Antiperspirants/deodorants and Breast Cancer
With summer in full blast, the need for deodorants and antiperspirants has greatly increased. However, news about the link between deodorant and antiperspirant use and its increased risks of breast cancer have instilled fear in many people. The majority of breast cancer is caused by environmental causes, however, the exact causes of the environment are unknown. It has been theorized that the presence of certain ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants can cause breast cancer. In a McGrath, study performed, "Women who shaved their underarms more than twice a week and applied deodorant more than once a week were almost 15 years younger when they were diagnosed with breast cancer than those who used neither regimen" (Allam). One of the active ingredients of antiperspirants is aluminum based. Aluminum is key in deodorants due to its actions on sweat ducts. The sweat ducts are blocked, inhibiting sweat. This aluminum is absorbed into the skin and accumulates in the breast. When accumulated, the aluminum interferes with the function of the estrogen receptors and breast epithelial cells. However, there has been no scientific evidence of aluminum causes breast cancer. The ages of the women diagnosed with breast cancer when shaving and using deodorants may have been younger by chance. In fact, the study says no risk was found when the women use deodorant alone, without shaving, and vice versa. Another ingredient found in antiperspirants and deodorants is parabens. These are used to prevent bacteria and fungal growth in the deodorants. Parabens were detected in the tumors of patients with breast cancer. When used near the breast, parabens mimic estrogen hormone and cause the growth of tumors. However, many deodorants and antiperspirants discontinued the use of parabens due to these growing health fears.
Many people want to stay healthy, avoiding toxins in their products, but still do not want bodily odor. Alternatives to the common deodorants are natural- deodorants. There is still no scientific proof of aluminum causes breast cancer, however, it is better to be safe than sorry. Companies that provide aluminum-free deodorants include Native, Dove, Kosas, and Arm & Hammer. In addition, the risks of breast cancer can decrease with lifestyle modifications. This includes being physically active, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting hormone therapy. Gene testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 can inform patients on whether they are at higher risk, so they can be aware. Checking for lumps and skin color changes in the breast can be key in the early detection of breast cancer. Catching the tumor early is key for treatment! See a doctor if you have any concerns.
Allam MF. Breast Cancer and Deodorants/Antiperspirants: a Systematic Review. Cent Eur J Public Health. 2016 Sep;24(3):245-247. doi: 10.21101/cejph.a4475. PMID: 27755864.
Klotz K, Weistenhöfer W, Neff F, Hartwig A, van Thriel C, Drexler H. The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017 Sep 29;114(39):653-659. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0653. PMID: 29034866; PMCID: PMC5651828.
Antiperspirants/Deodorants for Breast Cancer
Breast cancer affects millions of women worldwide and remains a significant health concern. As researchers strive to understand the complex interplay of factors contributing to breast cancer development, concerns about the safety of everyday products, including deodorants, have emerged. Before delving into the potential link with breast cancer, it's crucial to distinguish between deodorants and antiperspirants. Deodorants work by reducing odor-causing bacteria on the skin, typically containing antibacterial agents or fragrances to mask unpleasant smells. On the other hand, antiperspirants aim to control perspiration by blocking sweat glands using aluminum-based compounds. Often, products on the market are labeled as "deodorant-antiperspirant," indicating a combination of both functions.
One of the main concerns surrounding deodorant and antiperspirant use is the presence of aluminum, particularly in antiperspirants. Aluminum-based compounds temporarily block sweat ducts, reducing the amount of sweat produced. Researchers suggest that these compounds may be absorbed through the skin and accumulate in breast tissue, potentially leading to cellular changes that increase breast cancer risk. Despite numerous studies exploring this hypothesis, the scientific community remains divided on the matter. Some studies have found no significant association between aluminum-containing deodorants/antiperspirants and breast cancer risk, while others have suggested a potential link. However, the research is inconclusive, and no causal relationship has been established.
Another group of compounds found in some deodorants are parabens. Parabens are preservatives widely used in cosmetic products to prevent bacterial growth and prolong shelf life. They have a chemical structure similar to estrogen, a hormone known to play a role in breast cancer development. Some studies have detected parabens in breast tumor tissues, raising concerns about their potential influence on breast cancer risk. However, these findings do not establish a direct causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer. The concentration of parabens detected in tumor tissues is relatively low, and further research is needed to determine their significance in breast cancer development.
