I remember a long time ago hearing the suggestion that wearing underarm antiperspirant could be a cause of breast cancer. Have you heard that? My memory of this risk goes way back. Well before my own breast cancer diagnosis. Likely, it was when I was in my twenties, but probably not as far back as my teens. However, it feels like I’ve always had the suspicion that underarm antiperspirant is not a good thing for us. So much so that I don’t use an antiperspirant myself. I also dissuade my husband and sons from using antiperspirant. Don’t worry – we don’t smell! There are ways of not smelling! But those methods are the topic for another time! Now that I am nurturing this Life After Mastectomy project I want to drill down to get the truth behind this suggestion. Can anti-perspirant cause breast cancer?
Here’s my findings. Firstly, to be accurate and clear, here are some definitions.
An antiperspirant is something that is applied to attempt to prevent a body from perspiring.
Perspire: to excrete a salty, colorless liquid through the skin which cools the body; sweat (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/perspire)
What’s the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant?
Deodorant and antiperspirant are two different types of products used to control underarm odor and sweat.
Deodorant helps to neutralize odor-causing bacteria that can grow on the skin, typically by using antimicrobial agents or fragrances. Deodorants don’t stop sweat, but they can help reduce the amount of odor produced by sweat.
Antiperspirants, on the other hand, contain active ingredients, such as aluminum-based compounds, that help reduce the amount of sweat produced by the body. Antiperspirants work by forming a temporary plug in the sweat glands, which helps reduce the amount of sweat that is released onto the skin. In addition to reducing sweat, antiperspirants often contain deodorizing ingredients to help control odor.
It’s worth noting that while antiperspirants are effective at reducing sweat, some people may be concerned about the potential health risks associated with aluminum-based compounds. For this reason, some people prefer to use natural deodorants or antiperspirants that don’t contain possible cancer causing substances. Certainly those with a family history of breast cancer diagnosis, it is prudent to be proactive.
Why do we perspire?
The function of perspiration in the human body is primarily to regulate our body temperature.
All humans perspire – or sweat. Like all variations in the human body, some people sweat more than others. Interestingly, in less common situations, some people have a genetic condition that prevents them sweating. (I can see the up-side of this…) However, as well as perspiration being one of the body’s natural ways of cooling itself, some sources suggest that sweating has another function.
That is, that sweating also serves to rid the body of toxins.
Now, there is some conjecture as to whether this is fact. And I really dislike reading an article that states without doubt, a fact that is not really a fact! So, I had to look a bit further.
Where’s the proof?
A study in China in 2016 found there were lower levels of most heavy metals in people who exercised regularly. The conclusion was that sweating potentially is a process for eliminating heavy metals from the body because heavy metals were found in sweat and urine of study participants. This is a verified study, which you can check out here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26903134/
We don’t need to go into technicalities here, because we’ve probably all heard that BPAs in plastics are bad for us. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331) In a study by 4 Canadian researchers in 2011 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3255175/) it was found that sweat is an effective tool for the removal of BPAs.
Not so commonly ‘rolled off the tongue’, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made chemicals that have been shown to be detrimental to health. And, an article (check it out here https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/483832/ ) indicated that sweat could have a role in eliminating certain types of these chemicals from the body – although not all of them.
Thanks to Healthline for making the compilation of this information so clear: https://www.healthline.com/health/sweating-benefits#eliminating-bpa-and-pcb
Some sources say perspiration does not eliminate toxins from the body. Some seemingly reliable scientific studies suggest that perspiration does eliminate some toxins from the body, if not everything.
I’m a conservative person who likes to live a healthy, disease-free life. Man is amazingly clever to conjure up the inventions, technologies and advances that we have. However, not all of them are good for us. In fact, some have been proven to be bad for us. Think Thalidomide for pregnant women.
So, I’ll opt to err on the side of caution. I’ll assume that there’s a possibility that perspiration is my friend for both temperature control and elimination of some toxins. And I’d prefer toxins are outside my body (if they’ve managed to get in) rather than inside it. Toxins inside bodies may lead to health issues. Do toxins lead to breast cancer? There’s a whole new story to go and research and report on!
Can anti perspirant cause or lead to breast cancer?
