I hope all you listeners and your families are staying well and safe.
This week's question is from a listener who has concerns about deodorant products. I've taken a while to respond to this question as I couldn’t find any credible evidence to discuss the safety of these self-care products. There are lots of examples of anecdotal evidence on the web and potentially false claims, so we have to be careful and not believe everything we read, see or hear… well, other than what you hear on this show of course.
But I finally have some studies to reference, so I can feel a bit more confident that what I’m relaying here is accurate.
Regulation of Cosmetics
The FDA is actually supposed to regulate cosmetics. But back in 1938, a law was passed that prevents the FDA from really doing anything to those that manufacture these products.
So, sadly, much like the nutrition supplement industry, it’s the “wild west” out there when it comes to the safety of make-up, deodorants, self-tanning lotions, shampoos and the like.
On the other hand, manufacturers in Europe have to show that products are safe for use and do not cause any abnormal changes to the body, cause cancer, or harm an unborn child before they can be sold on the open market.
That’s not the case in the U.S.
Parabens and Sulfates
Many of you might be concerned about parabens and sulfates, specifically.
I’ll start by discussing sulfates. As far as self-care products go, sulfates are most often found in soaps and shampoos. Two types of sulfate are most commonly used in these products and the good news there is both appear to be safe.
Next, parabens. This story isn’t as clear. Parabens have been around since the 1950s and are basically a type of preservative. In the U.S., you’ll find them most commonly in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and makeup. It is believed that parabens are absorbed by the skin and can act like estrogen when it’s in the body. Because of its ability to mimic estrogen, some believe parabens may trigger harmful reactions which, in turn, may increase a person’s risk for certain diseases like cancer.
In 2014, the European Union banned the use of certain types of parabens. As expected, many here in the U.S. are hoping that our government follows suit. Right now, both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not have a clear statement that states whether our current exposure to parabens is harmful to health. So, many health professionals that specialize in toxicology caution that we may want to limit our exposure to them.
Pthalates in Cosmetics
Now, there is another chemical that you didn’t mention, but I feel I need to mention it. Pthalates. Pthalates are commonly found in many of these same products. This is because they can act as skin softeners and moisturizers and prevent nail polish from cracking. But, phthalates aren’t just found in self-care products. They’re basically everywhere. They’re often used to preserve food and even found in our food packaging. It is for this reason that, back in 1999, the European Union restricted the use of 6 different types of pthalates.
So, the question now is: how much exposure to parabens and phthalates, in particular, is too much exposure? Sadly, we don’t know. This is why many toxicologists will advise us that we limit our exposure just in case.
Now, what’s the deal with deodorants, antiperspirants, and aluminum? Some antiperspirants have used aluminum because aluminum plugs up sweat ducts. A plugged up sweat duct then limits the amount of sweat that can be released. Deodorants often don’t contain aluminum. Instead, they may have the previously mentioned parabens.
When it comes to using deodorants, or antiperspirants with aluminum and the risk for Alzheimer’ disease and breast cancer, there doesn’t appear to be a clear relationship between any of these. We need more studies to know what’s going on.
What about Natural Deodorants?
And, finally, what about all-natural products? Well, those may not always be safe, either. For example, some natural products use essential oils. The problem with some essential oils is that some of those can also disrupt hormones.
So, what should you do? Luckily, major retailers are catching on to the potential harmful effects of these preservatives. CVS, Walgreens, Sephora, and Target are trying to rid their shelves of products that contain parabens and phthalates.
In the meantime, when shopping, be sure to a buy a product that is made in the USA or, if it comes from Europe, meets the European Union’s quality standards for cosmetics. It’s probably not a great idea to buy products from countries outside of these regulations.
Finally, look for product labels that specifically say, “Paraben and phthalate free” right on the packaging.