logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

What’s In Your Armpit: Aluminum or Magnesium?

How safe is the aluminum in your antiperspirant? What does the latest research say? Would magnesium be a safer bet? Get 20% off MoM before 9/8/17.
What’s In Your Armpit: Aluminum or Magnesium?
Armpit smell body odor BO sweat deodorant

When’s the last time you looked at the ingredients in your antiperspirant? Most people never read labels. Be honest, now. Have you ever checked your antiperspirant label? We’ll bet you a month’s salary that your antiperspirant contains aluminum.

Don’t take that bet. You’d lose! That’s because no underarm product can claim to be an antiperspirant unless it contains aluminum. That’s an FDA rule.

Can You Pronounce These Chemicals?

If you do check out your antiperspirant, you will discover tongue-twisting ingredients. Some contain Aluminum Zirconium Trichlorohydrex GLY. Others have Aluminum Zirconium Octachlorohydrex GLY. Then there are the relatively pronounceable aluminum chloride and aluminum chlorohydrate ingredients. If you see aluminum on the antiperspirant label, you know there is aluminum in your arm pit.

What’s the Big Deal?

So what? Presumably the FDA is looking out for us, right? In the case of aluminum we’re not so sure.

Most people assume that the skin is a great barrier. We smear all sorts of things on our bodies, from sunscreen and moisturizer to soap and shampoo. For decades triclosan was widely distributed in soaps, body washes, mouthwash, toothpaste and deodorants. It is a preservative and antiseptic. Then the FDA effectively banned triclosan from soap. This antimicrobial agent is absorbed into the body and has hormone disrupting activity. Whether that is a problem remains controversial.

Speaking of hormones. There is a drug called Axiron that contains the male hormone testosterone. It delivers the medication via the armpit. In its marketing materials the company actually promoted this concept:

“To treat my low testosterone, my doctor and I went with Axiron, the only underarm low T treatment.”

So on the one hand, the FDA acknowledges that the armpit is a good way to absorb chemicals. On the other, the agency doesn’t seem concerned about aluminum absorption from antiperspirants.

Is Aluminum Toxic?

If you go to the National Library of Medicine’s website: PubMed and put aluminum toxicity into your search box, you will be astonished at how many articles come up.  At the time of this writing there were over 5,000 citations with with those key words.

Let’s narrow the search to aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease: That’s a more manageable 1000+ citations.

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s?

Most health professionals have assumed that the “old aluminum and Alzheimer’s” story disappeared without a trace long ago. Au contraire. Neuroscientists continue studying a link between aluminum and “neuropathology.” Here is just one example published in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease (online, July 27, 2017).

The authors point out that autistic spectrum disorder and Alzheimer’s disease may be impacted by a variety of factors from genetic to environmental. In their words:

“One such environmental factor implicated as a potential cause in both syndromes is aluminium, as an element or as part of a salt, received, for example, in oral form or as an adjuvant. Such administration has the potential to induce pathology via several routes such as provoking dysfunction and/or activation of glial cells which play an indispensable role in the regulation of central nervous system homeostasis and neurodevelopment.

“The mechanisms whereby environmental aluminium could contribute to the development of the highly specific pattern of neuropathology seen in Alzheimer’s disease are described. Also detailed are several mechanisms whereby significant quantities of aluminium introduced via immunisation could produce chronic neuropathology in genetically susceptible children. Accordingly, it is recommended that the use of aluminium salts in immunisations should be discontinued and that adults should take steps to minimise their exposure to environmental aluminium.”

Aluminum in the Brain?

Researchers have known for years that aluminum accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. How and why it gets there has been a mystery. We found this article in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology (March, 2017) particularly intriguing:

“…we do not know the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and environmental factors may yet be shown to contribute towards its onset and progression. One such environmental factor is human exposure to aluminium and aluminium has been shown to be present in brain tissue in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. We have made the first ever measurements of aluminium in brain tissue from 12 donors diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s disease. The concentrations of aluminium were extremely high…

“…The unique quantitative data and the stunning images of aluminium in familial Alzheimer’s disease brain tissue raise the spectre of aluminium’s role in this devastating disease.

“…Aluminium is neurotoxic and the concentrations of aluminium found in these familial AD [Alzheimer’s disease] brains are unlikely to be benign and indeed are highly likely to have contributed to both the onset and the aggressive nature of any ongoing AD in these individuals. These data lend support to the recent conclusion that brain aluminium will contribute towards all forms of AD under certain conditions.”

What to Make of This?

We would be the first to admit that there is no definitive proof that using an aluminum antiperspirant increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. That said, most people rely on such products daily for years or decades. We do not know the impact of such regular use on the body or brain. We do know that researchers have been calling aluminum a neurotoxin for years.

Aluminum vs. Magnesium:

Aluminum is not necessary for human biology. As far as we can tell it serves no essential purpose. Magnesium, on the other hand, is absolutely essential for human health. We could not function without magnesium. It is good for our bones, our heart and our blood vessels. Many people are deficient in this mineral.

When a reader told us that liquid milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide) was a great deodorant we were fascinated:

I want to share a remedy I learned about when traveling in Brazil. Just apply milk of magnesia to your armpits. It is the best underarm deodorant!”

Several years after we heard that milk of magnesia was especially helpful against body odor, we decided to try and come up with an easy applicator. We worked hard to eliminate the aluminum and the bleach (that used to be found in most drugstore milk of magnesia products) and find a roll-on system that would make MoM easy to apply.

Here is a video to explain more about this product.

Eventually our brilliant natural products chemist created a terrific unscented formulation. He also helped us develop an Aluminum-Free Women’s MoM Roll-On deodorant with a gentle floral fragrance and an Aluminum-Free Men’s MoM formula with a fresh herbal fragrance.

Rate this article
4.5- 50 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.