Are Antiperspirants Harmful?

Medically Reviewed on 11/15/2021

Antiperspirant facts and safety: how safe are they?

Antiperspirants are products you put on your armpits to stop or slow sweating. There are concerns that antiperspirants may be implicated in cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and allergies.
Antiperspirants are products you put on your armpits to stop or slow sweating. There are concerns that antiperspirants may be implicated in cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and allergies.

Antiperspirants are products you put on your armpits to stop or slow sweating. They block your pores, preventing sweating and slowing down the growth of the microorganisms that can cause bad body odor. Antiperspirants are different from deodorants, which kill odor-causing bacteria in your armpits instead of blocking your pores.

Antiperspirants are popular with people who tend to sweat more. You can purchase most antiperspirants over the counter. However, if you sweat too much—a condition called hyperhidrosis—you may use a prescription-strength antiperspirant.

Antiperspirants are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Every antiperspirant on the market in the United States has been tested and shown to be effective and safe to use. The FDA has a list of approved antiperspirant ingredients, and manufacturers use only those ingredients in their antiperspirant products.

Even so, there are some concerns about the safety of antiperspirants.

Cancer

In the 1990s, rumors spread suggesting that antiperspirants could cause cancer, especially breast cancer. However, a 2002 study of over 800 people with breast cancer and over 700 people without breast cancer showed that there was no correlation between using antiperspirants and developing breast cancer.

Some people believe this rumor started because you are not supposed to use antiperspirants when you get a mammogram. This is not because antiperspirants cause cancer, but because the small pieces of aluminum can show up on the scan and give a confusing or incorrect result.

Additionally, some people believe that antiperspirants can cause lymphatic cancer by preventing the lymph nodes from releasing toxins through sweat. However, that is not how the lymphatic system works. Your kidneys and liver remove the toxins processed by your lymph nodes, they are not excreted through sweat.

There has also been concern about parabens in antiperspirants. Some people believe this cosmetic preservative can cause cancer. However, the FDA says there is no conclusive evidence on that topic. Additionally, most antiperspirants do not contain parabens.

Alzheimer's Disease

Many antiperspirants use aluminum as the main ingredient to stop sweating. In the 1960s and 1970s, scientists were researching aluminum exposure as a possible cause of Alzheimer's disease. However, there are no studies showing a conclusive relationship between aluminum exposure and developing Alzheimer's disease.

Allergies

You may be allergic to one or more ingredients in an antiperspirant. It could be a fragrance, vitamin E, lanolin, or another ingredient. If you know you have an allergy to common antiperspirant ingredients, ask your doctor what products you can use. If you develop a rash or irritation after using a new antiperspirant, stop using it and ask your doctor for advice.

How to use antiperspirants properly

Experts recommend applying antiperspirants at night. You sweat less at night, so more of the antiperspirant can enter your pores to slow the flow of sweat during the day. Most antiperspirants work for about 24 hours, so you will be covered through the next day, even if you take a shower.

If you have hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, your doctor may tell you to apply an antiperspirant two times a day—in the morning and evening.

When you put on your antiperspirant, make sure your skin is totally dry. Your skin might sting or become irritated if you are still damp when you put it on. If you are still wet, you can even use a blow dryer to dry off quickly.

Don't wrap your skin tightly in non-breathable materials like plastic after applying an antiperspirant. Some people believe this will help it stay on longer or work better, but that is not true. It will only irritate your skin or make you sweat more.

You can use antiperspirants on any part of your body where you sweat. Most people use them in their armpits, but you can also use them on your feet or hairline as well.

These products come in several different forms including sprays, wipes, and soft-solid sticks.

Antiperspirants and Laundry

To prevent antiperspirant stains on clothing, wait for the product to fully dry before putting on your shirt. You can wear an undershirt to further protect your garments. 

After you take off a shirt and notice an antiperspirant stain, rinse the armpits of the shirt in cold water immediately.

Pre-treat antiperspirant stains with laundry soap, ammonia, bleach sticks, white vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide before putting them in the washer. Then, wash the stained clothes on the hottest setting possible using color-safe bleach.

Prescription-strength Antiperspirants

If you are using a prescription antiperspirant, make sure to follow all directions from your doctor. Wait between one and two days after shaving your armpits before using a prescription antiperspirant. Don't wash your armpits right before using this type of product.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/15/2021
References
SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk."

Chemical & Engineering News: "What are deodorants and antiperspirants, and how do they fight sweat?"

Consumer Reports: "Why You Should Apply Antiperspirant at Night."

Cosmetics Info: "Antiperspirants & Deodorants."

International Hyperhidrosis Society: "Antiperspirant Basics," "Laundry Solutions," "Tips for Best Results-OTC," "Tips for Best Results-Rx."

Penn Medicine: "Is Deodorant Harmful for Your Health?"

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Parabens in Cosmetics."