Antiperspirants and Deodorants

The simmering heat of summer is over and it's one of the best times to be working up a sweat. For some people, however, sweating is more of an enemy that needs to be defeated. This article looks at the commonly used antiperspirant and deodorant and how they work.

What is sweat and why do we sweat?

Sweating is the primary way that people regulate their core temperature; this process is called evaporative cooling and it is one of the most efficient ways of cooling down the body. Only horses and humans have a large density of sweat glands all over the body.

Although evaporative cooling is an effective and efficient way to regulate temperature, it does have some drawbacks. Sweating causes the body to lose water very quickly which can quickly lead to dehydration. People can sweat up to 3 litres per hour at maximum exertion. Emotional stress also leads to a sweat response at the palms, soles of the feet, armpits, and the forehead area.

How does body odor develop?

Many people believe that sweat stinks. They're partially right-the odor is strongest where sweat is most commonly found, but sweat by itself is odorless. Bacteria decompose sweat, and leave bi-products like fatty acids and ammoniac, which are the actual source of body odor. In particular, sweat produced by the apocrine glands in the underarm area can carry a very strong odor and can have significant psycho-social effects on individuals.

What are antiperspirants and are they different from deodorants?

Deodorants, as the name suggests, are applied to mask or prevent body odor. Antiperspirants are often thought of as being a sub-type of a deodorant that prevents sweating by reducing the efficacy of the sweat glands. In the United States, antiperspirants are regulated by the FDA as an over the counter drug, as it has an effect of altering how the body functions, where deodorants are treated as a cosmetic.

How do they work?

Most antiperspirants use aluminum complexes as their active ingredient. Aluminum based products form a chemical reaction that creates a physical plug at the sweat ducts. As each cell can only retain a certain amount of water, this stops the skin from generating excessive sweat as it passes back into the skin.

Do antiperspirants cause breast cancer?

E-mail rumours on the internet started in 2002 suggesting that antiperspirant use was increasing the incidence of breast cancer in women. The hypothesis indicting antiperspirants were that aluminum can be absorbed into the skin, especially at the armpits when using antiperspirants, and that it can interact with the body, causing DNA damage and interfering with estrogen, influencing the growth of breast cancer.

Since then, there have been several studies about this concern. The weight of evidence seems to suggest that topical use of antiperspirants is not a concern. Both the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute deny that there is sufficient evidence that links antiperspirant use with breast cancer.

High levels of aluminum can be harmful to the body. It can cause DNA damage and have other negative effects on the body. Aluminum toxicity generally occurs if it is ingested via food or water. However, unless a patient has severe kidney function dysfunction, it is extremely unlikely that miniscule amounts of aluminum particles absorbed by antiperspirant use will cause any problems. Unless there is a cut, almost none of the aluminum is absorbed into the body as it stays above the skin, creating a plug at the sweat ducts.

For patients with more severe Hyperhidrosis: