Is Your Deodorant Causing Cancer?

So your choice might be B.O. or cancer…..well, which one would you choose?

The subject of antiprespirants/deodorants and cancer is muddy, to say the least.  There were some internet rumors that started around 1999 that antiperspirants/deodorants cause breast cancer and that you should stop using those products immediately.  This caused a stir in the scientific community and the public wanted to know first: is this true?  When the scientific community said they just plain “didn’t know”, the public pressured for studies to be done.  But the studies done were not “done” very well.  This lead to conflicting results.  Here are the facts… make your decision.

antiperspirants and cancer

Even Fergie sweats

What is in antiperspirants?

We all hate to sweat and more-so we all hate to smell……each other.  Body odor is caused by bacteria that accumulates in areas that we sweat: our underarms.  Sweating is a very healthy response to the body’s overheating and when we sweat, it keeps us cool.

There are several parts to the products that keep us sweet smelling and dry.

Deodorants are the odor neutralizing part of the product that can have a scent from “shower fresh” to “sport” (whatever a sport smells like).  This is sometimes listed as “parfum” (not perfume….which is completely different but does smell good).

cancer and deodorants

The antiperspirant part of the product usually contains an aluminum based product like Aluminum  Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex.  Usually there is a percentage of this product next to the name indicating what percentage of the product is aluminum.  The percentages can range from 9% to 24% depending on how “strong” the antiperspirant is.  The aluminum clogs your sweat glands not allowing the sweat to escape, thereby keeping you dry.

Aluminum is a metal that is used to make cooking pans, cans etc., but it also occurs naturally in foods. Beans, corn and the like contain traces of aluminum especially when grown in clay based soils in places where the aluminum concentration of the water is high. You also ingest it when you eat  foods that have preservatives, artificial coloring, leavening, and anti-caking chemical added to them.  Liquid and chalk-chew antacids like Mylanta are mostly aluminum.

According to the 2001 publication Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, The healthy human body has effective barriers (skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract) to reduce the systemic absorption of aluminum ingested from water, foods, drugs, and air. The small amount of aluminum (<1%) that is systemically absorbed is excreted principally in the urine and, to a lesser extent, in the feces. No reports of dietary aluminum toxicity to healthy individuals exist in the literature, HOWEVER,…..Aluminum can be neurotoxic, when injected directly into the brains of animals and when accidentally introduced into human brains (by dialysis or shrapnel). A study from Canada reports cognitive and other neurological deficits among groups of workers occupationally exposed to dust containing high levels of aluminum.

“Neurological deficits”….that’s medical talk for “don’t trust this person to feed your cat”.

It is also detrimental to those whose kidneys don’t work well.  Look on your antiperspirant…it reads “ask a doctor before use if you have kidney disease”.

So Aluminum can be harmful to your brain and kidneys……how about when applied to the skin as in antiperspirants? and how does it relate to cancer?

A very interesting study done in 2005 by P.D. Darbre in the Journal of Inorganic Chemistry (a form of non-pharmaceutical Ambien) shows a very definite danger in the absorption of aluminum through the skin in that the aluminum had estrogen-like properties. Alterations in hormones, like estrogen, have been shown to play a major part in breast cancer tumor proliferation.  This study showed that the absorption of aluminum through the skin has a direct affect on estrogen receptors.  Since the majority of breast cancer tumors are located on the outer edge of the breast, near the arm pit, the theory that an under arm product could be the cause is not that far-fetched.

The author’s words are strong:  Given the wide exposure of the human population to antiperspirants, it will be important to establish dermal absorption in the local area of the breast and whether long term low level absorption could play a role in the increasing incidence of breast cancer.

More studies are needed……

Dr Kris Mc Grath has been trying to get answers on the aluminum/cancer link story for years.  He started in 2005 looking for causes into the exploding incidences of women–especially younger women–getting breast cancer.  He started with the FDA, who publicly dismissed the relationship on their web site, but when he asked to interview the the experts who published the position, he was denied.

The under arm cosmetic industry represents a billion-dollar market.

John Bailey, a director of cosmetic chemistry as the cosmetic toiletry and fragrance association was asked, “Has this issue been definitively laid to rest?”

“I think the products are safe and I think that the best science is being applied to making that determination that they’re safe,” Bailey says.

“But you’re not saying yes or no,”

“It’s not a yes or no answer,” Bailey replies.

Then there are the fillers in the products…..preservatives and chemicals that allow the product to “go on dry” and “go on invisible” so we can get dressed in 5 minutes in that little black dress and not have to worry about “white pits”.

Some of these chemicals are harmless: sunflower oil, alcohol…. but some of these chemicals cause serious concern.

Parabens, or PARAhydroxyBENzoates, are used as preservatives in cosmetics.  The paraben family, ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, and butyl-, all have had literature suggesting links to all types of cancers.

Even the National Cancer Institute will not state that parabens are safe…stating “parabens have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body’s cells…..estrogen has been shown to promote growth of breast cancer cells”  They suggest finding a product that does not contain parabens.

Paraben use is widespread in the cosmetic and personal care product industry.  I bet that if you don’t routinely screen for parabens, you have at least 5 products sitting in your bathroom right now that contains some form of parabens. (look for “paraben” at the end of the long chemical name).

Parabens  are very inexpensive and are very effective in preserving products and lengthening their shelf life…making it more profitable for the manufacturing companies.

In fact, I went out looking for “pro-paraben” articles, and the only one I could find was written for the cosmetics company “Alchimie” and the author was none other than it’s CEO and owner!  I wonder why she was against banning paraben use from cosmetics?

