By: Azzairia Jackson-Sherrod

Editors’ Note: This post is from a Human Health course titled “Nutrition and Health Mythbusters” taught by Dr. Myra Woodworth-Hobbs. You can read more about the class and assignment here as well as read another student’s work from that class.

A popular belief in today’s media is that deodorant causes breast cancer. The media says that aluminum-containing deodorants put women at a higher risk of getting breast cancer, so natural deodorant is the safest choice. This claim is the latest in worries about aluminum in deodorant.

There have also been claims about the aluminum in deodorant and Alzheimer’s disease and kidney disease. Previous studies in the 1960s saw that Alzheimer’s patients had high levels of aluminum in their brain. Once these studies were replicated years later, the researchers found aluminum to not be a cause for Alzheimer’s.[1]

Regarding kidney disease, scientists raised concerns about aluminum due to a drug called aluminum hydroxide that was given to dialysis patients. The purpose of this drug was to control the high phosphorous levels in their blood. Since their kidneys were not functioning properly, the patients were unable to remove the aluminum fast enough. Therefore, there was speculation about the role of aluminum in patients with kidney disease. Years later doctors shut down this speculation by saying that it is impossible for your body to absorb enough aluminum through the skin to harm your kidneys.[2]

Image of the top of a stick of deodorant that is stamped to say "Take the risk"
“Take The Risk” by Kyle Jones

For now though, the main claim in popular media is that deodorant causes breast cancer, but research refutes this point. Regular deodorant does not put women at a higher risk for breast cancer. Therefore, people should still use regular deodorant as an odor protectant.

Researchers conducted studies that looked at breast cancer patients and their use of deodorant as a treatment, they saw no substantial evidence that supported the use of natural deodorant over regular deodorant.[3]

Several studies support the claim that the deodorant type does not affect the risk of breast cancer. There is evidence that examines the use of deodorant after breast cancer has been diagnosed and the patients are receiving treatment.

One study looks at axillary skin toxicity and how different types of deodorant affect that. The researchers compared aluminum-containing deodorant, non-aluminum containing deodorant, and soap. It concludes that there was no evidence that the use of either deodorant or soap effects axillary skin reaction during conventionally fractionated radiation therapy for breast cancer.[3]  

Another study looks at deodorant use in general, without differentiating the type, and how it affects the skin during breast cancer radiotherapy. This study concluded that there was no significant increase in axillary skin reactions. The researchers suggest wearing deodorant during this time until discomfort, such as stinging, occurs.[4]

Picture of a woman with a medical gown on from the back. She is peering over her shoulder and is in front of a mammography machine. There is a female health care worker on the other side of the machine.
Photo by L.A. Shively

There is more evidence that examines deodorant, how that influences estrogen activity and breast cancer.

One study specifically looks at aluminum in deodorant and examines its effect on estrogen activity. The results were that aluminum does in fact interfere with estrogen receptors of MCF7 human breast cancer cells. On the contrary, there is inconclusive evidence on the molecular action of the aluminum and its long term effects on human breast cancer cells.[5]

Another study is a supplemental study to the previous study. Rather than attributing estrogen activity to only deodorant, it looks at environmental factors as well. Factors such as your food, water and air also influence estrogen activity. Estrogen can cause lipophilic properties to accumulate in the breast fat. At this time there is no proven link to attribute deodorant to breast cancer. There needs to be more research is that field in order to make that conclusion.[6]

Another study looked at different types of deodorant products in Germany, and its effects on estrogenic activity. The researchers looked at spray-on deodorant, a stick, and roll-on deodorant. They found that different types of products did produce different levels of estrogenic activity. This is attributed to the composition of the product and scent of the product. The spray-on deodorant had the highest estrogenic activity. Although the study identified a link between estrogen activity and breast cancer cells, there was no conclusive evidence that identified certain products putting people at higher risk for breast cancer.[7]

The last study is a review article that examines the relationship between breast cancer and antiperspirants/deodorants. The research found that antiperspirants and deodorants were protective against breast cancer. One explanation for this is socioeconomic class as a confounding factor. People who used antiperspirants and deodorants tended to be from a higher socioeconomic class and have higher levels of education. Although these products were found to be protective against breast cancer, there was one chemical that could contribute to breast cancer. The chemical paraben is found in many cosmetic products, including shampoo, moisturizer, shave gel, toothpaste, etc.[8]

From this evidence it is clear that deodorant does not contribute to the occurrence of breast cancer. The aluminum in certain deodorants does contribute to estrogenic activity, which interacts with breast cancer cells, but that does not equate to the development of breast cancer. Some studies identified deodorant as a protective agent for breast cancer and other studies identified no difference in skin toxicity for breast cancer patients who used either aluminum-containing or non-aluminum containing deodorant. There is not enough research to support the claim from the media saying that natural deodorant is better. Until there is more research to support this claim, any type of deodorant will suffice. There is no need to be fearful that your deodorant will cause breast cancer.

Resources

  1. Graves, White, Koepsell, Reifler, Van Belle, & Larson. (1990). The association between aluminum-containing products and Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 43(1), 35-44.
  2. Jaffe, Liftman, & Glickman. (2005). Frequency of Elevated Serum Aluminum Levels in Adult Dialysis Patients. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, 46(2), 316-319.
  3. Lewis, L., Carson, S., Bydder, S., Athifa, M., Wiliams, M. A., Bremner, A. (2014). Evaluating the effects of aluminum-containing and non-aluminum containing deodorants
on axillary skin toxicity during radiation therapy for breast cancer: A 3-armed randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Radiation Oncology, 90(4), 765-771.
  4. Graham, H. P., Graham, L. J. (2009). Use of deodorants during adjuvant breast radiotherapy: A survey of compliance with standard advice, impact on patients and a literature review on safety. Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Oncology, 53(2009), 569-573.
  5. Darbe, D. P. (2005). Aluminum, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemstry, 99(2005), 1912-1919.
  6. Darbe, D. P. (2006). Environmental oestrogens, cosmetics and breast cancer. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 20(1), 121-143.
  7. Lange, C., Kuch, B., Metzger, W. J. (2014). Estrogenic activity of constituents of underarm deodorants determined by E-Screen assay. Chemosphere, 108(2014), 101-106.
  8. Allam, F. M. (2016). Breast cancer and deodorants/antiperspirants: A systematic review. Central European Journal of Public Health, 24(3), 245-247.

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