Yes, some deodorant is bad for you. Antiperspirant varieties kill off good bacteria and have been shown to actually increase body odor. They also contain aluminum, which has been linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Deodorant is something that most of us use every single day without even thinking about it. But it wasn’t always that way; deodorant didn’t really take off until the early to mid-1900s. An ad campaign by Mum—the first commercial deodorant brand— was responsible for the sudden spike in sales. They exploited women’s insecurities, suggesting that their underarms might smell terrible and men would be put off by it.
The marketing trick worked. Today, deodorant is used by both men and women, and sales have reached a staggering $18 billion annually. But just because everyone is using it does not necessarily make deodorant safe.
There are some major health concerns with antiperspirant deodorants in particular. The difference between these and plain old deodorant is that they don’t just cover up or mask your odor... they help stop you from sweating entirely.
The first major concern with antiperspirants is that they kill too much bacteria. Remember: not all bacteria is bad—your body needs to maintain a healthy balance in order to digest food, fight off disease and more. A study of antiperspirant deodorant users found that they had significantly less Corynebacterium bacteria, a variety which helps the body fend off harmful pathogens.
Secondly, research has found that antiperspirants may actually lead to worse body odor. Here’s why: antiperspirant works by seeping into and essentially clogging up your sweat glands. It’s harder for anything to get in or out, which can lead to a microbial imbalance. Unfortunately, the most foul-smelling bacteria seem to thrive and multiply under these conditions.
And finally, most antiperspirants contain aluminum. This is the ingredient that physically blocks the sweat glands, but it’s also known to interfere with estrogen receptors—which can increase your risk of breast cancer. Additionally, aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. It has been found in the brains of some Alzheimer’s patients, but the cause-effect relationship is still unclear. Aluminum does occur naturally in the body, so researchers are still uncertain whether or not added aluminum exposure plays a role in the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s.
Even if you don’t use antiperspirants, there are still some health concerns with plain old deodorant. Some contain parabens, which have been found in the tumors of breast cancer patients. Others contain known skin irritants—zirconium, propylene glycol and potassium alum, for starters.
To reduce your risk, seek out aluminum- and paraben-free deodorants. You can also try natural alternatives: apple cider vinegar, lemon juice or corn starch. Even just washing your underarms more frequently with soap and water will prevent both odor and bacteria build-up.
Possible short-term side effects
- skin irritation
Possible long-term side effects
- alzheimer’s disease
Ingredients to be aware of
- prevents odor
- reduces sweating
- aluminum- and paraben-free deodorants