Not long ago the claim that antiperspirants cause breast cancer circulated the internet. This, of course, sparked concern and prompted an ongoing debate. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death for U.S. women aged 35–54 years and the need to understand the cause of breast cancer is a necessity. Experts link a combination of genetic predisposition (things you can’t change like your age, ethnicity, and gender) with environmental factors (things you can change like your health habits, weight, and exposure to chemicals) to the disease. Breast cancer most commonly develops in the upper armpit area which puts aluminum-containing antiperspirants in the spotlight.
Aluminum is found in many products but most commonly in antiperspirants to control underarm wetness. Antiperspirants are often sold in combination with deodorants and simply referred to as “deodorant” (which can cause confusion). Take a look at the product you use and look for the active ingredients. Chances are it says aluminum with a percentage of 16% to 19%. This is true for sticks, gels, and roll-on formulations.
EVIDENCE: We know that aluminum is capable of changing cells within our bodies and can be absorbed through the skin. In a two small studies, benign (not cancerous) breast tumors, tissue, and fluid all had significantly higher amounts of aluminum in the upper armpit compared to other areas within the breast and higher concentrations of aluminum were detected in samples of women with breast cancer. This does not mean that the aluminum in antiperspirant causes cancer, but it is compelling. The FDA and EU both state that aluminum products should not be applied to broken, damaged, or irritated skin but many women shave their armpits and apply deodorant daily, making the approved aluminum exposure null.
THE GRAY ZONE: There are many articles that deny claims of a correlation between aluminum and breast cancer and there are no official guidelines to clarify what is considered safe and not safe with regard to deodorant. We can only speculate whether aluminum is responsible for cancer or other types of tumors (cystic breast disease) or if certain individuals have a low threshold for aluminum. More studies are needed to show whether daily use of aluminum-containing antiperspirants cause harm. However, in promoting health and wellness, limiting the use and exposure to hazardous environmental factors (remember, the things you can change and control) is and will always be recommended.
MY ADVICE: Do what you can to avoid being 1 out of 8 U.S. women diagnosed with breast cancer. If you are in the group that uses aluminum-containing products, ask yourself why. Is smelling like “Cocoa Butter Kiss” worth the potential risk? There are many brands of deodorant that do not contain aluminum but they are primarily marketed to pregnant women and people with chronic kidney disease (kidneys rid our bodies of aluminum). In fact, the FDA requires a warning label on deodorants containing aluminum for those who have renal problems. Look closely at the labels when shopping and don’t forget to check out the men’s section for more aluminum-free options. As for me, if there is even a small chance that the use of a product can negatively affect my body, I am not using it. I err on the side of caution and will always recommend less controversial personal care products. My advice is to use one of the numerous, natural aluminum-free brands. It doesn’t hurt to be cautious and “Cocoa Butter Kiss” never saved anyone.
For science nerds (myself included):
Aluminium zirconium triclorohydrex Gly is a metalloestrogen, genotoxic substance that can bind to DNA. Among the gene alternations, it stimulates similar effects of oxidative stress. With the confirmation of the presence of aluminum in biopsied breast tissue, it does provide plausible cause to list aluminum as a possible environmental factor and should be researched further in an effort to promote health and reduce breast cancer occurrences.