In the current beauty lexicon, there are some words that we use interchangeably, but that, in reality, are actually quite different: retinol and retin-A (an OTC versus a prescription), sunscreen and sunblock (a chemical filter versus a physical one), and deodorant and antiperspirant. When it comes to your armpit arsenal, these slight differences actually account for a lot.
Here’s the difference in a nutshell: Deodorants are a cosmetic product, meant to help sop up sweat and mask odor to keep you smelling fresh. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, contain a key ingredient—aluminum—which plugs sweat glands to keep you from having to deal with underarm wetness altogether. Sounds great in theory, right?
Well in recent decades, antiperspirants have come under scrutiny, linking them to breast cancer, and while this continues to be a hot-button topic, the American Cancer Society has repeatedly said there’s no cause to worry.
The nervous feelings about aluminum stem from some research that’s suggested the compounds, when absorbed, can cause endocrine disruption in the receptors of breast cells. “Because estrogen can promote the growth of both cancer and non-cancer breast cells, some scientists have suggested that using the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may be a risk factor for the development of breast cancer,” the ACS writes.
The thing is, however, that it’s not even clear whether your skin actually absorbs much aluminum. One study that the ACS points out found that only a minuscule amount of the aluminum compounds were absorbed—and the actual amount would be much less than what you typically absorb when you eat. Another study found no correlation between breast cancer and those who applied antiperspirant, deodorant, or shaved prior to applying either of these. “At this point, no clear link has been made between antiperspirants containing aluminum and breast cancer,” they state.
Those that are in the natural deodorant world, on the other hand, are anti-aluminum—mainly because it’s healthier to just sweat it out. “Sweating is good for you and nothing to be ashamed of,” says Tara Pelletier, co-founder of clean beauty brand Meow Meow Tweet. “In our opinion, anything that keeps natural bodily processes from occurring is something to avoid.”
“There’s a lot of debate over whether certain aluminum compounds found in commercial antiperspirants are linked to hormone imbalance, endocrine disruption, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s,” says Rachel Winard, founder of Soapwalla, another clean beauty brand. “Others claim that there’s no basis for these fears. Either way, aluminum salts cause the skin cells to swell shut or clog them altogether, which is why you don’t sweat when you use antiperspirant. I’d argue that this isn’t particularly healthy for the skin.”
So, of course, if you’d rather stick to aluminum-free options, we’re happy to help. Here are some editor-approved options below.
Shop aluminum-free deodorants
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