Whether you use the spray, stick or gel, applying deodorant is one of the first things you do when your day begins. It keeps you smelling clean and fresh through a busy day, and it’s a step in your morning routine you probably don’t think twice about. But some medical research links antiperspirants to the formation of cancers, so we’re going to break down some of these claims and suggest some healthier, more natural alternative brands and recipes you can start incorporating in your life.
How Deodorants and Antiperspirants Work
A deodorant is a substance applied to the body to prevent body odor caused by the bacterial breakdown of perspiration in armpits, feet, and other areas of the body. An antiperspirant is a substance used to reduce perspiration. Some antiperspirants contain aluminum salts which prevent sweating by having an astringent effect on the skin pores, causing them to constrict and limit the amount of sweat that reaches the epidermis or the upper layer of the skin. This reduces the moist climate that allows odor-causing bacteria to thrive.
The use of commercial antiperspirants dates back to the 19th century before there was extensive knowledge of cancer and the effects of applying chemicals directly on our skin. Now there are emerging claims that for men and women, long-term use of commercial antiperspirants could cause cancer.
Do Antiperspirants Really Cause Cancer?
A 2002 case-control study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no correlation between antiperspirant use and breast cancer. They found the risk of breast cancer did not increase with antiperspirant, deodorant or product use among subjects who shaved their underarms with a blade razor. (1)
However, this study doesn’t look at the actual science behind antiperspirant. Deodorant is thought to inhibit the body from purging toxins through sweat glands, and instead of exiting our system, they are deposited in the lymph nodes below the arms, causing a high concentration of toxins which can lead to cell mutations necessary for the development of cancer. (2)
A 2003 study found that a biological basis for claims that antiperspirants lead to breast cancer could result from the ability of various chemicals to bind to DNA and promote the growth of damaged cells, specifically in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, which is the local area to which these cosmetics are applied. (3)
According to a 2009 study from Breast Cancer Research, antiperspirants are known to contain aluminum salts and phenolic compounds such as Triclosan, which are linked to increased estrogenic and genotoxic activity in the body. Chemicals mimicking estrogen are hypothesized to promote the growth of the cancerous cells. (4)
As some newer studies are emerging about a biological link between cancers and antiperspirants, many scientists are beginning to acknowledge the long-term risks associated with constant use. We should stress that long-term investigations and concrete results are not yet available.
If this research scared you into thinking you should stink for the rest of your life, think again! There are some fantastic natural alternatives to chemical-laden products that can have the same long-lasting effects of your favorite antiperspirants. If you want to stick to buying your own deodorant, we recommend natural brands with healthy, simple ingredients such as Lavanila, Wood’s Body Goods, and The Honest Company.
Lemon or Lime Juice
These citric foods are high in acidity and can kill the odor-causing bacteria that is also targeted by commercial antiperspirants. Just be careful that you don’t apply lemon or lime after shaving your arm – ouch! Lemon or lime can also give you a fresh and clean scent for the entire day. (5)
Baking Soda and Cornstarch
Mix 1/8 tablespoon of baking soda with a small amount of water; not enough to dissolve the powder. Also, mixing one part baking soda with six parts cornstarch can battle that gross wet feeling we get under our arms when we don’t apply an antiperspirant. This combination serves to get rid of stink odor caused by bacteria-laden sweat. Click here to read about another underarm cleanse! (6)
NOTE: Some people may find baking soda irritating. If you have sensitive skin we’d recommend doing a patch test on the inside of your wrist first.
Make your own natural deodorant!
Here’s a quick and easy recipe you can use to whip up your own chemical-free antiperspirant at home. It’s long-lasting, smells great and is much cheaper than constantly having to replace an empty stick or bottle. Organic cocoa and shea butter are soothing for your underarms, especially after a shave, and the baking soda and cornstarch will eliminate odor and moisture.
Two tablespoons cocoa butter
Two tablespoons cornstarch
Two vitamin E oil gel caps (squeeze out the oil)
Three tablespoons Shea butter
Three tablespoons baking soda
Melt all the ingredients except the oils and stir.
Mix in the oils, pour the mixture into a container.
Place the container in the fridge to set for a few hours.
This recipe filled a 1/4-pint jar. Store in an empty deodorant stick or an airtight container, so it will keep its freshness!
There is no conclusive evidence that your antiperspirant is going to give you breast cancer. But it’s important to know the risks that can be associated with using it in the long term. Why not err on the side of caution with some natural alternatives to deodorant? They are healthier and can smell just as good as your favorite antiperspirant. For more recipes for carcinogen-free antiperspirants, click here!
Harvey, P. W., & Darbre, P. (2004). Endocrine disrupters and human health: Could oestrogenic chemicals in body care cosmetics adversely affect breast cancer incidence in women? Journal of Applied Toxicology, 24(3), 167-176. doi:10.1002/jat.978
Mcgrath, K. G. (2003, August 19). An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to the most frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 12(6), 479-485. doi:10.1097/00008469-200312000-00006