I’m not going to use anti-perspirant – just in case. Whether anti-perspirant has to date been linked to or not linked to breast cancer or any other health issue is irrelevant to me. Why assume there is no danger and find out in 5, 10, 20 years that it has caused a serious issue?
Exactly How Does Antiperspirant Result in Breast Cancer?
Now to get back on track! It appears that mostly when people are asking one thing when they ask this: does antiperspirant cause women to develop breast cancer? That is, they are referring to antiperspirant containing aluminium. Above, I’ve really introduced another question! I strongly dislike perspiring and having wet patches where wet patches will appear. However, I know it’s natural. I know it’s what the body is designed to do. So, why would a body owner clag up that process – and potentially trap toxins inside the body? It’s not a straightforward answer, of course. I’m being purposefully obtuse! But we have so many health issues in our world today and many of them are self-inflicted. Smoking causing lung cancer . Drinking causing cancer. Unhealthy eating causing diabetes. I suggest minimizing potentially harmful products and practices is a sensible approach to maximize our chances of a long, healthy life.
Deodorant Link to Breast Cancer
Does antiperspirant cause breast cancer? Here’s the current thinking, and why some people are concerned about the use of antiperspirant.
A source (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26997127/) I read indicated this:
- Humans are exposed to alumininium (Al) from a number of sources and frequent application of Al based salts to the underarm as antiperspirant adds a high additional exposure directly to the local area of the human breast
“Coincidentally the upper outer quadrant of the breast is where there is also a disproportionately high incidence of breast cysts and breast cancer.”
- Al has been measured in breast tissues and fluids at higher levels than in blood. The experiments suggested that the concentrations were high enough to be significant.
- Evidence from the study suggests that Al may be a factor that contributes to the formation of breast cysts, which are the most common benign disorder of the breast.
So, Can Anti-perspirant be a Cause of Breast Cancer?
Here’s the finding from this research that’s scary:
“Evidence is also reviewed that Al can enable the development of multiple hallmarks associated with cancer in breast cells, in particular that it can cause genomic instability and inappropriate proliferation in human breast epithelial cells, and can increase migration and invasion of human breast cancer cells.”
It’s not worth the risk, is it?
The explanation becomes heavy in scientific language, but the final sentence says:
“If current usage patterns of Al-based antiperspirant salts contribute to causation of breast cysts and breast cancer, then reduction in exposure would offer a strategy for prevention, and regulatory review is now justified.”
What Do We Do?
Does antiperspirant cause or contribute to breast cancer? Possibly, possibly not. To be on the safe side, antiperspirants containing Al should be avoided. I think we’re far enough along the hypothesis that Al is an issue, so they’re probably not even on the shelves anymore! I’ll have a look next time I’m in that aisle!
My point is to suggest that one step further. We are supposed to perspire and there’s at least some evidence that our perspiration may serve to remove some harmful toxins. So, to have our best chance at a long, healthy and happy life, let’s use all opportunities available to us to be healthy!
But, I don’t want to smell!
I hear you! Either do I! The thought of smelling of perspiration is as abhorrent to me as it is to you. I know that, because you’re reading this!
Firstly, some facts.
According to most sources I referred to, sweat alone has no odor. It’s composed of about 99% water and the remaining 1% contains urea, uric acid, ammonia, lactic acid, and vitamin C, amongst other things.
But, why does it smell?
We all have our own body odor (BO), which is determined by a lot of things. But the sweat doesn’t smell until it gets to combine with the natural bacteria on our skin. When there’s a certain amount of bacteria on our skin, or on our clothes, and it gets to hang out with our perspiration, that’s when ‘BO’ becomes a problem.
The bacteria actually eats the organics in our sweat, and their output is digestive gas. So, it’s bacteria farts that smell, not us. Thank goodness for that. I think!
So, how do we stop from smelling?
Don’t let the bacteria build up. Washing clothing after we’ve perspired on them and bathing to keep the bacteria at ‘normal’ levels. Without going into detail, there are a host of natural deodorants (not antiperspirants!) available on the market now that do a wonderful job of dealing with the odor. One would assume they are much safer than anything with chemicals. However, do do your own research to satisfy yourself they are suitable for you.
If we don’t wear antiperspirant, we don’t need to ask whether antiperspirant causes breast cancer. And, we don’t have to smell. But, we do need to perspire.