It’s time to stock up on summer necessities, and as those hot temperatures approach, many of us are reassessing the type of deodorant we use. For many years, there’s been a rumor swirling that long-term use of “traditional” deodorants (the ones we find in the aisles of chain grocery and drug stores) can cause cancer.
With so many natural, nontraditional deodorants available, this claim is enough to give plenty of people pause before we apply our usual deodorant. But before making any changes to your hygiene habits (especially if you happen to really like your traditional deodorant brand), let’s hear what the experts have to say.
Behind the breast cancer rumors
First things first: If you’re attached to a specific brand of deodorant, there’s no evidence that it’s putting you at an increased risk of breast cancer. “There are no strong epidemiologic studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use and very little scientific evidence to support this claim,” Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist, tells SheKnows.
Shainhouse points to a carefully designed epidemiological study of this very issue, which was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002. It compared 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women without the disease. Researchers didn’t find a link between breast cancer risk and the use of antiperspirant or deodorant.
Shainhouse explains that the basis of this rumor is that “most breast cancers develop in the upper, outer quadrant of the breast (the quarter of the breast closest to the armpit) because that area is closest to the lymph nodes exposed to antiperspirants.”
But in reality, there’s no evidence to support the claim that the location of cancers within the breast is related to deodorant. So why does this theory exist in the first place? It all comes down to aluminum. The active ingredients in antiperspirants are aluminum-based compounds, which block the sweat glands to keep sweat from getting to the skin’s surface.
“Some research has suggested that these aluminum compounds may be absorbed by the skin and cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells,” Shainhouse explains. Estrogen promotes the growth of both cancerous and noncancerous breast cells, so it’s been suggested that these aluminum-based compounds may be a risk factor for developing breast cancer, she adds.
That would be more frightening if aluminum were absorbed through the skin at high levels — but that’s not how deodorants work. “One study that looked at the absorption of aluminum from antiperspirants containing aluminum chlorohydrate applied to the underarms found that only a tiny fraction (0.012 percent) was absorbed,” Shainhouse says. “The actual amount of aluminum absorbed would be much less than what would be expected to be absorbed from the foods a person eats during the same time.”
What about natural deodorants?
Of course, none of this is to say that you shouldn’t give natural deodorants a try if you’re interested. And if you have sensitive skin, they may be a better option for you. “Natural deodorants are hypoallergenic, therefore they’re less likely to cause allergic reactions or skin sensitivity than the traditional formulas do,” Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist, tells SheKnows.
Green says traditional deodorants contain fragrance, which acts as the barrier to minimize odor. Natural deodorants, on the other hand, typically contain essential oils to suppress sweating and odor. Like Shainhouse, Green emphasizes that the National Cancer Institute has said there’s no conclusive link between traditional deodorants and cancer. But she suggests using natural deodorants due to the decreased risk of an allergic reaction.
“Natural is the best way to go, [but] it depends on your body’s personal needs,” Green says. For example, some people require prescription-strength antiperspirants — so natural deodorants, which need to be reapplied more often than traditional brands, would definitely not be the best option for those individuals.
If you want to give natural deodorant a try, there’s certainly no risk associated with it — but if you’re happy with your current brand, you can rest assured that it’s not increasing your risk of cancer.