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Ask a Dermatologist: Why Is Aluminum in Deodorant So Controversial?

aluminum free deoderant

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We’ve all been there: We run out of our favorite deodorant only to head to the store (or hop online) to mindlessly pick up a refill. After all, if you’ve used it for years, why quit? Well, if new deodorant launches are any indication, one reason to switch things up is to avoid certain ingredients (ahem, aluminum) in favor of a cleaner, greener, potentially safer underarm routine. But, is it really necessary? We chatted with a couple of dermatologists to find out. Ahead, learn what aluminum is, how it works, whether or not it’s safe, and more.

Meet the Expert

  • Alicia Zalka is a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. She's also the founder of dermatologist-developed "anti-odorant" brand Surface Deep.
  • Michele Green is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Yale graduate based on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Additionally, she's been named one of New York Magazine's Best Doctors in NYC.

What Is Aluminum?

Aluminum is not only an element, it’s also the most abundant metal on earth, existing naturally within the earth’s core. As much as we love talking about mother nature, today we’re here to focus on aluminum as it pertains to deodorant. With this in mind, Zalka points out that aluminum salts, such as aluminum chloride, aluminum zirconium, and aluminum chlorohydrate are the most common ingredients in antiperspirants.

The reason these salts are used so prevalently is because of their sweat- and odor-blocking properties. 

Is Aluminum a Safe in Deodorant?

While the term deodorant is used as a catchall term, Green explains that true deodorants don’t contain aluminum, nor do they prevent sweating—it’s antiperspirants that do. Instead, deodorants are solely-designed to control odor. 

Nevertheless, let’s speak to the safety of aluminum in underarm products. According to Zalka, there is no clear-cut answer about whether or not aluminum is safe or not. “Some theories have linked aluminum in antiperspirants to both breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease,” she points out. “However, to date, there have been no clear-cut medical studies that have proved a cause and effect link.”

Because there’s no hard conclusion, Green says that aluminum is plenty safe in antiperspirants (remember: while users might refer to antiperspirants as deodorants, true deodorants don't contain aluminum). 

How Does Aluminum Work in Antiperspirants?

If you’ve ever used an antiperspirant, you’ve experienced first-hand how the product helps to reduce sweat and odor. But how? “Simply put, aluminum, when exposed to sweat, creates a gel-like substance that plugs up sweat ducts in the skin, thus temporarily blocking the ability of sweat to reach the skin surface,” Zalka explains. While that’s certainly helpful in the moment, we can’t help but wonder the effect that has long term. Which helps us segue into the next section.

Does Aluminum in Antiperspirants Have Any Negative Side Effects?

  • You may feel hotter: As Zalka points out, the plugging of sweat ducts impedes the natural physiologic process of sweating, which is the body's natural process for cooling off. By plugging these sweat ducts, you may find yourself overheating more easily.
  • Underarm irritation: By plugging the sweat ducts in your underarms, you may find that aluminum-containing deodorants can lead to irritation, rashes, little underarm pimples, and even color changes of the skin. 
  • Aluminum often stains: What’s more, if you’ve ever wondered why you can’t seem to keep a white tee looking white, aluminum is to blame. When the ingredient combines with sweat, it creates a yellow tint that can be nearly impossible to remove. So, if your main goal is to keep your whites crisp as can be, it’s time to ditch antiperspirant in favor of aluminum-free deo.

Stains aside, Zalka takes us back to the main point. “My premise is, sweat is intentional, odor is preventable,” she begins. “If you sweat a normal amount and do not suffer from the medical condition known as hyperhidrosis, why block sweat glands unnecessarily?”

What Are the Benefits of Aluminum in Deodorant?

The undeniable benefit of aluminum in antiperspirants is that it prevents moisture on the skin, Zalka says point-blank. “Sweating can be embarrassing at times so using antiperspirants containing aluminum can help prevent those embarrassing moments,” Green adds.

And since Green says that there are no recent indications that these products could actually cause any harm—given they’ve been studied for decades and have never been proven—if your goal is to block odor and sweat, aluminum in deodorant is a safe option to consider.

The Best Aluminum-Free Deodorants

Even though various studies have come up inconclusive, the simple possibility of negative side effects, paired with the beauty industry’s ever-growing pursuit to become more natural, has led to many brands ditching aluminum in favor of greener underarm odor fighters. To save you from endlessly scanning the backs of deodorant tubes, ahead you’ll find eight of our faves. 

Drunk Elephant Sweet Pitti Deodorant Cream
Drunk Elephant Sweet Pitti $16
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This aluminum-free deodorant not only keeps odor under wraps, it soothes underarms while delivering a delicious almond scent in the process.

Necessaire Deodorant
Nécessaire The Deodorant $20
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Designed with a fresh eucalyptus scent, Nécessaire’s aluminum-free deodorant uses a series of safe acids (like lactic and mandelic) and minerals (like silica and kaolin clay) to keep body odor under control.

Native Deodorant
Native Women’s Deodorant $12
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The coolest part about this aluminum-free deodorant is that it comes with the option to create a custom scent based on a quick questionnaire. Prefer to pick a pre-made scent? Choose from a variety of classic and seasonal scents.

Surface Deep Anti-Odorant Pads
Surface Deep Anti-Odorant Pads $26
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Formulated with glycolic acid, these aluminum-free deodorant pads are designed to keep odor at bay for up to 24 hours. They work by gently exfoliating dead skin and build-up to inhibit bacteria from harboring under the arms.

Myro Deodorant
Myro Plant-Powered Deodorant $15
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Available in six delicious scents, this aluminum-free deodorant is super fun for anyone who loves a pop of color, as you get to pick the color of the minimalist, label-free tube it comes in.

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