In the article, she sites the flaw in the study that found parabens in the breast tissue of women with breast cancer.  She states the study was flawed because the parabens were also found in breast tissue of women that didn’t have breast cancer.   This is the mentality we are dealing with here.  Hello!!!!??? Parabens don’t belong in women’s breast tissue at all!!

While the study can’t confirm how the parabens got into the breast tissue, they got there none-the-less, and considering that a majority of personal care products contain parabens, it’s  no big mystery.

Also interesting is that in all the sites that claim there is no link between these products and cancer, they ALL cite the SAME OLD 2002 study that looked at underarm practices and the habits of 800 western Washington state women.  This study is extremely limited, and I feel like the opposition doesn’t really have anything else, so they keep using this same study to support their claim that the two are not related.

household chemical safety

Imagine….there are those that get paid to do this…..

So now what do we do…own the stank??

What to do with all this info…..

We want to smell nice and we don’t like to sweat.

There are alternatives for those who want to smell great, but don’t want to worry about the risk of cancer.  Here are some products that do not contain the antiperspirant part of the products or the parabens.  I have tried Tom’s and it really didn’t work for me.  I still smelled.  Kris Carr did an evaluation of products, but they were her opinions.

I sometimes use the natural salt crystal and it works really well for odor.  The draw back is you have to wet it and then roll it on to activate the crystal.  I have to use the blow dryer on my pits for a few minutes before I got dressed, but once it’s dry, it’s fine.  This one crystal lasts me over a year, so it definitely saves money!

You can also make your own.

My take

I think the studies are interesting, and I can see where the evidence is being compiled that the ingredients in antiperspirants do have some effect on breast cancer, but nothing seems to be concrete conclusive at this point.  I do think that we should avoid parabens at all costs (something I do).  Aluminum based products should be avoided as well.  I have to balance what I know with how I live and you should too.

 “Natural” crystal-type deodorants contain amonuim alum or potassium alum….related to aluminum, but different.  While some say the molecule is too big to penetrate the skin, others say it’s still aluminum exposure.  I can’t get a straight answer  from the internet or from those who manufacture it, and would love to speak to a non-biased chemistry professor who can explain it to me.  I know a bit about chemistry and I know that just because it has a mineral name in the formula does not mean it has the same properties as the mineral. Potassium chloride and potassium permanganate are two good examples. The first is found in bananas, the other is highly poisonous and combustable.  If there are any chemists out there, please contact me!

 I use aluminum-free paraben-free most of the time, but if I am going out and dressed nice, I will use the antiperspirant containing aluminum.  It is not worth it to me to worry about wetness and have a crappy time constantly looking at my pits and being self conscious for just one night of aluminum exposure.  I do use a paraben-free one. There are many natural ones out there and they are changing all the time. Here’s a good list to get you started. I haven’t tried these, so if you find one that works, please comment!

You can always choose to use just a deodorant alone without the aluminum antiperspirant.

If you must use antiperspirant, choose the ones with no parabens and choose the ones with the lowest percentage of aluminum.

Think about making a change in your habit, as this is usually a product that you use every day of your life and a small change here can make a big difference in the long run.

Thanks for reading.  Live well!

More on parabens

Natural Products Association Standards–see page 8

Teen cosmetics dangers

Natural remedies for body odor

Categories: cancer, cancer prevention, health, healthy living blogs, household chemicals

Tags: , , , ,

8 replies

  1. I’ll certainly check out Moon Organics! I hate Johnson & J for what they’ve done, but also Lush for using talc and paraben everywhere! Could increased estrogen from shampoos also thin my husband’s hair? Haha I know it’s a vain question, but he’s so yoiung to have his hair falling out when no other family member has balded, and he always uses the cheapest, worst hair products.

  2. Now I feel icky… there are enough truths to forego statements like:

    ““Neurological deficits”….that’s medical talk for “don’t trust this person to feed your cat”.”

    Whah! No it doesn’t! It means difficulty concentrating, maybe issues with coordination or spacial reasoning – temporarily. Also that article is specifically dealing with DIETARY aluminum (and that inserted into the brain), not topical.

    Actually the rest of the study said it well: “A study from Canada reports cognitive and other neurological deficits […] While the precise pathogenic role of aluminum in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) remains to be defined, present data do not support a causative role for aluminum in AD. High intake of aluminum from antacid for gastrointestinal ailments has not been reported to cause any adverse effects and has not been correlated with neurotoxicity or AD.”

    The full abstract-study on aluminum and it’s neurological effects: (Occup Environ Med. 1997 April; 54(4): 229–235.)

    The “Canadian study” authors (mentioned repeatedly in the post and abstract) can be emailed with questions here:

    There are so many evils in the cosmetic industry – there’s really no need to bend any truths.

    I mean, the second Dove mentioned the beauty we’re missing in our armpits — that should’ve been EVERY womans’ call to action!

    “WTF, they’re checkin’ out my ARMPITS now?! Shh…” 😉

  3. I’ve been using all natural deodorant and I felt disappointed that I smelled a little bit. However, for some reason, I think that my under arms got used to it, and it lasts the whole day! But by night I have to change my shirt. I totally agree with you, for everyday use, I opt to use all natural, but for special occasions, or out with my friends at night, I think just for that one night I’ll use a regular pareben free deodorant.

  4. An old farm wife once told me lemon juice works instead of deoderant. Seems a little more appealing than vinegar.
    Thanks for the info.

    • That makes sense because the odor comes from bacteria. Since lemon juice is an acid it inhibits the growth of bacteria.
      I plan to develop a natural deodorant for my company MOON Organics. I will definitely include lemon juice in the mix.

  5. Wait till I do the post on nail polish!

  6. Wow this was quite an eye opener….I never would have thought that deodorant could be so toxic.

So whaddya think?

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