The concern surrounding deodorants and breast cancer remains a topic of ongoing research and debate in the scientific community. While some studies have suggested possible associations, no conclusive evidence exists to support the claim that deodorants, particularly those containing aluminum, directly cause breast cancer.
Darbre P. D. (2005). Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of inorganic biochemistry, 99(9), 1912–1919. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2005.06.001
Mirick, D. K., Davis, S., & Thomas, D. B. (2002). Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 94(20), 1578–1580. https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/94.20.1578
Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer
There is a disproportionately high number of breast cancers located in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. This is due to the fact that there is more epithelial tissue in this area, but this is also the area where underarm products like deodorant and antiperspirants are applied. There has been an increase in breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant from 47.9% in 1979 to 53.3% in 2000 in Britain and 38.3% in 1980 to 54.7% in 2001 in Scotland. This could possibly be linked to an increased use of products under the arm in modern society.
Topical products applied in this area are absorbed into the skin and into underlying tissues. The armpits are of focus because of shaving and possible nicks in the skin allowing for the entrance of substances into the body. There are no studies on exposure due to damaged skin after shaving (Klotz,K et al.). Antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds which are metalloestrogens. Deodorants may contain triclosan which has estrogenic activity. These chemicals may be carcinogenic by mimicking estrogen and driving the growth of breast cancer. A study by McGrath, demonstrated that those that use antiperspirants more often are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age.
Chemical components of cosmetics with estrogenic activity have been found in breast tissue or milk, absorbed through topical application. Products containing estrogen or estrogen mimicking chemicals can disrupt endocrine function in women. The combined concentrations of many products that are estrogenic can possibly reach levels sufficient for growth of breast cancer cells. Those that have genetic mutations may be at increased risk of susceptibility to environmental factors for breast cancer.
Aluminum works as an antiperspirant by physically blocking the sweat ducts and preventing sweat from escaping to the skin surface. Aluminum is capable of causing DNA mutations and epigenetic effects, which could lead to cancer. Aluminum is capable of interfering with estrogen receptors of breast cancer cells. There is evidence of increased genomic instability in the area where antiperspirants are applied, indicating that it must be caused by a local factor rather than a systemic factor. Antiperspirants are applied to the underarms and not washed off allowing for continuous exposure. They are also reapplied usually everyday since they only work for a few hours. It is also possible that aluminum absorption can increase with age and breast cancer is more common in postmenopausal women. Aluminum can interact with estrogen action by interfering with binding, interfering with ligand-receptor complexes to bind to estrogen response elements to transactivate gene expression, and altering gene expression needed for normal cell growth (Darbre PD et al.)
There are many ingredients like parabens and preservatives in makeup or skincare products that can be cancer causing. Many studies have not shown a correlation between antiperspirants and breast cancer, but it is an interesting area for further research. Studies having a control group over time are important to determine if there is a risk or not. In a study by Fakri et al., 51% of patients with breast cancer used antiperspirant and hair dye, while 54% of the healthy group used antiperspirant and hair color. There is no significant difference between the groups to determine that these products are an increased risk for breast cancer. As society continues to increase their use of skincare, cosmetics, cleaning products and others, there is risk of the ingredients used and their effects on the body and cancer.
Darbre PD. Underarm antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2009;11 Suppl 3(Suppl 3):S5. doi: 10.1186/bcr2424. Epub 2009 Dec 18. PMID: 20030880; PMCID: PMC2797685.
Fakri, S., Al-Azzawi, A., & Al-Tawil, N. (2006). Antiperspirant use as a risk factor for breast cancer in Iraq. Eastern Mediterranean health journal = La revue de sante de la Mediterranee orientale = al-Majallah al-sihhiyah li-sharq al-mutawassit, 12(3-4), 478–482.
Klotz, K., Weistenhöfer, W., Neff, F., Hartwig, A., van Thriel, C., & Drexler, H. (2017). The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 114(39), 653–659. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2017.0653
Mousavi M, Vaghar MI. The relationship between use of aluminum-containing anti-perspirant and hair color with breast cancer. J Family Med Prim Care. 2021 Jan;10(1):182-186. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_1219_19. Epub 2021 Jan 30. PMID: 34017723; PMCID: PMC8132781.
