aluminum and inflammatory compounds in their nipple fluid than healthy women (Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, online July 12, 2013).  A review of research shows that aluminum at the concentrations found in breast tissue may be problematic (Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, online July 13, 2013);  another tissue culture study suggests that aluminum compounds may activate breast cancer cells so that they become more invasive (Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, online July 12, 2013). The authors of the review offer the following observation:

“Aluminium, at concentrations found associated with breast tissues, would seem therefore to have the properties necessary to be able to drive development and growth of breast tumours. The possibility therefore that the increasing incidence of breaset cancer might be associated with aluminium exposure justifies further investigation.”

Now, none of this research proves that aluminum from antiperspirants or any other source actually causes breast cancer. But it does give us pause. The “precautionary principle” has become popular in Europe where they are beginng to require safety studies before chemicals are approved for human use. In the U.S., most compounds are given the benefit of the doubt and have to be proven dangerous before regulatory authorities even consider warnings or bans.

Some women find they need the moisture control an antiperspirant offers. Otherwise, they end up drenched in sweat and may even have to change their blouse or shirt during the day. But many others are primarily concerned with odor control. For that, there are other options besides aluminum-containing antiperspirants. In addition to commercial deodorants, there are a number of home remedies that can be helpful.

Some people are enthusiastic about zinc oxide cream: “I’ve tried all kinds of commercial deodorants for underarm odor and have been disappointed in all of them. I’d scrub till my armpits bled and then within minutes of my shower I would stink again.

“By chance, I found something that works for me. It is zinc cream for baby diaper rash. It’s cheap and easy to find in any pharmacy.

“I apply an almost invisibly thin layer and rub it in. It keeps odor away all day long.”

This cream has antimicrobial activity (Journal of Biomedical Nanotechnology, Dec. 2011) that probably accounts for its ability to fight odors.

Others prefer white vinegar: “I keep a small spray bottle of white vinegar to spritz underarms before regular shower. Bath soap washes away remains of vinegar and seems to work well keeping odor at bay.” Baking soda is another popular option: “Baking soda also makes a pretty darn good deodorant. Just rub it in well, and brush off any excess. One caveat: I use the kind from a health food store, and it says it contains no aluminum. I don’t know if the major brands do contain aluminum, or if so, how much there is.”

Witch hazel, rubbing alcohol and vodka as armpit treatments all have their enthusiasts: “Using vodka to fight body odor is no recent discovery. Theatrical wardrobe professionals going back to vaudeville days have used vodka spritz on elaborate costumes that can’t be cleaned easily. Applying vodka and letting them air dry gets rid of the odor. The only problem is explaining to strangers why you have industrial-sized jugs of vodka in the house.”

Our favorite, however, is milk of magnesia.  Splashing it into the underarms certainly works, but many folks find that procedure a bit messy and inconvenient. That’s why we asked our wonderful wizard natural chemist friend to come up with a roll-on milk of magnesia (MoM) deodorant just for The People’s Pharmacy.  Here is a very short video to explain why we went to the effort of developing a MoM deodorant.

We have three different formulations: the original, which contains the natural clay bentonite as a stabilizer (bentonite has a small amount of aluminum in it naturally); the aluminum-free MoM roll-on deodorant, with a synthetic stabilizer; and the aluminum-free version scented for women.  We can’t promise they will reduce your risk of breast cancer, but they offer great odor control without any worries. Here is a link to all our body-care products.



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  1. HL

    I forgot to add something important – no doctor can deny how our skin absorbs. Look at birth control patches, nicotine or pain patches, etc. Now take a look at commercials for low-T – low testosterone. How do you apply it? Like a stick of deodorant. Same type of container. Roll it on UNDER YOU ARMS. And listen to the warnings at the end of the commercial not to let it come into contact with women or children.
    If nothing else, this should tell you that doctors and pharmaceutical companies know that the skin is an absorbent path into our bloodstreams. That is how that med is to be dosed. One has to wonder how our bodies are managing a daily ‘dose’ to our lymph nodes and bloodstream from the chemicals in market anti-pers/deo?

  2. HL

    I found myself with itchy, irritated pits a few years ago, having developed an allergy to your average anti-pers/deo. It was awful, always clawing at your armpits. I was forced to find an alternative. I actually came across the coconut oil recipe online and found it very effective, I have been using it for 4 years now. Very easy to make. You just have to get used to sweating.
    Also, the crystal deos do have aluminum in them, don’t be fooled just because your upscale grocery chain sells them.

  3. nb

    No one ever mentions vitamins that help. I use B100 for other reasons but have found it also helps with sweating and body odor. Also, I don’t know which of the various B’s are also helping as a mosquito repellant but I am happy I found out by chance.

  4. Mary J

    I’ve been using the “Thai crystal” method of deodorant for the past 5 years and it works amazingly well. Just rub it on after a shower. It leaves absolutely no white stain when I put on my blouse, which is an added benefit. I buy it online, but probably is available at natural shops.
    People’s Pharmacy response: Just keep in mind that the crystal deodorants are made of alum=aluminum. That is partly why they work so well.

  5. SB

    This concerns me greatly, but I perspire SO much, that I have to use clinical strength and my son has to use a prescription strength. Otherwise it would be completely embarrassing. What should we do? Would it be safer to get Botox injections? I am not the type of person that like to do anything unnatural, but this is truly a social problem for us. Thanks for any suggestions.

  6. JBM

    I have read and read articles re aluminum in deodorant….been concerned…tried different ones, which have NOT worked. Finally ordered the People’s Pharmacy MOM roll on deodorant and am such a believer – IT REALLY WORKS….I’m going to spread the word.

  7. JAL

    I have a friend who now lives in India and says that she has been using a crystal instead of deodorant and that it is very effective for controlling both perspiration AND odor. She simply rubs the crystal on her underarms after she showers and says it works for a couple of days. Have you ever heard of this??? What do you think???

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