Yesterday evening over a glass of wine, the conversation turned (as well it might on a humid New York day) to sweat and the need for any self-respecting woman in a designer blouse to protect her underarms at all costs. But could the cost be too high? As my friend pointed out, deodorant commonly contains aluminum. "Everyone I know is scared of aluminum", she said.

Europeans don't like aluminum much. Aluminum cookware is considered toxic. But is it the same kind of aluminum in deodorant? My bathroom cabinet revealed a roll-on made by Clinique ($8 for 2oz). It contains a 20% concentration of the active ingredient aluminum chlorohydrate.

What Is Aluminum in Deodorant? Is Aluminum in Deodorant Harmful?

Aluminum chlorohydrate is a group of salts that is made by reacting aluminum with hydrochloric acid. Its most common use is in deodorants and antiperspirants because it alters the pH balance of the skin and the production of sweat. There was a scare a few years ago that aluminum chlorohydrate caused breast cancer. In 2002, the National Cancer Institute said there was no link.

Since then, deodorant makers have used aluminum with impunity. The thing is that while aluminum in deodorant  may not cause cancer, it is well proven that aluminum is a neurotoxin that can alter the function of the blood-brain barrier. There was a study on this as long ago as 1989 and many more since (although no one seems to know what the basis for it being a toxin is).

Auminum is poorly absorbed and efficiently eliminated. If, however, it is absorbed then it gets to the lungs, liver and kidneys. The Risk Assessment Information System, sponsored by the US Dept of Energy, says that it "may be involved" in Alzheimer's and Parkinsons.

Is Aluminum in Deodorant Worth the Risks?

So is using a deodorant with aluminum in it worth whatever health risk there might be? Probably not. According to one German study on 97 adults, it doesn't even work that well at preventing perspiration (and if applied whilst perspiring doesn't work at all). Another study showed an aluminum-based deodorant to be 38% effective — at best. This was a lotion. The stick form didn't work at all.

Alternatives to Deodorants with Aluminum

On balance, I have decided to trash my Clinique roll-on. But what to replace it with? Weleda does a nice natural one with lemon. However, it really just keeps odor at bay; it doesn't keep you dry. In fact, that appears to be true for most "natural" and/or aluminum-free products. They even proclaim proudly that you will sweat, that sweating is normal and even good for you (expels toxins). Forget that. I want to be dry. More research is needed but I have seen a good review of Alvera Aloe Based Roll-on.

UPDATE 6/22: I've just put Alvera Aloe Based Roll-on to the test (27-minute workout on the rowing machine). It is good at neutralizing pongs but absolutely hopeless at keeping armpits dry.