Thank you Dr. Ursick for submitting this article, very helpful and informative. Would you care to create "bullet points" for this article in the context of a Public Health Pharmacist or SocioEsthetician Pharmacist, to place on Instagram? If you care to this, consider that project an assignment to replace another on your calendar for this rotation. Again, many thanks for your hard work.
Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer?
There have been rumors suggesting that antiperspirants can cause breast cancer. There are claims that antiperspirants contain cancer-causing substances that can be absorbed through razor nicks from underarm shaving, which would then deposit in the lymph nodes under the arm. Also, because antiperspirants stop perspiration, we are not able to get rid of these substances and so it can lead to cells mutating into cancer. There are also claims that most breast cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant of the breast because that is the area exposed to antiperspirants. Also, because men do not shave their underarms, they have a lower risk of breast cancer as their underarm hair can help keep chemicals in antiperspirants from being absorbed. However, these are all false.
For the first claim, razor nicks may increase the risk of skin infection and applying antiperspirants may cause slight irritation. The reasoning behind this claim seems to stem from aluminum in antiperspirants. Their role in antiperspirants is to block the sweat glands to keep sweat from getting to the surface of the skin. Aluminum is known to have a genotoxic profile, that can cause DNA alterations and epigenetic changes. Also aluminum chloride and aluminum chlorohydrate cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells and mimics oestrogen, which have to potential to cause breast cancer. However, it is unlikely that much carcinogens can enter the body and reach the breast cells. According to a study on the absorption of aluminum for antiperspirants containing aluminum chlorohydrate, only 0.012% of the aluminum was absorbed. This is less than what would be expected to be absorbed from food. There are also studies that found no difference in the concentration of aluminum in breast cancer tissue and normal breast tissue. Also, there are a number of products that are applied topically on and around the human breast daily, including not only antiperspirants but also body lotions, creams and sprays. These products contain a variety of chemicals, many of which already have toxic profiles. Therefore, it can’t be concluded that it is aluminum that is causing breast cancer, these other chemicals may play a role too.
Besides, antiperspirants can’t stop a person from sweating cancer-causing substances out through their underarm lymph nodes because lymph nodes are not connected to sweat glands. Lymph nodes do not release water or toxins through sweating. It is the kidney and the liver that can remove cancer-causing substances from the blood and body.
For the second claim, most breast cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant of the breast because that is where most of the breast tissue is. So actually, the number of breast cancers in the upper part of the breast is proportional to the amount of breast tissue in that area.
For the last claim, men is less likely to develop breast cancer than women because men have less breast tissue than women. Women have about 100 times more breast tissue, and thus is 100 times more at risk for breast cancer. Besides this, hormones also play a big role.
As of now, there are no strong studies that link antiperspirant use and breast cancer risk. Therefore, this should not deter use of antiperspirants.
1. “Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html.
2. Darbre PD. Underarm antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2009;11 Suppl 3(Suppl 3):S5. doi:10.1186/bcr2424
Donna Salib & Natalie Eshaghian
Deodorants and Breast Cancer
There are two main ingredients that may be of concern in deodorants and antiperspirants. The first chemical is parabens, which are chemical compounds used in cosmetics and food products used to help preserve the product’s life span. Parabens can interfere with hormones, specifically estrogen regulation, hence its link to breast cancer. The second chemical is aluminum, which is considered as a heavy metal used in products as a thickening agent in body cosmetics. It is found in a lot of antiperspirants because they interact with water and form a plug in your sweat gland to stop sweat from escaping. A few studies have looked into the absorption of aluminum and parabens in deodorants and antiperspirants for women who shave their armpits, and the relationship stipping off that outer layer of skin and breast cancer due to the six-fold increase in aluminum absorption through the skin. The National Cancer Institute(1) has stated that there are no strong epidemiologic studies that link breast cancer to antiperspirant use. The concern arose due to breast cancer tumors mainly being found in the upper quadrant of the breast so naturally an assessment of products used in the armpit area was made. Although aluminum has been found to damage DNA in cells, a high concentration of aluminum would have to be used to cause this.
