Beauty and personal care companies are always looking for new and creative ways to market their products. That sometimes means infusing humor into an ad or invoking big name celebrity endorsements. Other times it means tapping into public health or environmental campaigns such organizations know consumers care about. Think products labeled as recyclable, BPA-free, or animal cruelty-free. 

Such consciousness and awareness is, of course, usually a good thing. But sometimes labels can confuse consumers as much as they enlighten. That might be the case with the ever-growing number of deodorant brands advertising their products as being aluminum-free

Though aluminum in deodorant can be an issue for some individuals, experts say it isn’t cause for alarm in most people. 

Why do companies put aluminum in deodorant?

The global deodorant market is staggering − valued at more than $25 billion, according to one analysis. It’s so big because an awful lot of people want to mask and minimize body odor. While fresh scents may help with the masking part, various types of aluminum, (namely aluminum chloride, aluminum zirconium and aluminium chlorohydrate) are in charge of the minimizing part. 

“Aluminum in deodorant works by forming a temporary ‘plug’ within the sweat duct, which stops the flow of sweat to the skin’s surface,” explains Lauren Taglia, MD, a dermatologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. In other words, aluminum in deodorant is the antiperspirant part of the product. 

In this way, “aluminum in deodorant can be beneficial in controlling sweat and body odor,” says Michelle Henry, MD, a board certified and Mount Sinai/Harvard trained dermatologist practicing in New York City.

Is aluminum in deodorant bad?

While that sounds like upside only, recent concern has arisen because a couple of small studies have suggested a possible link between the use of antiperspirant (aluminum) deodorant and breast cancer

Though such a relationship would no doubt be concerning, it may not be as alarming as it sounds. For instance, the American Cancer Society has found “no strong epidemiologic studies (studies in people) that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim.” Indeed, a multitude of additional studies have found little to no association between antiperspirant deodorants and any type of cancer

But that doesn’t mean aluminum in deodorants doesn’t have downsides. “Aluminum may still be of concern to individuals with impaired kidney function,” says Taglia. She says that’s because excess aluminum is filtered out of the body by the kidneys, something people with kidney disorders wouldn’t be able to do as well. “That is why the FDA has included a warning specifically for those with weakened kidney function who may not be able to filter aluminum sufficiently,” she explains. 

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What happens if you switch to aluminum-free deodorant?

For such people, or anyone else who is concerned about the inclusion of aluminum in their deodorants, “there are aluminum-free alternatives available,” says Henry. 

Deodorant brands that label their packaging as “natural,” “aluminum-free,” or “clean,” have done away with the inclusion of aluminum altogether. In its place, such brands are opting to mask body odor with fresh scents or natural products like apple cider vinegar, sage or coconut oil

Or they may be using ingredients like starch or powder to absorb sweat instead of blocking or preventing it the way aluminum deodorant does. Henry says for people who tend not to perspire much or sweat through their clothes, such alternatives may be desirable.