We’re exposed to hundreds of toxins each day – through the food we eat and the air we breathe. In recent years, these chemicals (and their effects on our health) have come under close scrutiny. That includes toxins in antiperspirants.
With so much conflicting and inconclusive research out there, weeding out the harmful from the harmless isn't an exact science. To make smarter purchase decisions, it's important to look at the facts behind the toxins in antiperspirant and deodorant.
What Is a Toxin?
The first step is understanding what a toxin is and how it enters the body. The skin is the largest organ and the conduit for toxins to move in and out of the body. Because most of what we put on our skin ends up in our bloodstream, it’s important to know about the potentially harmful toxins in consumer products and their effects on your health.
According to the National Library of Medicine, toxins are “substances created by plants and animals that are poisonous to humans. Toxins also include some medicines that are helpful in small doses, but poisonous in large amounts.” In certain cases, toxins in small doses can aid our health. Large amounts of toxins can also be damaging, making the topic rife with controversy.
Toxins in Antiperspirants
The most common chemical ingredients found in deodorant and antiperspirants are parabens, triclosan, phthalates, propylene glycol and aluminum. Research has linked these ingredients to several medical conditions including types of cancer and reproductive development issues. However, while toxins in antiperspirants have been the subject of many research studies, results have been inconsistent. There is no conclusive decision on whether toxins in antiperspirants are harmful to our health.
Here’s what the research says on some of the top toxins in antiperspirants:
Parabens are used in many deodorants in personal care products. This preservative has been shown to mimic estrogen in the body’s cells, interfering with the way your body produces hormones. While one 2004 study found parabens in 18 of 20 breast cancer patients, the study did not prove parabens caused the cancer. However, most major U.S. brands of deodorants and antiperspirants have phased out parabens.
As a pesticide, triclosan is used to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. Many consumer brands add the substance to deodorants to kill bacteria. Combined with water, triclosan can create the carcinogenic gas chloroform.
In studies on animals, triclosan has been shown to alter hormone regulation. Studies on bacteria also suggest that triclosan could contribute to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics, but no conclusive data exists.
Phthalates are plasticizers found in children’s toys, fragrances, deodorants and lotions. They’ve been linked asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development, male fertility issues and many more problems. The link to altered reproductive development and male fertility issues seems to be the most widely studied. But the findings have still been inconsistent.
For example, when leading phthalate researcher Dr. Richard Sharpe exposed pregnant rats to phthalates, it created abnormalities in their male offspring. Hundreds of studies on rats all led to the same conclusions. However, when tested on pregnant marmoset monkeys, their offspring emerged completely normal. Of the new human studies that link phthalates to masculinity problems, all label the effect as "small and preliminary."
While the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration say the levels we're exposed to every day are safe, Congress overruled these findings and banned some phthalates in children’s toys. Harmful phthalates have also been banned in California and the EU.
Used in foods and consumer products, propylene has developed a bad rap for its use in antifreeze and the EPA’s stringent safety disclosure instructions requiring gloves when handling it and disposal via burying.
But no research has pegged propylene glycol as a harmful ingredient, and the FDA and World Health Organization recognizes the ingredient as generally safe for use in foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Companies like Tom’s of Maine use vegetable-based propylene glycol, which is an environmentally safer alternative.
Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. But according to Dr. Ted S. Gansler, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society, "There is no convincing evidence that antiperspirant or deodorant use increases cancer risk.”
Like parabens, some studies have detected aluminum in breast tissue of patients with cancer, but they didn’t prove those chemicals had any bearing on breast cancer risk.
One study comparing hundreds of breast cancer survivors with healthy women and another review of all available studies found no evidence that antiperspirants increase the risk of breast cancer.
What to do about Toxins in your Antiperspirants
Above all, being conscious about what’s in your antiperspirant is important, especially considering your underarms will absorb the harmful and harmless chemicals they make contact with and we cannot rely on "natural" labels for guidance.
Labels also don't always disclose every ingredient in your antiperspirant or deodorant, but the Think Dirty app or Household Products Database can provide more insight.
What's your tried-and-true deodorant or antiperspirant? We'd love to hear in the comments below!
DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease or health illness. Please consult a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented here.