One study estimated that only 0.012%(2) of the applied aluminum was actually absorbed into the skin. Aluminum concentrations have also been found to be higher in cancer tissues, so naturally, people wondered about the high concentrations of aluminum found in breast cancer patients. In 2007, a study (3) evaluated 17 cancer patients and their breast cancer tissue. Although it found that aluminum was slightly higher in the axillary area, this does not prove cause and effect. This study was not very strong because it did not compare the levels to other parts of the body or with people who did not have breast cancer. Another study in 2002 (4) compared 813 women with breast cancer with 793 women without and found no link between breast cancer and the use of antiperspirants or deodorants.
Breast Cancer is mostly associated with non-modifiable risk factors such as: female at birth, age, family history of breast cancer, carrying BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, undergoing menopause after age 55, and never giving birth, but aluminum is not one of these risks. If you schedule a breast screening, your doctor might tell you to avoid using aluminum, not because it can cause breast cancer, but because it can show up on a mammogram as tiny specks, which can allow for a false interpretation of the lab results.
Overall, it is important to understand the ingredients in our everyday lives, especially in things like our deodorants. Although aluminum is a heavy metal, it is best to minimize aluminum use but it is not something that needs to be avoided completely. Aluminum is not as harmful as people think it is, and ultimately there's just no scientific evidence that links the chemical to breast cancer.
(1) Antiperspirants/Deodorants and breast cancer. National Cancer Institute. August 9, 2016 Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet#is-there-a-link-between-antiperspirants-or-deodorants-and-breast-cancer.
(2) American Cancer Society. Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk. October 14, 2014.
(3) Exley C, Charles LM, Barr L, Martin C, Polwart A, Darbre PD. Aluminium in human breast tissue. J Inorg Biochem. 2007;101(9):1344-1346. doi:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2007.06.005
(4) Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(20):1578-1580. doi:10.1093/jnci/94.20.1578
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system present in humans and wildlife. EDCs may possibly lead to adverse effects that include interfering with reproduction, disturbances in the immune and nervous system functions, and developmental malfunctions. However current testing methods do not currently have enough evidence to clearly identify EDCs or their effect on humans and animals. While there is strong evidence that chemical exposure has affected wildlife and fish, the effect of EDCs on humans is poorly understood.
Certain EDCs will mimic natural hormones that are naturally produced in the human body, lead to a hormonal imbalance by causing hormones to respond at inappropriate times, or lead to over stimulation. EDCs may inhibit or directly stimulate the endocrine system, causing overproduction or underproduction of hormones. Endocrine disruptors can either be natural or man-made, and are found in a lot of products that are consumed daily aside from pesticides. EDCs are found in plastic, lining of metal food cans, food, toys, cosmetics and other self care products. People are exposed to endocrine disruptors through food consumption, cosmetic/product application, water and beverages consumed, consumption of fruits and vegetables sprayed with pesticides and even through the air they breathe. Normally the body’s endocrine system involves small changes in hormonal levels that lead to significant biological effects. So even low amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemical exposures will cause health problems.
Common EDCs include Bisphenol A (BPA) found in plastic products as well as food storage containers. Phthalates are EDs that make plastic flexible and are found in food packaging, toys and cosmetics. Phytoestrogens mimic hormones and are derived from plants, and found in soy food products such as soy milk and tofu. Triclosan is an EDC found in personal care products and microbial products such as body washes. Endocrine disruptors have been linked to lower rates of fertility, increased risks of endometriosis and cancers. EDCs will cause abnormalities in the male and female reproductive organs, including changes in sperm quality and lead to fertility issues. Some research has suggested that EDCs have the most negative consequences on prenatal and postnatal development when organs and the nervous system are forming. Some EDCs have been found to cross the placental barrier and travel to the fetus, and some EDCs are transferred through breast milk. High exposures to EDCs during fetal development and childhood will lead to long lasting health problems and even persist later into adulthood.
In order to reduce exposure to EDCs, precautions can be taken. For example to avoid BPA exposure, aim to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, but if fresh food is hard to afford/find then choose BPA-free canned foods and buy frozen foods. Install a good quality water filter to avoid EDCs such as arsenic, perchlorate and lead. In order to avoid mercury poisoning due to consumption of seafood, when choosing try wild salmon and farm raised trout. To reduce usage of products with phthalates, opt for glass food storage containers over plastic ones, also when choosing personal care products make sure to read the labels carefully and avoid those that list fragrance. Polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDEs) are extremely persistent chemicals that accumulate in the human body and are dangerous because they can mimic thyroid hormones leading to significant health adverse effects. It is much tougher to avoid PBDEs compared to all other EDCs however, one may try using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
Endocrine Disruptors. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm. Reviewed 2021 March 23. Accessed 2021 June 7.
