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Do you need an ‘armpit detox?’ Myths about aluminum and deodorant, explained

  • January 15, 2022

recent social media trends that caught my attention is the “armpit detox” with people looking to transition from traditional antiperspirant to “natural deodorant.” The main driver of this movement is the popular trend to eliminate aluminum-containing products in daily cosmetic use.

How does aluminum in antiperspirant work?

Aluminum is the most abundant metal on the planet. Antiperspirants contain aluminum salts, which are made by dissolving aluminum in salt solutions. Aluminum chloride, aluminum zirconium and aluminum chlorohydrate are the most common ingredients in antiperspirants. When you apply antiperspirant to your underarm area, the aluminum salts dissolve into the skin. When exposed to sweat, the aluminum salts create a gel-like substance that temporarily plugs the sweat ducts, preventing the sweat from reaching the skin surface. Less sweat means less odor, which explains the popularity of antiperspirants. Aluminum can also work to minimize body odor by inhibiting the bacteria that feed on your sweat and cause it.

Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease and the most common cause of dementia. In the 1960s, there was a concern in the scientific community that exposure to aluminum from everything from pots and pans to soda cans could contribute to developing Alzheimer’s. This was after a 1965 study where rabbits injected with extremely high levels of aluminum developed tau tangles, neurofibrillary proteins like the more well-known amyloid plaques, which are thought to be centrally involved in the development of Alzheimer’s dementia.Not so fast.

This is a clear example of how critical it is to distinguish between correlation and causation when reviewing the scientific evidence of linkages between two things.

What you should know before you do

So if your goal is to stop sweat and odor, aluminum-containing antiperspirants is still your safest, best bet. But if you’re looking to join the widespread movement towards natural ingredients in cosmetics, here’s what you need to know:

Is an ‘armpit detox’ necessary?

Some people who rapidly transitioned from aluminum-containing antiperspirant to natural deodorant have noted unpleasant results on social media, including malodor, significant sweating and irritation of the underarm area. This has led some people to suggest a brief “armpit detox” is necessary before making the switch. The detox may contain ingredients like activated charcoal and wakame, which are advertised for their purported mechanism of drawing out impurities and toxins and extracting heavy metals like aluminum from the skin. But remember, as discussed above, the aluminum salts only temporarily block the sweat glands; topical aluminum does not accumulate high levels in the skin or body.

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Michael Daignault, MD, is a board-certified ER doctor in Los Angeles. He studied Global Health at Georgetown University and has a Medical Degree from Ben-Gurion University. He completed his residency training in emergency medicine at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx. He is also a former United States Peace Corps Volunteer. Find him on Instagram @dr.daignault

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