Rx for Readers: Sweat it out
What are the dangers of using antiperspirants?; How closely must food expiration dates be followed?
Antiperspirant Photo: Thinkstock/Imagebank
My 11-year-old son asked me to buy deodorant and antiperspirant for his daily
use. He says he wants to smell good and thinks he has a sweat/odor problem. Is
it safe for him to use deodorant on a daily basis at his age? Is antiperspirant
okay – for him and for adults? I heard that antiperspirant clogs up the pores
with aluminum and is not healthy. Can either of these products cause skin
allergies? And what about occasional stories on the Internet that
antiperspirants can cause cancer?
Veteran Jerusalem dermatologist
Dr. Julian Schamroth replies:
There are two types of sweat glands in the skin –
eccrine glands, which produce a liquidy form of sweat composed mainly of salt
water, and apocrine glands, which produce an oily form of sweat composed mainly
of organic compounds. Although both types of glands are found all over the body,
the eccrine glands tend to be concentrated on the palms and soles, and the
apocrine glands are concentrated in the armpits.
sweating, we need to deal with three different conditions: normal sweat,
excessive sweating and malodorous sweat.
Normal sweating occurs in
everyone, even when sleeping. It is usually insignificant in young children, and
it tends to increase at puberty. Normal sweat is usually clear and odorless and
is produced mainly by the eccrine glands.
Excessive sweating – known as
hyperhidrosis – is a condition resulting from overstimulation of the eccrine
glands. It usually occurs in the late childhood and teen years. It, too, is
odorless. It presents with very wet palms and soles, but may affect all areas of
Malodorous sweat is believed to be caused by bacteria on the
skin that break down the organic compounds produced by apocrine glands in the
And it is this decomposing sweat that gives off a strong,
offensive odor. If there is a slight odor, then it may be due to ingesting food
with strong spices such as onion or garlic.
Normal sweating can be
controlled with antiperspirants.
These products usually contain aluminum
chloride or other aluminum salts. Their mode of action is not clear – they may
work by blocking the sweat duct or by causing the eccrine glands to atrophy
(shrink). These compounds are not dangerous, and do not cause cancer, although
excessive use may cause some irritation. They certainly may be used in pubescent
or pre-pubescent children. Hyperhidrosis can be treated with topical
applications, oral therapy, botox injections, electrical therapy or by surgery
on the nerves connected to the sweat glands.
Malodorous sweat is best
treated with deodorants.
These usually contain antimicrobial agents, such
as triclosan, as well as fragrance to mask the odor. An antimicrobial soap may
also be of help. In severe cases – especially malodorous feet – a topical
antibiotic cream may be helpful. Most commercial products contain a combination
of antiperspirants and anti-odorants.
Deodorants too are not
Dr. Eli Sprecher, chief of dermatology at Tel Aviv’s
Sourasky Medical Center, adds:
Antiperspirants and deodorants are generally
safe, but antiperspirant can clog pores and consequently cause inflammation in
some cases. In addition, some of the compounds present in commercially available
deodorants can indeed (as well as in many cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and the
like) cause allergic reactions known as contact dermatitis.
old son insists on discarding all food after the expiration date has passed – be
it refrigerated food or dry food from the pantry. I say that under most
circumstances, the food is safe to eat for quite some time after the expiration
date. I myself eat things unless they have changed color, have anything growing
on the surface or smell. Maybe I’m wrong. Is there a general rule on whether
food is safe to eat or whether it should be tossed?
Dr. Olga Raz,
chief clinical dietitian of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, replies:
son is right. He follows the instructions of food products as they appear on the
package, and if the date for consumption has expired, he is not willing to eat
At the same time, there is usually no problem with eating food in the
refrigerator or pantry even after the date has expired if you examine it and it
looks and smells like the fresh product. It is likely to cause no harm –
although you cannot always be sure. It depends on many factors.
advise is that you let your son follow his rules without arguing with him, and
you do what you like – hopefully without any arguments from him.
Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will
answer those we find most interesting.
Write Rx for Readers, The
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