Will My Deodorant Give Me Cancer?

by egndukwe on November 28, 2012

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m sure some if not all of you have heard mention that antiperspirants and deodorants can cause breast cancer. Truthfully, I heard this awhile back and since then, a little part of me has cringed every time I put on deodorant, wondering if I was continuously increasing my risk for cancer. So will using deodorant give you cancer? Unfortunately, for those who looking for a definitive yes or no, the results up to this point have been inconclusive.

The initial research on this topic suggested that two particular ingredients in antiperspirants and deodorants—parabens and aluminum based compounds—are responsible for the products’ link to breast cancer. The active ingredient in many deodorants is often one of several aluminum-based compounds.  These compounds function by preventing sweat from reaching the surface of the skin. Previous research has suggested that some aluminum-based compounds can interfere with the proper functioning of hormones within the body and eventually disrupt the normal expression of genes, factors that may ultimately lead to the development of cancer.

Additional research has focused on the link between parabens and breast cancer. A study performed in 2004 found that out of 20 samples of human breast cancer tissue, 18 of the samples contained parabens. Parabens are low cost, highly effective preservatives that have long been used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Other researchers have argued the extent to which these findings should be completely accepted, citing the fact that the presence of parabens in breast cancer tissue does not necessarily imply that the parabens in deodorants and antiperspirants are the cause. Additionally, this study did not consider whether parabens were also found in healthy non-cancerous tissues of the body.

In an attempt to refute some of the arguments against the research, researchers completed a similar study, releasing the results in 2012. In this study, breast tissues collected from the mastectomies of 40 women were analyzed. Of the 160 tissue samples that were taken, parabens were found in 158 samples. Although this study acknowledged that they could not identify the source of the parabens, 7 of the 40 women sampled reported that they had never used deodorants or antiperspirants—suggesting that the parabens were coming from another source.

Contrasting with the research suggesting that there is a link between underarm products and breast cancer, are studies that argue that there is no link. In 2002, researchers interviewed 813 patients with breast cancer and 793 women without breast cancer. Results showed that women who used a deodorant or antiperspirant did not have an increased risk for breast cancer. Although smaller in size, another study which published results in 2006, again found no link between breast cancer and the use of deodorants or antiperspirants.

The reports suggesting that underarm products were linked to cancer caused so much alarm that several organizations within the medical and health information community published their views that there is no conclusive evidence linking breast cancer to the use of underarm products. Organizations included the National Cancer Institute and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation among others. Providing additional relief is the fact that in today’s cosmetic market, many major brands have removed parabens from their underarm products.

Overall, current literature shows that more research needs to be done before it can be conclusively determined that underarm products are not linked to the development of breast cancer. In the mean time as with many other consumer products that have been found to contain toxic ingredients, the important takeaway for me is moderation. Being aware of the ingredients in our products can help us as consumers make informed decisions about the products we use every single day. For me, deodorant is an indispensable part of my hygiene regimen, but with this in mind I will make the effort to ensure that other products I use include more natural ingredients in order to minimize my long term exposure to toxins.