If you are on our website examining natural deodorants, then chances are you have heard the claim that the chemicals in some antiperspirants and deodorants can be hazardous to your health. Rumour has it that these substances can produce a greater risk of breast cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. But is there any truth to these allegations?
Now I understand you might read this with a little scepticism. Of course, the company that is selling natural deodorant is going to cry foul on the use of chemicals in personal hygiene products. Admittedly, at Lone Kauri we are not huge fans of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, let alone understand. However, we will endeavour to put forward a balanced view of the science relating to antiperspirants and deodorants and detoxifying armpits.
But first, what is the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant? Perhaps stating the glaringly obvious, antiperspirants stop you from perspiring. The ingredients contained in these products block you sweat glands and prevent them from releasing sweat. Deodorants, on the other hand, target the armpit bacteria that combine with sweat to create odour. By neutralising the bacteria, they stop you smelling while allowing you to continue to sweat normally. Many of the products you will see on the shelves are two-in-ones, both antiperspirant and deodorant.
Flip over your container of antiperspirant and you could be forgiven for some confusion. The key chemicals to take notice of are aluminium and parabens. Many antiperspirants are made with aluminium chloride or other aluminium compounds. This is the chemical that prevents sweat glands from opening to control excessive sweating.
In the early 2000s, some scientists theorised a link between aluminium used in antiperspirants and the risk of cancer. This was because breast cancers typically occur in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, close to the application of antiperspirant. Scientists hypothesized that a build-up of toxins in the lymph nodes could create cancerous cells.
Certainly, aluminium is a harmful substance. High levels in the body can lead to a variety of health complaints. A recent research study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that aluminium can accumulate in breast tissue with the frequent use of antiperspirants.
But even though some health experts have admitted a small about of aluminium can enter the body from antiperspirants, this does not prove a link between aluminium salts and breast cancer. In fact, there is no clear evidence of an increased rate of breast cancer.
A 2002 study comprising 813 interviews of women with breast cancer and 793 with no history of breast cancer reported no increase in breast cancer risk for women who used a non-electric razor and underarm antiperspirant or deodorant. A 2006 study also failed to show an association between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, although the study included only 104 participants -- split between breast cancer and non-breast cancer patients.
Kris Graham McGrath of North Western University conducted the first study examining the intensity of underarm exposure of 437 breast cancer survivors in 2003. The research grouped participants by the frequency of their underarm hygiene habits. McGrath identified a younger age of breast cancer diagnosis for women who used antiperspirants/deodorants more frequently or who combined them with shaving at an earlier age.
Some scientists have suggested individuals with kidney disease or compromised kidney function could be at a greater risk of harm, as their kidneys may be unable to filter out aluminium as effectively from the body. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires antiperspirant labels to carry a warning for individuals with kidney disease.
Parabens are another chemical to be on the lookout for. Some scientists have suggested they have the potential to disrupt hormone function due to weak estrogen-like properties, with a possible link to breast cancer. A high concentration of parabens in breast cancer tumours was witnessed in a 2004 study. However, most experts have suggested the estrogen-like qualities in parabens are considerably weaker than natural estrogens in the human body – which are more likely responsible for cancer development. It should also be noted that many antiperspirants/deodorants on the market today no longer contain parabens.
While most research points to a lack of evidence between antiperspirant use and breast cancer, a dearth of research on the health risks are likely to continue to be cause for concern for some. To avoid even the slightest risk, there are a myriad of natural deodorant options available, or, at the very least start reading the product labels and understand the ingredients you are putting into or onto your body.