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Deodorant: Parabens Good, Aluminum Bad?

Posted Mar 20 2009 3:05pm

Photo courtesy RoadsidePictures, on Flickr

That may be the surprising case. While nearly 90% of Americans use a form of deodorant, according to a study in Clinics in Dermatology, most are confused of whether to avoid parabens or aluminum in their favorite toiletry, and many cautious consumers avoid both altogether.

Unfortunately, use of paraben-free deodorant may actually increase your risk of skin irritation. According to one of my favorite dermatologists, founder and chief of the Department of Cosmetic Dermatology at the University of Miami and author of The Skin Type Solution, Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D., parabens in deodorants may be less irritating than natural ingredients. As Dr. Baumann states in her blog on March 16, 2009, “Natural ingredients are much more likely than parabens to cause a skin rash. ” Indeed, most scientists conclude that parabens in the concentrations found in deodorants are safe, as Dr. Baumann establishes in the October 2007 issue of Entrepreneur magazine: “For those not allergic to parabens, there are no scientifically established reasons to avoid the plethora of cosmetic and skin care products that contain these preservatives.” (For more on parabens, please visit this very comprehensive review of parabens by Dr. Baumann, and a brief FutureDerm review here.)

As far as aluminum in deodorant, Dr. Baumann - and many other experts - sound an alarm. While a 2001 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology establishes that exposure from one-time use of aluminum-containing deodorant is not a concern, many experts are concerned over long-term use. According to Dr. Baumann’s blog, “There have been many reports that [aluminum salts lodging in skin] may cause long term harm, however, no convincing studies have been performed. I recommend that you try to avoid aluminum if possible.” According to Clinics in Dermatology, the four most common aluminum-free deodorant formulations prescribed by dermatologists are:

  • Formaldehyde, prescribed as 10% formalin58
  • Glutaraldehyde, prescribed as 10% aqueous solution59
  • Methenamine, prescribed as 8% in a cream vehicle 60,61
  • Glycopyrrolate, prescribed as aqueous solution of 0.5% topical glycopyrrollate62

The best over-the-counter formulation I have encountered is Adidas Cotton Tech Aluminum Free Deodorant ($3.59, ); however, this may not be the best option if you have hyperhidrosis or another condition that requires an extra-strength anti-perspirant. As always, talk to your physician.

Therefore, if you are not allergic to parabens, current evaluations of all the scientific evidence (good and bad) together suggest that paraben-containing and aluminum-free deodorant looks like your best bet for now. For more, please visit Dr. Baumann’s March 16, 2009 blog article on deodorants here.

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