Do Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is teeming with frightening rumors surrounding its causes. One of the most common is about whether antiperspirants and deodorants can cause breast cancer. We looked at the research presented by two reputable champions in the challenge to stop breast cancer: The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. 

Antiperspirants work by reducing underarm sweat. Deodorants destroy or mask odors. Both come in preparations containing natural and chemical components, which may include parabens and aluminum-based compounds. Reports suggest that absorbing these products through the skin, or allowing them to enter through shaving-nicks may be causing breast cancer, which occurs next to the underarm. 

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says aluminum-based compounds (the active ingredients in antiperspirants) form a temporary plug in the sweat duct that stops the flow of sweat to the skin's surface. Some research suggests that when applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, they may be absorbed and cause estrogen-like effects. Because estrogen has the ability to promote growth of breast cancer cells, some scientists suggest that antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Other research on parabens (the preservatives used in some deodorants and antiperspirants) suggests they mimic the activity of estrogen in the body's cells. The belief that parabens build up in breast tissue was supported by a 2004 study, which found parabens in 18 of 20 tissue samples from human breast tumors. This study did not analyze healthy breast tissue or tissues from other areas of the body. They did not demonstrate that parabens are found only in cancerous breast tissue. Therefore, this study did not prove that parabens cause breast tumors.  Additionally, the FDA says most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants in the US do not contain parabens. 

After extensive studies to determine whether these concerns are founded, the NCI and American Cancer Society (ACS) say: "There are no strong studies in the medical literature linking breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim. In fact, a carefully designed study published in 2002 compared 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women without the disease. The researchers found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant or deodorant use, or underarm shaving."

The ACS says some research suggested aluminum compounds could be absorbed by the skin and cause changes in estrogen receptors of breast cells. They have not, however, made a clear link to breast cancer.

Does this mean it's OK to use antiperspirants?  While current research suggests that there's no definite link, it may be too early to "raise your hand if you're sure." Scientists are struggling to understand the myriad of genetic and physiologic changes that cause breast cancer.  While today's research says it's safe, we may be wise to leave room for tomorrow's research. With advertising slogans like "clinical strength," "be confident and fresh," and "protection you trust," it's hard to be sure.

Some people can't get through a day without their antiperspirants/deodorants, because they sweat profusely or have a stronger odor.  Most people find that a daily shower and the occasional swipe throughout the day with a washcloth is enough to keep odors at bay. Others save antiperspirants for occasional use and use more natural products to keep fresh like lemon juice, alcohol swabs or baby wipes.



National Cancer Institute

Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer: Questions and Answers


American Cancer Society

Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk