What you may have heard
Antiperspirants and deodorants contain cancer causing substances that are absorbed, particularly after shaving.
What science tells us
Antiperspirants are classified as a drug that helps reduce the amount of sweat produced. The eccrine gland produces sweat and antiperspirants can block the production of sweat using an aluminum based product (WebMD). Deodorants are used to prevent or mask body odor. Scientists are studying whether fragrance, preservatives, and other ingredients in antiperspirants and deodorants may increase breast cancer risk. Questions about whether there is a difference in risk for women who shave their underarms or use antiperspirant or deodorant products that contain aluminum are still being researched.
Natural deodorants boast that they are better for people than traditional deodorants. However, there is no evidence that regular deodorants are worse for your health than natural deodorants (NY Times). Also, the ingredients in natural deodorants are no better for your microbiome and may be less effective than traditional deodorants (NY Times).
Several theories have been suggested about how antiperspirants and deodorants might cause breast cancer. The most recent review of antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer showed no evidence for a link (Osto 2022). However, studies have reported mixed results, so more studies are needed to confirm the current data.
The American Cancer Society noted that while a 2004 study showed the presence of parabens in breast cancer tissue, they produce weak estrogen-like properties. Estrogen that is naturally produced in the body (or through hormone replacement) are much stronger, and therefore play a larger role in risk of breast cancer.
This topic gained attention in 2021 when a study reported that parabens, a preservative used in deodorants that mimics estrogen, was found in breast tumors. Scientists are not sure what this study means about the development of breast cancer (NCI).
Laboratory Evidence/Supporting Evidence
One animal study that examined the uptake of aluminum in deodorant which found some evidence of chromosomal breakage (Tenan et al.). However, the current research is still limited. Additional research is needed to further investigate the relationship between antiperspirants and cancer risk.
IARC Carcinogen Classification: Not Classified
How to reduce your risk
There are many known risk factors that are linked with breast cancer. Drinking alcohol is clearly linked to an increased f breast cancer risk, and risk increases with the amount of alcohol. Women who have one alcoholic drink a day have a small (7-10%) increase compared with non-drinkers. This risk increases to 20% in women who have 2-3 drinks a day (ACS).
Another known risk factor is being overweight or obese after menopause. Especially after a woman reaches menopause, most of a woman’s estrogen comes from fat tissue. Excess fat can raise estrogen levels and increase risk of breast cancer. Post-menopausal women who are overweight or obese also tend to have higher insulin levels, which are linked with some cancers. These risk factors may be lowered with physical activity and a healthy diet, which reduce the risk of breast cancer (ACS).
Deodorants and antiperspirants sometimes contain ingredients linked to cancer. Some studies of antiperspirants have provided conflicting results, though, so more research is needed.
Learn More From These Trusted Sources
NY Times: Natural deodorants and cancer
Nature: Breast cancer and deodorant
American Cancer Society (ACS): Lifestyle-related breast cancer risk factors
ACS: Breast cancer risk factors you cannot change
National Cancer Institute (NCI): Antiperspirants and breast cancer
Willhite et al., Systematic Review of Exposure to Aluminum
Difference Between Deodorant and Antiperspirants
Aluminum Enters Mammalian Cells and Destabilizes Chromosome Structure and Number
Published: June 27, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022