When a lady is all dressed up in the morning: a fitting skirt suit; the jerry-curled hair nicely-done; the face made up and about to go to work, does she reach for a deodorant to dab on her armpits or her choice is an antiperspirant? And which of the choices is better according to health experts?
A while back, we came across a WhatsApp message that warns women against using antiperspirant [We did a really educative fact-check on some of the claims in the message. Check out our previous fact-check on the myths and facts about vaginal/breast care]
The WhatsApp message says that women should not use antiperspirant but should use deodorant. So, what’s the difference?
One thing is clear – most people wear deodorant and antiperspirant to prevent or mask body odour or to stop sweat.
Deodorants and antiperspirants are substances used on the body to reduce body odour and sweating. They commonly come in the form of aerosols (sprays), creams and roll-ons. Solid and gel forms exist as well. Deodorants have been in use for centuries in America, Europe and Asia. They became commercialized from 1888 with the patenting of Mum by Edna Murphy in the US.
Now, deodorants are usually alcohol based with components of perfume fragrances and natural oils meant to mask odour. Chemical constituents may include EDTA, triclosan, sodium chloride sodium stearate or stearyl alcohol. Zinc oxides, ammonium chloride, formaldehyde and sodium bicarbonate are not in common use in deodorants because of skin irritation and carcinogenic properties.
Antiperspirants, on the other hand, are mainly made of aluminium compounds. These react with sweat to produce a plug of the sweat pores, preventing sweat from leaving the glands. Antiperspirants temporarily block the sweat glands to reduce perspiration. In addition, the aluminium compound in antiperspirants reacts with sweat to produce the yellow stain on clothing under the armpit. Antiperspirants are usually applied at night and users say its protection can be as long as 24 hours.
While there has been a rumour circulating about deodorants causing cancer, especially breast cancer, review of studies on the cancer-causing ability of this has not been found. The American Cancer Society concluded that the chemical components in deodorants are not sufficient to increase risk of build up in lymph nodes or cells to cause cancer at the moment; although some deodorants contain parafen [a type of preservative commonly used in items such as foundation, concealers, face powders, etc which has been linked to cancer cell growth] and the US Federal Drug Agency (FDA) has put a ban on those.
For antiperspirants, the aluminium content could be worrying especially at high doses. But regulatory agencies in the US and Nigeria (NAFDAC) have not issued any warnings lately. In 2013, the FDA said: “despite many investigators looking at this issue, the agency does not find data from topical and inhalation chronic exposure, animal and human studies submitted to date sufficient to change the monograph status of aluminum-containing antiperspirants”.
However, with the possibility of increasing quantities of aluminium in cosmetics, the Scientific Committee on Consumer safety (Europe) in June 20aluminium-containing19 came to the conclusion that “due to the lack of adequate data on dermal penetration to estimate the internal dose of aluminium, following cosmetic uses, risk assessment cannot be performed. Therefore, internal exposure to aluminium after skin application should be determined using a human exposure study under use conditions.”
Our Advice? Both items could be harmful [the aluminium content in antiperspirant could be bad for people living with kidney problems and parafen in some deodorants is bad for everyone]. However, asides those containing the specific components we have mentioned, conclusive evidence has not shown that these agents are wholly harmful for everyday use.
…Written by a doctor!