My daughter has been told that one of the ingredients in deodorant causes breast cancer. Is this true? If so, is there a deodorant that does not contain this ingredient?
Wow! This myth won’t die. It is based on an e-mail hoax about anti-perspirants and breast cancer that has been bouncing in and out of computer mailboxes for several years now. It has even made its way as “fact” onto some less-than-reputable web sites.
Apparently your daughter picked it through a word-of-mouth circuit. It appears to have morphed from “antiperspirants cause breast cancer” into “a deodorant ingredient causes breast cancer.” Antiperspirants stop the underarm from sweating while deodorants prevent underarm odor.
What your daughter heard is simply a distortion of the original hoax. Neither is true. No scientific evidence links antiperspirants and deodorants with breast cancer. A closer look at the claims in this myth reveals it to be full of holes.
Essentially, the hoax contends that antiperspirants stop the body from purging itself of toxins via underarm perspiration. It goes on to allege that the toxins collect in the underarm/breast area and cause cells to mutate into cancer. To the layman, this may sound very scientific and logical, so it is understandable that people might be duped.
But the underlying premises are just not valid. For example, the purpose of underarm perspiration is to help regulate body temperature, not to purge toxins. Sweat is composed of salt, water and a few body wastes. Even if there were something carcinogenic in sweat, it could exit the body elsewhere. The underarms are not the only parts of the skin that perspire.
Furthermore the “toxin purging” part of this phony story conflicts with another of its assertions — that underarm shaving creates nicks in the skin for the antiperspirant chemicals to enter the body. Which is it — that toxins cannot get out or that they do get in?
For now, the bottom line is that no one knows what precisely causes breast cancer. There are things women can do that may reduce their risk of breast cancer, such as exercising regularly and keeping their weight down. But you definitely do not have to worry about avoiding antiperspirants or deodorants.
Cancer is a scary disease and myths such as this only serve to heighten people’s fears. One of the best ways to combat fear is to arm yourself with information.