You got dressed, brushed your teeth, and left home for the day. But, to your horror, you realized you forgot to put on deodorant. And then the nervous sweating started. Going deodorant-free can feel more or less like going naked.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been there. And if that’s where you are now, maybe hold off on the hand-raising.
Deodorants and antiperspirants have become staples in many Americans’ hygiene routines. And just like shampoo, body wash, shaving cream, toothpaste, and lipstick, many deodorants and antiperspirants are made with chemicals that are hard to pronounce and may leave you scratching your head.
You’ve probably heard the rumors that certain chemicals in deodorants and antiperspirants could lead to breast cancer, kidney diseases or allergies. But is it truth or speculation?
Here’s the truth behind the claims about deodorant’s effects on your health.
Can Deodorant Cause Breast Cancer, Kidney Disease, Allergies, Etc.?
Among the rumors about the health effects of deodorant, one of the most alarming claims is that there is a link between deodorant and breast cancer. Some people worry that certain chemicals in antiperspirants can be absorbed through the skin, especially after shaving.
The theory is that toxins will accumulate in the lymph nodes and change healthy cells into cancer cells. Many people think this is why some breast cancers develop in areas that are exposed to antiperspirants.
Other claims involve deodorant causing kidney disease and allergies.
But the American Cancer Society found claims linking breast cancer and deodorants do not have a solid scientific grounding, and the National Kidney Foundation cautions only people with extremely weak kidney functions about the health risks of using antiperspirants.
And here’s why.
Deodorant Ingredients: Innocent or Harmful?
Aluminum compounds are used extensively in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. In antiperspirants, aluminum salts are the ingredients that prevent sweating. The salts need to dissolve to block sweat from forming on the surface of your pores.
But does that mean that dissolved aluminum salt will be absorbed and trapped in your body?
Recent research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that frequent use of antiperspirants can cause aluminum to accumulate in breast tissue, but this doesn’t prove that aluminum salts can cause breast cancer.
In fact, breast cancer tissue doesn’t seem to contain more aluminum than normal breast tissue.
“Aluminum might be of greater concern if you have kidney problems, especially if your kidney function is about 30 percent or less.” says Benjamin Chan, DO, a physician at Penn Family Medicine Phoenixville. Dr. Chan explained, "Too much aluminum in your body can cause bone diseases or dementia. Usually, excess aluminum is filtered out of your body by your kidneys. So, people with weakened kidney function can’t filter aluminum fast enough. However, if you have normal kidney function, your kidneys can usually process the amount of aluminum from antiperspirants and cosmetics that is absorbed through your skin.”
This is why the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires antiperspirant manufacturers to include warnings specifically for people with kidney disease.
Parabens are used to prevent fungi, bacteria, and yeast from growing on deodorant.
It’s true that parabens can be absorbed through the skin and once they are in your body, they can function as estrogen, a female hormone that’s important for sexual development, breast health, and other bodily functions. A higher lifetime exposure to estrogen may also increase your breast cancer risk. However, the effect of parabens used in cosmetic products is weak and not nearly enough to increase your risk of breast cancer.
FDA scientists have not found evidence showing that parabens used in cosmetic products, such as deodorant, cause breast cancer.
Other Ingredients and Allergies
“Some people have allergic reactions to deodorants or antiperspirants. Research indicates that this could be caused by ingredients such as propylene glycol (a chemical that gives a deodorant stick its shape), essential oils (frequently used in fragrance), biological additives, parabens, vitamin E, and lanolin” said Dr. Chan.
With so many possible causes, it can be complicated to figure out which ingredient is actually causing your allergic reaction. If you already know that you’re allergic to any of these ingredients, talk to your health care provider about your risk of using deodorant.
Will More Chemicals Enter Your Body After Shaving?
The answer is no, according to the American Cancer Society. There is not enough evidence to support the link between the frequency of shaving and the chance of getting breast cancer.
Of course, if you are not careful with shaving, you could cut yourself. And if you roll antiperspirant over the cut it may cause irritation — but the chance that the chemicals cause changes to your breast tissue is extremely low.
Why Are Most Breast Cancers near the Armpit?
Most breast cancers grow in the upper outer part of the breast, not far from your armpit. But it may be simply because the tissue in this area is denser. Dense breast tissue is linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. Dense breast tissue also makes it more difficult for your doctor to see abnormal or cancerous tissues on mammograms.
Do Antiperspirants Keep You from Sweating out Toxins That Can Cause Cancer?
Dr. Chan explains “Your body does need to get rid of cancer-causing toxins, but that’s not done through sweating. Filtering toxins is done by your kidneys and liver, which remove toxins from your body by helping to produce urine or feces. Using antiperspirant to stop sweating shouldn’t affect your body’s ability to rid itself of toxins.”
In general, deodorants and antiperspirants are safe products for most people in good health to use. However, if you have an allergy or other health condition that could be affected by the ingredients in deodorant, it’s best to discuss this with your doctor.
Do you have questions about deodorant’s impact on your health? If you want to discuss with a Penn Medicine provider, request an appointment online or by calling 800-789-7366.