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Antiperspirants, Deodorants and Breast Cancer – Why Still in the News?


The media and others repeatedly raise the question of a possible link between use of deodorants and antiperspirants and breast cancer. This naturally causes concern to consumers yet this myth has been soundly rejected by scientists and independent cancer charities alike.

Cancer Research UK describes the fear as a myth and states clearly there is no convincing evidence to support the allegation.

Breast Cancer Now has information clearing up some of the myths about the causes of breast cancer which states very clearly that using deodorants or antiperspirants does not increase your risk of breast cancer.

Manufacturers may only place cosmetic products on the market if they are safe. This is what the law demands. Manufacturers place antiperspirants and deodorants on the market because they are safe. Their safety is assured by legislation and by expert safety assessors and this is also supported by independent cancer charities and scientists.

Scientists dispel myth of deodorant and antiperspirant breast cancer danger


In addition, in 2008, a panel of leading clinical oncologists (the branch of medicine that deals with tumours, including study of their development, diagnosis, treatment and prevention) reviewed over 50 pieces of research and concluded that there is no scientific evidence that deodorants or antiperspirants cause cancer.

The study was the most comprehensive literature review to-date on the issue. It looks at 59 scientific studies published since 1994 relating to antiperspirant and deodorant safety – and concluded that these products present no health risk to the public at all.

A panel of independent scientists was chosen who had no vested interest in either supporting or refuting a link between deodorants and antiperspirants and cancer.

Dr Chris Flower, Director-General of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA), said: “This ‘boomerang’ issue crops up time and time again in the media, despite the lack of any concrete evidence to suggest any cause for concern. I am disappointed that so many commentators seem happy to revisit an old myth instead of doing some simple research and asking those who already know the answer. I had hoped the findings from this study would have dispeled this myth once and for all in 2008 and reassure women, and men too, everywhere that they can continue to enjoy the benefits of these products safely. Unfortunately, it seems good news doesn’t sell and so we see this tired old allegation wheeled out time and again.”

The study was published in the September 2008 edition of leading French cancer journal, Le Bulletin du Cancer. Further information about it is outlined below, as well as a link to an English translation of the study.

 

 

 

What did the review aim to answer?

The review aimed to answer three predefined questions:

  • What biological evidence is there for a possible link between antiperspirants, deodorants and breast cancer?
  • Does the use of antiperspirants or deodorants increase the risk of breast cancer?
  • Is there a causal relationship between the use of antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer?
     

How many studies were reviewed?

59 articles from the literature search were reviewed and 19 articles were selected for in-depth analysis. The group’s search related to aluminium salts rather than parabens (because parabens are generally not used as preservatives in deodorants and antiperspirants and therefore cannot be a risk factor in the use of these products). Among those 19 articles, many were rejected as their methodology was unsound, they did not relate to the questions posed, or because they dealt with parabens.

Who requested the literature review?

The literature review was initiated by Unilever France, which provided standard honoraria to the expert panel for their time spent reviewing the articles and covered the cost of sourcing the articles from journals.

Why did they request a literature review?

The study was carried out in response to widespread media coverage and internet driven rumours which focus on the use of aluminium and zirconium salts in antiperspirants and which, critics believe, can enter the body through the underarm, build up in breast tissue and result in cancer.

Who are the authors of the study?

A group of clinical experts in oncology:

  • Professor Moïse Namer – Oncologist
  • Dr Elisabeth Luporsi – Oncologist
  • Dr Joseph Gligorov – Oncologist
  • Dr François Lokiec – Pharmacologist
  • Dr Marc Spielmann – Oncologist


Professor Moïse Namer, Chairman of the review panel and Chairman of the Association for the Prevention of Breast Disease (APREMAS) commented: “These studies have resulted in numerous articles in the mass media implicating the use of parabens-based or aluminium-based antiperspirants (and deodorants) as a factor that increases the risk of breast cancer, generating understandable public concern. Our review of these papers concludes antiperspirants and deodorants do not constitute a public health problem.”

What did the literature review conclude?

The reviewers concluded that there is no obvious evidence that a component in deodorants or antiperspirants can induce breast cancer. Furthermore, the reviewers concluded that this issue does not constitute a public health problem and that it therefore appears unnecessary to continue research on the subject.

What is the alleged link between breast cancer and antiperspirant use?

There have been numerous myths raised about a link between antiperspirant use and breast cancer. The first is that reducing underarm sweat through antiperspirant use allows toxins to build up in breast tissue leading to cancer. Another argument concerns the aluminium and zirconium salts gaining access to the body and causing breast cancer. Neither of these arguments is supported by clinical evidence.

Why is aluminium used in antiperspirants?

Antiperspirant actives are complex mixtures of large inorganic polymers, commonly referred to as salts. There are two main types of antiperspirant salts in use today: aluminium-only or those which contain both aluminium and zirconium. Both types have been recognised as being effective in reducing sweat formation which is why they are approved for consumer use by regulatory authorities.

Why is aluminium so important in reducing sweat?

Antiperspirants contain ingredients called aluminium salts (sometimes referred to aluminium/zirconium salts) that dissolve in sweat and leave a thin coating of gel over the sweat glands. This coating reduces the amount of sweat on the skin for a number of hours after the antiperspirant is applied. Alum, a salt of aluminium, is the crystal widely used in “natural” deodorants/antiperspirants and works along similar lines.

If there is a possible health risk, why still use aluminium in deodorants and antiperspirants

This study confirms there is no health risk involved. Aluminium compounds are widely recognised as being effective at reducing sweat in the body. There are two main types of antiperspirant salts in use today; aluminium only or those which contain both aluminium and zirconium. The aluminium salts dissolve in sweat and leave a thin coating of gel over the sweat glands. The coating reduces the amount of sweat on the skin for a number of hours after the antiperspirant is applied. Manufacturers are committed to developing safe and effective consumer products and the ingredients have been rigorously tested and approved for consumer use by regulatory bodies.

If antiperspirants are safe, why are women told not to use them before having a mammogram?

This has nothing to do with the safety of antiperspirants. Women should not use any deodorant or antiperspirant before a mammogram in case the material on the skin appears as a shadow in the X-ray picture and is mistaken for an abnormality in the breast.

An English translation of the study is available to download.