Is Natural Deodorant Really Better for You?
In the beauty industry, dramatic statements sell. That’s all well and good when they're about 24-hour-wear lipstick, but when the claims center around product safety, things can get scary fast. Case in point: The notion that antiperspirants cause breast cancer. How true is it? The Plum investigates.
Does deodorant cause breast cancer?
For those unaware of the specifics behind the underarm alarm, the theory is that the aluminum salts in antiperspirants (or the ingredient that forms a temporary plug within the sweat duct to physically block sweat from reaching the surface of the skin) are absorbed through the skin and have estrogen-like effects, potentially increasing the chances of developing breast cancer.
Another thought, based on a study published in 2001, links breast cancer and antiperspirants because a large percentage (about 50%) of breast cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, which is also the area that is closest to the application of antiperspirants.
Breast cancer isn’t the only disease that’s been pegged to the use of aluminum-containing antiperspirants. While not as commonly discussed, very small studies have found potential but still inconclusive links to Alzheimer's disease.
Science says no
“It’s a total myth,” says Dr. Deborah Axelrod, a board-certified surgeon who specializes in breast disease and cancer at NYC Langone in New York City. “There’s no sound scientific evidence to support any of these theories, so they are myths.”
In particular, Dr. Axelrod says the theory that antiperspirant placement is related to the area of most breast cancer development is flawed.
“Most of your breast tissue is in the upper, outer quadrant. Where are most things going to occur? Where you have the most tissue… So that is totally false,” she says.
Dr. Axelrod isn’t alone in her opinion, either.
According to the National Institute of Cancer’s page “Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions,” (a statement that speaks for itself) there is no clear epidemiological evidence that links the use of antiperspirants to the formation or development of breast cancer.
On top of that, the American Cancer Society has an entire webpage dedicated to myth-busting the antiperspirant/breast cancer argument.
Why the bad reputation?
So, if science continuously says no (until further sound evidence is made available), why do antiperspirants have such a bad rep?
For starters, the rumor mill is hard to beat, but it could also be due to a lack of general understanding about what makes a sound scientific study. For example: Was there a control group? How large was the study? Did the study begin before diseases were diagnosed, or after? What else were these women exposed to?
It could also be due to the fact that the FDA hasn’t updated cosmetics regulations in over 80 years, resulting in understandable feelings of distrust and concern by many.
While Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, agrees there’s no sound data that supports the “Breast Cancer x Aluminum” argument, he does say that, for some, conventional antiperspirants might be a cause of irritation.
“Some people development redness or inflammation in the skin under the arms from antiperspirants. If that happens, you can stick to an antiperspirant with a lower concentration of the aluminum salt to minimize irritation.”
So, is switching to natural deodorant better for you?
Based on what medical professionals say, not necessarily. However, Dr. Axelrod says you don’t have to wait for something to be deemed unsafe to find an option you personally feel better about.
If you want to take a precautionary measure, make the effort to switch over to natural deodorants. Luckily, there’s a few that we love.
Our favorite natural deodorants
Available in 11 different scents, Schmidt’s waxy formula is one of the more popular natural deodorant options out there — and can be found at your local Target. While Schmidt’s neutralizes odor well, it is made with baking soda, which can be irritating to some.
Ursa Major, $18
Ursa Major Natural Deodorant comes in a few subtle and refreshing scents, but the brand also makes an unscented deodorant, which is a unique find in the natural category. The baking soda-free formula utilizes ingredients like hops to control odor and kaolin clay to absorb wetness.
Another popular drugstore option, Native formulates deodorant options for men and women, in classic scents like Coconut & Vanilla and Cucumber & Mint, as well as seasonal options like Rosé and Water Lily & Orchid. For those concerned with the “fragrance” in the label, the brand claims it is a term used for a proprietary blend of oils.