12 Hormone-Altering Chemicals and How to Avoid Them. Environmental Working Group (EWG). https://www.ewg.org/consumer-guides/dirty-dozen-endocrine-disruptors. Accessed 2021 June 7.
Endocrine Disruptors. Environmental Health Sciences Center. https://environmentalhealth.ucdavis.edu/endocrine-disruptors#:~:text=Endocrine%20disruptors%20can%20be%20found%20in%20many%20common,5%20Food%206%20Toys%207%20Cosmetics%208%20Water. Accessed 2021 June 7.
Hormone Health Network."Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals EDCs | Hormone Health Network." Hormone.org, Endocrine Society, 7 June 2021, https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-edcs
What is Endocrine Disruption? United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/endocrine-disruption/what-endocrine-disruption. Accessed 2021 June 7.
Aluminum based ingredients are commonly used as the active ingredient in antiperspirants. These ingredients are known to plug the sweat ducts which will then stop the flow of sweat to the skin’s surface. A common myth is that underarm deodorants contain harmful ingredients such as aluminum that will have harmful estrogenic effects due to their application near the breast. Some research has also been done on parabens, which are preservatives found in some deodorants that may mimic estrogen activity in the body.
Several clinical studies reported a substantial number of female breast cancers occurring near the upper outer quadrant of the breast, the area where underarm products are applied. A large amount of products are available for topical use on and around the human breast other than deodorants. This includes body lotions, sprays, breast firming creams, and suncare. If any of these products are not rinsed off or removed properly, the continuous dermal exposure will lead to possible absorption into deeper dermal tissues. A lot of these products contain chemicals that have reported estrogenic activity as measured in breast milk and breast tissue, which include aluminum, parabens and phthalates. Parabens are known as weak estrogens because of their low binding affinity to the estrogen receptor.
Aluminum is known for its possible genotoxic profile, specifically aluminum chlorhydrate among other aluminum salts. A case study in 2004, reported toxic levels of aluminum present in the blood after antiperspirant use leading to bone pain and fatigue, but discontinued use resolved those issues. The use of underarm cosmetic products (UCPs) containing aluminum salts and its link to breast cancer was studied in epidemiological studies, but results showed no clear link between antiperspirants and increased risk of breast cancer. Metallic aluminum, aluminum oxides, and aluminum salts have not shown any clear genotoxicity or carcinogenic effects. Additionally, there were approximately 59 studies published in 2007 to investigate whether there was any association with deodorants and breast cancer, or increased the risk of breast cancer. It was concluded that there was no scientific evidence to prove either of those claims in any of the studies.
While antiperspirants and deodorants among other cosmetic products used near the breast and underarms have not shown any concrete scientific evidence on its link to breast cancer, there are several other risk factors that have. The relationship between heavy body weight (obesity) and increased risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer (BC) has been scientifically proven. Weight gain in adults, a body mass index (BMI) above 25 kg/m2 and increased abdominal fat have all been associated with an increased risk of postmenopausal BC and these findings have remained consistent among various studies. Research has shown that a normal BMI as well as maintaining a healthy adult weight will actually lower risk for postmenopausal BC. Smoking cigarettes containing carcinogens will not only directly cause breast cancer but other cancers as well.
Darbre, P.D. Underarm antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res 11, S5 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1186/bcr2424
Linhart C, Talasz H, Morandi EM, et al. Use of Underarm Cosmetic Products in Relation to Risk of Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study. EBioMedicine. 2017;21:79-85. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2017.06.005
JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 94, Issue 20, 16 October 2002, Pages 1578–1580, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/94.20.1578
Willhite CC, Karyakina NA, Yokel RA, et al. Systematic review of potential health risks posed by pharmaceutical, occupational and consumer exposures to metallic and nanoscale aluminum, aluminum oxides, aluminum hydroxide and its soluble salts. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2014;44 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):1-80. doi:10.3109/10408444.2014.934439
Dieterich M, Stubert J, Reimer T, Erickson N, Berling A. Influence of lifestyle factors on breast cancer risk. Breast Care (Basel). 2014;9(6):407-414. doi:10.1159/000369571
Antiperspirants/Deodarants and Breast Cancer. National Cancer Institute. US Department of Health and Human Services. Reviewed 2016 August 9. Accessed 2021 June 3. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet#:~:text=Because%20underarm%20antiperspirants%20or%20deodorants%20are%20applied%20near,these%20products%20to%20the%20development%20of%20breast%20cancer.
