Ingredient Watch List: Aluminum Compounds and the Risk of Disease

MODEL RELEASED. Woman using deodorant. Woman spraying an aerosol deodorant under her arm.

Take a look at your deodorant. On the back, under “active ingredients,” you're likely to see aluminum. May be “aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY,” if you're using a stick, gel, or other solid product; and “aluminum chlorohydrate” if you're using a roll-on antiperspirant. These are aluminum salts that are used for controlling perspiration—the only FDA-approved ingredients for use in antiperspirants. But you may have heard that these compounds can be harmful to your health. Is that true?

What is Aluminum?

Aluminum is a common element found in our environment, mostly in a type of rock called “bauxite ore.” The bauxite is purified and processed to help separate the aluminum from the other elements in the rock, then treated with carbon dioxide, filtered, and heated to come up with the final aluminum metal.

Aluminum is used in a variety of industries, and is found in food, water, and a wide range of consumer products like tea, beer, drinking water, toothpaste, aluminum-based antacids, food additives, cookware, and some canned beverages. In general, it is believed to pass through the body unabsorbed, and the small amount that is absorbed is excreted by the kidneys, unless an individual has impaired kidney function.

Aluminum Compounds and Cancer

A British study published in 2007 seemed to link breast cancer with the use of aluminum-based, underarm antiperspirants. Researchers found the aluminum content of breast tissue was higher in the outer regions of the breast, where you'd normally apply your antiperspirant. The study was very small, however, and there was no evidence that the aluminum had come from deodorant. The researchers admitted that it could be the fatty breast tissue was just a perfect place for aluminum in the body to come to rest.

Other scientific studies have come up with conflicting results. One found that breast cancer may be linked to high levels of iron and aluminum in the body, but couldn't connect antiperspirants directly with the disease, as we can also get aluminum from fluoridated water, vaccines, and aluminum cookware. According to the National Cancer Institute, some studies on breast cancer and antiperspirants showed no increased risk, but others did. It seems that for now, scientists just aren't sure. That means it's up to you to decide.

Aluminum and Alzheimer's Disease

The idea that aluminum may increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease was first suggested in the 1960s, when researchers found that the injection of aluminum compounds into rabbits caused tangle-like formations in nerve cells. These tangles were different, however, than the tangles found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Additional studies on the subject were inconclusive. According to the Alzheimer's Society, “no causal relationship has yet been proved.” They further state that the more research that is done, the less likely aluminum seems to be a factor. Instead, risk factors include genetics, age, and other diseases.

My Take

Can the skin absorb aluminum? Preliminary studies show that it can, but again, we need more research to be sure. Many factors can affect the skin's absorption of compounds, including the size of the compound, the condition of the skin, temperature, and more. The concern is that many of us apply antiperspirants daily over a period of many years, and so far we don't know what the cumulative results may be.

Bottom line: Aluminum compounds may not hurt you, but then again, there is a small risk. If you want to reduce your exposure to potentially toxic compounds, why not try aluminum-free deodorants? Here are some possibilities, along with some other tips for reducing your exposure to aluminum:

  • Filter your water.
  • Cook food in glass or stainless steel, or look for aluminum-free cookware.
  • Avoid aluminum-based antacids and buffered aspirin.
  • Read labels on foods and cosmetics and avoid those with aluminum.
  • Try aluminum-free organic deodorants, such as those from Herbalix Detox Deodorant, Miessence Deodorants, and others.

Have you found an aluminum-free deodorant that you like? Please share your suggestions.

Keele University (2007, August 31). Aluminum In Breast Tissue: A Possible Factor In The Cause Of Breast Cancer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 12, 2012, from­ /releases/2007/08/070831210302.htm.
“Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer,” National Cancer Institute.
“Aluminum,” Cosmetics Info,
“Aluminum and Alzheimer's Disease,” Alzheimer's Society,
“Antiperspirants—Aluminum & Alzheimer's Disease,” Control Your Impact,
Photo courtesy Zachary41 via

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