I recently attended a nutrition lecture where the speaker said our main priority upon leaving should be to swap our current antiperspirant with natural deodorant. Antiperspirants, she said, have been linked to different cancers and Alzheimer’s, which is a topic of much debate among scientists, holistic nutritionists, and consumers. So, who’s right? Does switching to natural deodorant really put you on a path for a healthier life?
How Do Antiperspirants and Deodorants Work—And What Are People So Worried About?
In antiperspirants, aluminum-based compounds are used to temporarily “plug” the sweat ducts so that sweat can’t come to the surface and show up as oh-so-attractive sweat stains. Deodorants work by killing the bacteria on your skin and also acting as an antiperspirant by reducing the amount of sweat. (Sweat itself doesn’t actually smell; it’s when it mixes with bacteria in your skin that it creates that foul odour.)
The current theory is that cancer-causing substances in antiperspirants and deodorants—particularly aluminum-based compounds and parabens, respectively—are absorbed through your armpit from little cuts you get from shaving. These substances then enter the lymph nodes located in your underarms, which are small organs that play a key role in your immune system by filtering out harmful substances in your blood. From there, these aluminum-based compounds produce cancer-causing mutations… or so this theory states.
The fact that most breast cancers develop in the upper quadrant of the breast—the part closest to the armpit—fuels the fire of those who support this theory. Additionally, antiperspirant-bashers often highlight how men have a lower risk of getting the disease, which could be because the vast majority of them do not shave their underarms.
When it comes to parabens, concerns stem from the fact that they can be absorbed through the skin. This is problematic given that it can mimic the effects of estrogen in our bodies, which causes both normal and cancerous cells to grow and divide. Having too much estrogen has, indeed, been linked to the quicker growth of cancer cells.
What Does the Research Say?
Research has shown that aluminum is “genotoxic,” which means it can bind to and alter DNA while also catalyzing certain cellular reactions in the body, according to a study in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. It’s also been defined as a metalloestrogen, meaning it can mimic estrogen by activating hormonal receptors.
A review by the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology in 2014 looked at a number of other research studies about aluminum and concluded that, “aluminum can penetrate the skin and accumulate in breast tissues… thereby promoting a cascade of alterations reminiscent of the early phases of malignant transformation.”
However, a study conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle found no relationship between breast cancer and the use of antiperspirant or deodorant. And since their data came from 813 women with breast cancer and 793 people without it—or 1,600+ people in total—the results are pretty legit. Overall, they concluded that the risk for breast cancer did NOT increase with antiperspirant or deodorant use, using these products after shaving, or applying antiperspirant or deodorant within an hour of shaving. One caveat of the study: they had to rely on participants’ memories of their antiperspirant and deodorant usage, which may not have been entirely accurate.
Those who deny this theory also highlight that sweating is not the main way our bodies get rid of toxins; the reason we sweat is to help us cool down when we’re hot. And the whole idea that most breast cancers occur close to our armpit area could be because that’s where most of the breast tissue is located in the first place.
When it comes to parabens, the fear of its link to breast cancer can be traced back to a 2004 study where parabens were found in 18 of 20 samples of tissue taken from people who had breast tumours. However, correlation does not cause causation. Just because two trends exist together doesn’t mean one caused the other. What’s more, the study didn’t look at healthy breast tissue, nor did they demonstrate that parabens are found only in cancerous breast tissue.
Still worried? You might find solace in the fact that the American Cancer Society has a whole page dedicated to this topic. In their words, “There are no strong epidemiological studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim.”
So, some studies say it’s fine and others don’t (as is to be expected with any health-related topic). What does this mean for you?
My philosophy is this: You don’t want to live your life being afraid of everything, but if there’s an easy, affordable solution to a problem, then why not be safe than sorry? In this case, the solution is a really easy one: just buy some natural deodorant. The end. It’s an easy fix, so why not?
That being said, I will warn you that finding a good natural deodorant is actually a million times more complicated than it sounds because most of them are completely and utterly ineffective. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back! Try ordering some deodorant cream by Soapwalla or a deodorant stick by Meow Meow Tweet if you prefer your deodorant in stick form.
The Bottom Line
Many doctors contend that the risks associated with getting breast cancer are far more complicated than your deodorant preference. The reality is that a number of risk factors must be considered, such as: experiencing a late (or no) pregnancy, going through menopause later in life, a lack of exercise, or taking certain oral contraceptives. Getting regular mammograms from age 50 and beyond is a good way to make sure you catch breast cancer earlier rather than later.
That being said, I figure that since switching to natural deodorant is so easy, then I might as well. Even if it’s not linked to breast cancer, it’s nice to use natural products whenever possible to decrease the amount of chemicals your body is taking in. It’s a philosophy I’ve applied to simple things like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and body lotion since it’s so easy to find good alternatives that I figure I might as well!
You Tell Me!
What’s your favourite brand of natural deodorant? They’re hard to come by so let me know in the comments below!