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Antiperspirants are applied to the skin to decrease perspiration. Unlike deodorants which are certified as cosmetic in the United States, antiperspirants are certified as drugs because they affect the physiological functions of the body.

Products to control body odor and wetness have been used for centuries. Before the practice of bathing became common, people used heavy colognes to mask body odor. Early antiperspirants were in the form of pastes. The first commercially produced branded antiperspirant was introduced in the United States in 1888.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Antiperspirants are used to prevent embarrassing social situations that arise from body odor.
  • It is associated with good personal hygiene.
  • Antiperspirants have chemicals that stop a person from sweating. However, sweating is an extremely important function of the body and it serves the purpose of maintaining the body temperature as well as eliminating toxins.
  • A school of thought opines that using antiperspirants goes against the body's natural health maintaining system.

How does this affect me?

  • Aluminum, paraben, mineral oil and propylene glycol are usually the primary ingredients of most antiperspirants.
  • The World Health Organization has linked exposure to aluminum to Alzheimer's disease, with higher frequency use corresponding to higher risks of developing Alzheimer's.
  • Mineral oil blocks pores, thereby subduing perspiration and preventing the detoxification process.
  • Propylene glycol is a known eurotoxin that has been known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney and liver damage.
  • At least one study shows the risk to be elevated if antiperspirant is applied directly after shaving underarms.
  • There is also research that indicates that aluminum compounds can be absorbed into the blood stream.

All about antiperspirant

The US FDA defines antiperspirant as a drug product applied topically to reduce the production of sweat (perspiration) at the site where it is applied. Antiperspirants, according to the Food and Drug Administration, can safely and effectively reduce sweat for up to 24 hours, if formulated and tested properly.

  • The aluminum-based compound is always the first ingredient listed on the back of an antiperspirant container. A few common active ingredients are aluminum chloride, aluminum chlorohydrate, and aluminum zirconium. These can be any number of compounds within an established concentration and dosage form. The aluminium compounds block the sweat by forming a temporary plug within the sweat duct that stops the flow of sweat to the skin's surface.
  • An "inactive" is any ingredient besides the active ingredient. Some of the inactive ingredients in an antiperspirant include
    • Talc
    • Fragrance
    • Butane, used as an aerosol propellant.
    • Paraben as preservatives
    • Mineral oil
  • In aerosol products the active ingredients are contained in a neutral liquid which enables them to be easily sprayed onto the skin.
  • This liquid (the most popular of which is cyclomethicone) is often combined with a slightly denser clay called disteardimonium hectorite which provides structure to the antiperspirant and stops heavier particles sinking to the bottom.
  • Most products contain a harmless antioxidant which ensures the other ingredients are in an optimal state when they reach the skin. You may find this referred to as BHT on the back of the pack.
  • Most antiperspirants will also contain masking oil to stop the product drying out into deposits, thus minimising what shows up on either skin or clothes.

How does an antiperspirant work?

The aluminum ions are absorbed into the openings of the sweat glands and water enters the ions. This makes the openings of the sweat glands swell and close, keeping the sweat in the gland. The effect wears of after a while, which is why antiperspirant has to be reapplied regularly. Most of the antiperspirants will reduce sweating by at least 20%.

Ingredients to avoid

  • Aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly or any aluminum compounds. Aluminum is absorbed through the skin and accumulates in the body.
  • Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl and butyl), are all derived from toluene, a toxic petrochemical derivative. Since 2000, 13 research studies have shown that various types of parabens act like estrogen in animals and in tissue culture. Estrogen is known to drive the growth of cancerous cells.
  • Triclosan is a skin irritant and may cause contact dermatitis. It may kill healthy bacteria as well as harmful bacteria.
  • Talc is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer if it contains asbestiform fibers. The quantity of asbestiform fibers in cosmetic grade talc is unregulated. If talc is listed on the label, there is no way of knowing whether or not it contains asbestiform fibers.
  • Propylene glycol absorbs quickly through the skin and is a penetration enhancers. It may cause delayed allergic reactions.
  • Silica is a skin irritant. It may be contaminated with crystalline quartz, which is a carcinogen.
  • Steareth-n (n may be any number like say 100), may be vegetable derived but is reacted with ethylene oxide (ethoxylated), a known human carcinogen.


According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the breast cancer-antiperspirant myth first appeared in the form of an e-mail in the 1990s, and continues to resurface and recirculate about every year or so. NCI says that no existing scientific or medical evidence links the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants to the subsequent development of breast cancer. The FDA, the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association agree. Razor nicks may increase the risk of skin infection, but not cancer.

Antiperspirant and the environment

Antiperspirant spray cans were made of CFCs so that they could be kept in liquid form and in an only slightly pressurized can. CFC's have been proven to result in ozone depletion. Though some developed countries have banned the use of CFC in spray cans, it is still in use in many countries.

What can I do?

  • Adhere to an optimum balanced diet, which consists of mainly vegetables and fruit (80%) and limit the meat and unhealthy fat intake. This will ensure that your body odour does not smell bad.
  • Look for aluminium-free, anti-freeze free, paraben-free cosmetics.


  • Some products can be both a deodorant and an antiperspirant. These are classified as both drugs and cosmetics.
  • The directions mentioned on the product label do not directly reflect the conditions of effectiveness. While a product label may instruct the user to hold a can of aerosol six inches from the underarm and then spray, how long each person sprays, swipes, glides, wipes, or rolls will vary.


  • What's in an Antiperspirant?
  • The Difference Between Deodorant and Antiperspirants
  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • Health and beauty: deodorant vs. antiperspirant
  • Antiperpirant
  • Antiperspirant Awareness