Deodorants and Antiperspirants

BY MSc. Bára Haliková

Some of you may remember the big media scandal about aluminum and the famous “free from aluminum” label shining at us from all over the beauty store.

Cosmetic companies are always very quick to respond to scandals, not even caring what information is behind. To be honest, I also then believed this and the first thing I checked when I was buying a new deodorant was to check if it’s free from aluminum.

Little did I know that, if you see such a label on a deodorant, it is purely just a marketing strategy, as deodorants didn’t contain aluminum in the first place. Aluminum salts are used only in antiperspirants because they function as pore blockers – simply said, they block the sweat pores and do not allow any sweat to come out.

Picture source: Bára Halíková

In many articles on the internet, we are warned about aluminum because it may cause breast cancer. This has, however, never been directly proven by scientific research and several pieces of research have opposed it. During a study done in 2017, it was concluded that persistent use of underarm cosmetic products may be correlated to adsorbed concentration of aluminum in breast tissue, however the causation to breast cancer was not proven. The authors, nonetheless, recommend that young women should take caution when using underarm cosmetic products and should try to stay away from their excessive and frequent use due to the possibly increased risk of breast cancer [1].

Another reason why to stay cautious is the neurotoxicity of aluminum. Aluminum and its salts can cause damage to our nervous system. While the neurotoxicity of aluminum has been shown in human tissue and cells, it is still very difficult to understand how this neurotoxin affects human health. There is a growing concern that accumulation of aluminum in the brain leads to diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease [2].

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So what should we look out for when choosing a deodorant or antiperspirant?

Well first of all, make clear what issue is it exactly that you are trying to cover. Is it just the smell that bothers you or do you worry about wet stains on your t-shirt?

Deodorants are not reducing perspiration – sweating, they have antibacterial properties to limit the bacteria activity which causes the “sweat odor”. So when we use a deodorant, we are still sweating but it shouldn’t smell.

With antiperspirants, the goal is to limit perspiration. This is done, as already mentioned above, with aluminum particles which temporarily block sweat pores. I would be cautious about using antiperspirants for the reasons concerning aluminum mentioned above. Deodorant is surely a safer choice here.

If you have problems with wet stains on your t-shirt, it is also worth checking which material it is made of. Some materials are more breathable than others. I had this experience once that in one specific t-shirt I was sweating much more than in others. Simply changing this shirt made the use of antiperspirant unnecessary.

Synthetic materials, such as polyester, don’t allow the skin to breathe, creating an environment where heat and sweat are trapped. If you find yourself sweating more, I advise reaching for clothes made out of cotton, linen or other natural materials.

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And then, there is the problem with rash. The skin under our arms is thin, because of arm movements there is skin friction, there are hairs and hair follicles and the environment is generally moist. All these aspects make this area more prone to irritation and allergy. As was also found in one study, of many different cosmetic products, deodorants were the most often leading cause of allergy [3]. This allergy is mostly caused by fragrances in deodorants or antiperspirants, and not only synthetic fragrances. Also natural fragrances like linalool and limonene cause reactions for certain consumers [4].

Hence, if you are experiencing rashes or other allergic reactions, first of all, try to reach for fragrance-free products.

It is also good to think about the packaging, if nothing else, for the environment it’s certainly better if your deodorant is wrapped in paper packaging than in a spray bottle or plastic container. More about how to minimise plastic in your bathroom can be found here.


  • MSc. Bára Haliková

    Completed her master studies in environmental management and waste management at GCU in Glasgow. Currently, she works for the organisation CEEV Živica on project GreenGate, whose main goal is to educate the public about dangerous substances in cosmetics. She currently lives with her partner and daughter in the countryside of Slovakia, in a small mobile home, which they built themselves.


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