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Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Hidden Question of Help and Harm With Daily Use of Antiperspirants

It's important to stay up to date on news reports regarding potential health risks. But the modern news cycle often moves a little too fast for the public good. Today the major news outlets are constantly in search of sensationalistic stories. This is in large part why it often seems like foods that are reported as healthy one day are called unhealthy the next.

Many science and medical reporters are quick to extrapolate from a single suggestive study. That kind of quick reporting simply doesn’t work well with medicine. Instead, one needs to carefully consider long-term studies and real-world use.

This cycle of concern tends to repeat itself over and over again. The best way to escape it is by taking control and carefully examining the claims. This is also why it’s time to examine our culture’s use of antiperspirants. It's one of the most recent examples of public health concerns. But the only way to know if antiperspirants are harmful or harmless is to take a more careful look at the evidence.

It's actually fairly straightforward to give an answer to someone asking the question is antiperspirant bad? But people should understand why that’s the case. Otherwise, it’s easy for that cycle of misinformation to continue. Antiperspirant is totally harmless and poses no significant risks to one's health. But understanding why people think it’s bad, and why that’s not the case, can help inform future decisions.

As a recent story showed, most people will readily adopt sound methods to improve their health. But to do so they need to see how medical information is spread.

How misconceptions arise

The bulk of people’s concerns over antiperspirants stem from scientific sources. But the larger issue is that people seldom come at them from the actual source of that information. In theory, the proper method of reporting involves medical or scientific journals.

A reporter discovers some interesting work within his or her field of interest. The next step is to wait for that study to undergo a process called peer review. A researcher submits the study to relevant scholarly journals. At that point, experts go over the study to look for problems. The most common reasons for rejection involve experimental design.

A study has to be carefully designed to prove one specific point. This process involves reduction of any complicating variables. Along with this a study usually concludes with a general analysis of the data in order to provide a conclusion. This is the other main point of contention during the submission and peer review process. It’s quite common for the journal’s staff of experts to disagree with the conclusion stated in the article. Researchers are like anyone else. They tend to hope for big results from their work. This unconscious bias can make even the best-intentioned people reach the wrong conclusions.

The big problem stems from the fact that reporters often sidestep this process. They talk to researchers before the peer review phase. As such, they’re often extrapolating from flawed data. The researchers and reporters mean well. But the result is confusion amid the public.

Other possible causes

Another issue comes from factual information which is incorrectly extrapolated by the public. With antiperspirant, this took form with fears regarding aluminum chloride. People assume that unwanted or toxic substances are purged from the body via sweat. And reasoning from that foundation, they feared anything which inhibited sweating could cause absorbed material to stay in one’s system instead of coming out through sweat.

In the case of antiperspirants, they feared aluminum chloride would enter from the application and then stay trapped in the body. In reality though, this simply shows people’s incorrect assumptions about biology. Humans only excrete water and electrolytes when they sweat. The liver serves a dedicated function of processing potentially toxic substances and then excreting it within urine.

That said, the idea that antiperspirant would even enter into the circulatory system and leapfrog to the nearest large mass of tissue is improbable at best. The world is full of dust, dirt, and debris. And the human body is quite good at keeping foreign substances from absorption. Otherwise, every pet owner would have their dog or cat’s hair swimming around in their veins.

A proper focus on health and antiperspirants

As the New York Times recently pointed out, exercise is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. People tend to focus so much on unfounded rumors about negative health effects that they neglect positive proven research.

An antiperspirant isn't unhealthy. By itself, it's totally neutral. It's neither healthy or unhealthy. But it can serve as a tool to make workouts more fun and social. Which makes antiperspirants a fantastic tool for overall positive health.

This is a blog post by Nancy Evans.

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