As the push for natural products becomes a mainstream trend, the myths of deodorants and antiperspirants containing cancer causing ingredients spread like wildfire. False rumors spread through news, emails, and word of mouth that suggested common daily deodorants and antiperspirants containing the active ingredient aluminum can increase a person’s risk to develop breast cancer. The theory was aluminum, which plugs sweat ducts in the armpit region, seeps into the ducts and seeps through the skin of little nicks from razor cuts and gets deposited in the lymph nodes. Truth is, lymph nodes do not connect to the sweat glands and therefore if any aluminum was absorbed, it would not collect in that region. Also, a person is more likely to get an infection from a razor nick due to damage of the protective layer in that area than aluminum seeping through a cut into the skin.
A study done in 2014 showed there was no evidence to prove aluminum containing antiperspirants and deodorants increased the risk of breast cancer in subjects. It was also not proven that breast cancer tissue contained more aluminum than a normal, noncancerous breast tissue. This was just one of the many studies conducted that debunked the myth of cancer causing deodorants or antiperspirants.
A small study published in 2004, shared that trace amounts of parabens were found in some samples of breast cancer tumors. It is important to note that while one can infer that the parabens were from deodorants, the researchers looked only for the presence of parabens in the breast cancer samples. The study did not connect parabens to cause or contribute to break cancer development in the cases studied. Parabens have weak estrogen-life properties that are hundreds to many thousands times weaker than natural estrogens found in the body. It can be concluded that natural estrogens are much more likely to play a role in breast cancer development than the parabens found in deodorants.
Aluminum is not only found in deodorants and antiperspirants but also found in food and other cosmetic products. It was found that aluminum is absorbed more from foods than from the small amount applied to the armpit region. A further example to debunk the myth of breast cancer causing aluminum in these daily used products.
New, mainstream deodorants are now advertised as “aluminum and paraben free.” Is this due to the myth of aluminum causing cancer or for the sake of saying that the product is all natural? Although the answer could not be found in writing, a list of safe ingredients and their purpose suggest that only natural, nontoxic ingredients are needed for a safe and effective antiperspirant or deodorant. When myths arise, it is important to debunk the myth to ensure safety among those using the products. It is important for healthcare workers to relay this information found in studied to patients to help stop the spread of these rumors.
Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk. American Cancer Society.
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html. Accessed January 21, 2021
Hardefeldt PJ, Edirimanne S, Eslick GD. Deodorant use and breast cancer risk. Epidemiology. 2013;24(1):172. doi:10.1097/EDE.0b013e3182781684
Dr. Michelle Lam’s powerpoint discusses the myths of antiperspirants and deodorant. Some individuals believe these products contain toxins and chemicals that cause breast cancer. As studies have shown there is no correlation to breast cancer. Without access to literature and credible websites misinformation is spread about diseases and their causes. These myths lead to a massive hysteria for the public. The misinformation constantly spreads creates distrust in the healthcare system and boundaries amongst healthcare workers. A strong patient relationship with their providers are vital in order to offer the best healthcare. Lack of trust between the patient and the provider can create barriers in treatment and can become difficult to overcome.
Due to myths and misconceptions resurfacing online and spreading through social media platforms, researchers began to study the active ingredient antiperspirant and deodorant. This was done to ensure the products safety and to debunk any myths. Specifically, aluminum and parabens were studied in these products. Aluminium was suggested to be causing breast cancer due to its estrogen-like effects as it is applied near the breast and can be absorbed through the skin. Aluminum is present in foods and other cosmetics and studies found no correlation to cancer. Parabens are used as preservatives and a common ingredient found in products. Parabens were present in breast tumors but multiple studies have shown no relationship between antiperspirants and breast cancers. In many cosmetic products, food, and pharmaceutical products parabens are present but most deodorants and antiperspirants in the United States do not currently contain parabens. Social media has a major influence in how patients perceive the healthcare system and health workers. Sometimes it becomes necessary to conduct these studies in order to maintain a trusting relationship.
