It is October, breast cancer awareness month. Did you know that worldwide breast cancer is the most common cancer in women? Over 508,000 women died (WHO) in 2011 due to this disease. It is thought to be a disease of the developed world but is rising particularly in developing countries due to increasing urbanization and adoption of the western lifestyle.
In addition to well-established risk factors related to the development of breast cancer, a few scientific studies have supported the idea that dermal absorption of certain chemicals in personal care products applied to the underarm and breast region could play a role in the development of breast cancer.
Is there a reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of deodorant or antiperspirant?
Let's take a look at what science tells us about some of the ingredients you can find in conventional deodorants. Here I am addressing only the most relevant and controversial chemicals found in deodorants: parabens, aluminum, triclosan, and phthalates.
Parabens (no longer used by main brands)
This group of chemicals is widely used as preservatives in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products to inhibit microbial growth and extend product shelf life. They are either used alone or, for better efficacy, in the form of a mixture. Parabens are rarely irritating or sensitizing to the normal human skin at concentrations used in cosmetics. However, parabens do penetrate the skin and some studies have suggested that they mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which in certain situations can induce the growth of human breast tumors. The estrogenic activity of parabens is considered weaker than the activity of natural estrogens, implying that parabens would offer a negligible endocrine-disrupting risk at the recommended doses. The toxicity of parabens is well studied but most of the data available are based on single-exposure. More information on additive and cumulative risk of multiple exposures to parabens are needed as consumers are daily exposed to multiple cosmetic and personal care products. Results from in vitro human breast epithelial cells experiments indicate that one or more parabens may influence important hallmark of cancer like sustained proliferative signaling, evasion of growth suppression, resistance to cell death, activation of invasion and metastasis, genome instability and deregulation of energy metabolism.
Most of the commercial antiperspirants contain aluminum chlorohydrate as an active ingredient. They are being discussed as possibly having harmful health effect in a long-term application, but its intake from cosmetic products is low compared to the uptake from ingestion. A number of studies support the hypothesis that aluminum salts induce breast cancer because the disease is most often localized on a site close to the axillae where antiperspirants are frequently applied. It is suggested that aluminum may cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the breast environment leading to the development of breast cancer. Also, circumstantial evidence has linked this metal with several neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, and other chronic neurodegenerative diseases, but no causal relationship has yet been established.
Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent commonly added to personal care including deodorants, soaps, and toothpaste. The chemical structure of triclosan is similar to thyroid hormone (T4) as well as bisphenol A. Since this compound has been found in human breast milk and blood, concerns about human health have arisen. Like parabens, triclosan is a potential weak endocrine-disrupting chemical. It binds to estrogen receptors resulting in expression of genes involved in cell proliferation and breast cancer development or progression.
Phthalates are anti-androgenic (endocrine-disruptors) environmental agents known to alter early development, with possible effects on pubertal onset. Phthalates are found in food as a result of packaging, cosmetics (deodorants, perfumes, shampoos, and products applied directly to the skin), toys, children's products, furniture, clothing, etc. According to CDC, phthalates exposures are highly prevalent in the environment and the absorbed levels in children are higher than in adults. Phthalates can induce cell proliferation, malignant invasion and tumor formation in breast cancer cell lines.
So does deodorant/antiperspirants cause breast cancer? What is the bigger picture?
The answer is there is not enough scientific data to find a sound link between deodorant ingredients/antiperspirants and breast cancer development. Also, the effects of long-term low-dose exposure to these mixtures of multiple chemicals are unknown. Basically, a dozen of studies of any type is not enough to establish that something causes cancer. We often have to combine several data sets from different types of studies (i.e. in vitro, in vivo, epidemiological) and from different labs worldwide to make this type of assessment. Unfortunately, this process can be slow and last decades, especially if the estimated risk is very low. Sometimes it will depend on new advancements in technology to better understand what is really happening. So far, all the information we have on this subject only raises the possibility of a link, but further research will be needed to confirm this.
Should you keep your conventional deodorant?
With all that said, you might be thinking that you should keep your conventional deodorant. Here are some things to consider:
- The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: cosmetics and personal care products represent potentially the most common human exposure to chemicals. Although there is not enough scientific data to determine the link between certain chemicals and cancer development, it is important to consider the growing literature connecting exposure to environmental toxicants like endocrine-disrupters and later development of breast cancer or other diseases. While science establishes the cancer-causing potential of different chemicals, you have the right to take preventive measures to decrease your exposure to what we call controversial chemicals. In fact, there is a preliminary study suggesting that by reading labels and switching to 'low-chemical' personal care products, consumers may be able to reduce their exposure to potential endocrine-disruptors within just a few days.
- The environment impact of cosmetic chemicals: some chemicals like parabens and phthalates are highly prevalent across the global ecosystem, they are found in lakes and downstream from wastewater treatment plants, in concentrations considered harmful to wildlife.
Self-Control - our natural alternative
You don't have to stop using deodorants, but you might think about giving that clean and aluminum free deodorant a chance. At Intended Cosmetics, we are committed to providing you skincare products free of controversial chemicals. Our natural deodorant SELF-CONTROL effectively neutralizes odor for 6 to 8h while allowing your skin to breathe, and providing some nourishing properties. This deodorant formula is vegetarian-friendly and free of aluminum, parabens, triclosan, propylene glycol and phthalates. An odor-bursting proprietary blend of powerful essential oils will certainly uplift your senses, giving you an instant fresh start.
Honesty and integrity are some of the core values of Intended Cosmetics. We want to empower you with knowledge so you can make the right choices, for the right reasons.
Gray et al. (2017) State of the evidence 2017: an update on the connection between breast cancer and the environment. Environmental Health, 16:94.
Christine Hosp & Henning Hamm (2017): Safety of available and emerging drug therapies for hyperhidrosis, Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, DOI: 10.1080/14740338.2017.1354983.
Susan L at al. (2015). Advancing Research on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Breast Cancer: Expert Panel Recommendations. Reprod Toxicol. 54: 141–147.
Wolff MS et al. (2014). Phthalate exposure and pubertal development in a longitudinal study of US girls. Hum Reprod. 29(7): 1558–1566. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu081
De Coster, S & van Larebeke, N (2012). Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Associated Disorders and Mechanisms of Action. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, V. 2012, Article ID 713696, 52 pages.
Darbre PD (2001). Underarm cosmetics are a cause of breast cancer. Eur J Cancer Prev. 10(5):389-93.
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