Antiperspirant links to Alzheimer's remain unfounded

February 1, 2011

There was some concern about a link between antiperspirants and Alzheimer's disease several years ago that has been revived by some consumer watchdog groups. The observation was made that renal dialysis patients who are unable to eliminate aluminum from the body experience a higher-than-average incidence of Alzheimer's disease. It was never proven that this was due to high aluminum levels.

Key Points

Q: Is there a link between antiperspirants and Alzheimer's disease?

Antiperspirants do indeed contain aluminum, but not in its elemental form. They contain a salt of aluminum sometimes complexed with zirconium. These two metals denature the protein in the sweat duct to create a protein plug through an irreversible chemical reaction. The aluminum is not absorbed into the body, and there has never been any cause-and-effect connection between antiperspirants and Alzheimer's disease. However, many people who use antiperspirants develop Alzheimer's disease, cardiac disease, diabetes, pregnancy and restless leg syndrome. This does not mean there is a connection.

Q: What is unique about clinical-strength antiperspirants?

A: This question nicely follows the previous question about antiperspirants. Clinical-strength products contain a higher concentration of the active aluminum/zirconium salt and provide better sweat control by creating the protein plug deeper in the acrosyringium. This plug is longer lasting and harder to remove with rubbing or shaving.

In addition, most clinical-strength antiperspirants recommend twice-daily application in the morning and evening. This is the main key to their success. The antiperspirant chemical must contact the sweat duct in order to create the plug. It must be present for sufficient time in sufficient concentration for the plug to form. If the patient is sweating vigorously in the morning when the antiperspirant is applied, the chemicals are washed away and the plug is never formed. Antiperspirants are most effective applied at night when the body is at rest and sweating is reduced. While most people are in the habit of daytime antiperspirant application, both nighttime and daytime application is most efficacious.

Q: What is skin luminosity?

A: This is an excellent question. I am not sure exactly what skin luminosity is, and I know there are no luminosity measuring machines, yet this term appears to be a valuable marketing word found on many products. In my opinion, skin luminosity is the light reflection from the face that gives the appearance of a "healthy glow." Lumens are a unit of light measurement, and I believe luminosity is a clear takeoff from this concept.

Skin that shines reflects more light and appears healthy and youthful. Many cosmetic products can improve the light reflection of the skin by increasing water content, exfoliating and smoothing the skin surface, as well as by coating the skin with light-reflecting particles added to powders and thin lotions. These effects are purely cosmetic and do not have any physiologic basis. Thus, luminosity is an assessment of skin-surface regularity that can be associated with health. It is a marvelous cosmetic term because it is a claim that has no medical meaning and no functional implications, yet it resonates with the consumer who is looking for healthy-looking skin.

Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., is a Dermatology Times editorial adviser and consulting professor of dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. Questions may be submitted via e-mail to zdraelos@northstate.net
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