1.Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(20):1578-1580. doi:10.1093/jnci/94.20.1578
2.Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet
Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer - Dr. Michelle Lam
Written by: Denise Cotter and Niyati Doshi
For several years, there have been rumors that suggested underarm antiperspirants cause breast cancer. These rumors spread through emails and by word of mouth. Despite any claims that were made linking the two, there is little to no scientific evidence to support such claims. Aluminum-based compounds are widely used as the active ingredient in antiperspirants. They form a temporary plug in the sweat duct that stops the flow of sweat. Some research suggested that when applied frequently, it could be absorbed by the skin and have hormonal like effects and thus promote the growth of breast cancer cells. However, a 2014 review showed there was no evidence that showed aluminium-containing antiperspirants increased the risk for breast cancer. It’s not proven that breast cancer tissue contains more aluminum than normal breast tissue. Interestingly enough, when going in for a mammogram the doctor may tell the patient not to use products containing aluminum. The small amount of metal can show up on a mammogram as tiny specks mistaken for microcalcifications, a marker that doctors use when looking for potential signs of cancer. The claim that cancer-causing substances may be absorbed through razor nicks is also untrue. A cut in the skin will more likely increase the risk of skin infection as does any harm to our protective layer. Applying an antiperspirant to a nick in the underarm area may cause irritation.
As mentioned previously, aluminum salts work by blocking sweat glands, not lymph nodes. Although lymph nodes do remove toxins, they do not remove them through sweat. Most carcinogens are removed from the body via the kidneys or by the liver. Parabens have also come into question regarding and increased risk for breast cancer. Parabens are chemicals that are used to preserve antiperspirants as well as make-up and skin care products. There are reports that parabens were found in breast tumors, but the evidence does not support such relation in terms of the use of parabens in antiperspirants. In fact, in the US most deodorants and antiperspirants do not contain parabens. The reason that men are less likely than women to develop breast cancer is because men have significantly less breast tissue than women. Hormones also play an important factor (i.e. men with increased levels of estrogen have an increased risk in developing breast cancer). Underarm hair and antiperspirant absorption has no impact on these statistics. It is important for both women and men to know what is a scientifically proven breast cancer risk versus a myth. As pharmacists we can debunk these myths and educate our patients, which will hopefully stop the spread of false statements. Risk factors that patients should be aware of include: age, genetic mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2), reproductive history, having dense breasts, family history of breast cancer, and previous treatment using radiation therapy. Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancers all over the world and early detection is key in increasing the survival rate.
Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html. Accessed July 1, 2020.
Darbre PD. Underarm antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research 2009; 11 Suppl 3:S5. doi: 1186/bcr2424
There have been rising concerns of antiperspirant use, namely aluminum, causing breast cancer. Despite the stigma, no epidemiological studies to date have not shown this to be the case.
There is a proposed link between antiperspirant administration at the axillae and an increased incidence of breast cancer based on an ill-designed and debunked study in 2003. The study failed to include a control group of women without breast cancer. A control group is essential to any study or experiment - it is the only way to determine if the variable in question is truly significant in relation to the outcome. In recognition of this, the authors conceded that it was unclear which components of underarm cosmetics may have played a carcinogenic role and that further case-controlled studies were needed.
An earlier study in 2002 actually showed no relationship between antiperspirant use and increased risk for breast cancer. Not only did this study actually have a control group, but also an increased sample size (n=1606), which directly influenced the study’s power.
Although there were conflicting results, a new study published in 2017 actually showed that multiple daily applications of underarm cosmetics in women under the age of 30 years was linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.
The active ingredient in most antiperspirants is aluminum. Though not an essential building block, aluminum is already present in our bodies in minute concentrations and is needed for normal human physiological function. It has two major uses outside of its role in antiperspirants. Its first role is a pharmacokinetic booster to increase efficacy in modern vaccines. Its second role as an over-the-counter antacid helps relieve mild dysphagia. Both the oral and injection (intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously) routes of administration have higher bioavailability than the topical route, exposing the patient to higher concentrations of aluminum, with no carcinogenic effect. According to the toxicological profile for aluminum published by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), the most common adverse event from aluminum’s topical administration is skin rashes, though they do concede that they currently lack the methodology to test topical exposure levels for aluminum. But they stress that aluminum toxicity does not affect the general population as any excess amount is quickly metabolized by the kidneys and eliminated.
Mcgrath KG. An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. European Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2003;12(6):479-485. doi:10.1097/00008469-200312000-00006
Mirick DK. Antiperspirant Use and the Risk of Breast Cancer. CancerSpectrum Knowledge Environment. 2002;94(20):1578-1580. doi:10.1093/jnci/94.20.1578
Is Deodorant Harmful for Your Health? – Penn Medicine. – Penn Medicine. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/june/deodorant. Accessed June 29, 2020.
Darbre P. Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. 2005;99(9):1912-1919. doi:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2005.06.001
Breast cancer is one of the most commonly occurring cancers in women. There are many myths that have been circulating around about the increased chance of breast cancer in women due to the use of antiperspirants/ deodorants. The main ingredient used in deodorants is aluminium. The most commonly heard myths are how cancer causing agents are penetrated through the underarms after women shave, which gets deposited into the lymph nodes. The myths further state how they don’t get excreted through sweating due to the use of the antiperspirants, which can increase the amount of cancerous agents, hence increase the chance of breast cancer. Some research states that when aluminium based deodorants are applied to the skin and its left there, it can be absorbed to the skin and can cause estrogen like symptoms. Since estrogen promotes breast cancer, there has been some scientist that states that aluminium based products can cause the increased occurrence of breast cancer. Furthermore, it has also been stated that aluminum has direct activity in the breast tissue. However, there is no study that shows any clear link of aluminum based antiperspirants increasing the occurrence of breast cancer. To further go into this myth about how these toxins get deposited into the lymph nodes, there is no evidence of lymph nodes being connected to sweat glands. The role of lymph nodes is to clear out bacterias and viruses, and they do not release any toxins through sweat.
Another myth regarding this issue is how men have a lower risk of breast cancer since they do not shave their underarms, therefore no absorption of chemicals occurs when antiperspirants are applied. However, that's not the reason why they have less incidence of breast cancer. It is because men contain less breast tissues compared to women, therefore reducing their chance of getting breast cancer. This topic doesn’t have much evidence to further educate patients but, we can say there is no risk of breast cancer when using aluminum based antiperspirants as of now, until further research is performed.
Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/myths/antiperspirants-fact-sheet#:~:text=Because estrogen can promote the,in breast tissue (4). Accessed June 2, 2020.
There exist some misconceptions about antiperspirants and breast cancer risk. Some of these misconceptions are as follows:
-Antiperspirants contain cancer-causing substances that are absorbed through razor nicks from underarm shaving. The substances deposit into lymph nodes and antiperspirants prevent the body from sweating out these toxins leading to accumulation.
-Most breast cancer develops in the quadrant closest to the lymph nodes exposed to antiperspirants.
-Men have lower risk for breast cancer because they don’t shave their underarms, and their underarm hair protects them from absorption of toxins.
No strong scientific evidence has shown a link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use. In general, razor nicks may increase risk for skin infection. While that makes it more likely for antiperspirants to cause mild irritation, it is still unlikely for cancer-causing substances to gain entry into the body through these nicks and reach breast tissue.
The misconception about antiperspirants preventing the body from sweating out toxins through underarm lymph nodes can by debunked through a couple of facts: lymph nodes are not connected to sweat glands, lymph nodes do not clear out waste and toxins through sweating, and most cancer-causing substances are removed from the blood by the kidneys and liver.
There is also no evidence to show a relationship between the location of cancers within the breast and antiperspirant use or underarm shaving. Cancers are more likely develop in the upper outer part of the breast, probably due to the presence of more breast tissue in that area. Men are also less likely to develop breast cancer because they have much less breast tissue than women.
Another area of concern is the presence of aluminum in antiperspirants. Aluminum is the active ingredient in antiperspirants and works by “plugging” sweat glands. It may be believed that aluminum can cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells. However, it has been found that only a tiny portion of aluminum would be absorbed from antiperspirants, an amount less that expected to be absorbed from foods. At present, there is no clear link between antiperspirants containing aluminum and breast cancer.
Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html. Accessed June 2, 2020.