CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I spent many years in a torrid love affair with Secret's Clinical Strength Antiperspirant.
I'm not alone, many young women become obsessed at a young age with preventing sweat and odor. We're inundated with images and lessons on being lady-like, and attractive, and told what it means to be feminine by mothers, friends, teachers and constant television commercials. Having body odor is the pinnacle of all personal hygiene sins!
Even as I began to switch to organic foods and shampoos, even when I started eliminating toxins from my household cleaners, even when I went so far as to begin making my own laundry detergent to prevent allergies, it never occurred to me to think about what I was putting under my arms, EVERYDAY, sometimes multiple times a day.
Then my friends started to find lumps. I don't know that there is anything scarier than finding a lump in your breast. You ride an emotional roller coaster for a few weeks. If you are lucky your tests come back clear and you breathe a sigh of relief; if not, then there are many more life-changing decisions to be made.
The link from antiperspirant/deodorant to breast cancer is inconclusive. The National Cancer Institute states on its website, "Research studies of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants have been completed and provide conflicting results."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states it "does not have any evidence or research data that ingredients in underarm antiperspirant or deodorant cause cancer."
However, the National Cancer Institute's article "Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer" quotes a 2004 study that found paraben in 18 of 20 samples taken from the tissue of human breast cancer tumors. Paraben is used as a preservative in many antiperspirants and deodorants, but is also found in many other sources that people come in contact with. So the study could not definitively say the source of the paraben came from antiperspirants or deodorants.
Perhaps the scarier, and more commonly found, possible toxin in antiperspirants and deodorants is aluminum. According to the NCI, "Aluminum-based compounds are the active ingredient in antiperspirant." Basically, these compounds plug up the pores under your arm and prevent you from sweating temporarily.
The concern comes from studies that link aluminum to increased estrogen production and estrogen fuels growth in many types of breast cancer. Antiperspirant or deodorant is applied to the armpit area, which is on or near breast tissue where many lumps are found. If these products do raise the risk of breast cancer, or possibly speed the growth of cancerous tissue, then smearing these areas daily with a possible carcinogen (sometimes multiple times a day) seems unwise.
There have also been concerns raised that a continual exposure to aluminum may have links to early-onset Alzheimer's. The New York Times says it is bunk. Still, many in the holistic health-care field believe the link is strong enough to warn patients off of their antiperspirants. An article in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Applied Toxicology points to a higher level of aluminum in the breast secretions of cancer patients then those of healthy individuals.
Although studies are inconclusive, the mere possibility that something I am using with that frequency could be upping my risk of cancer was enough to get me thinking about alternatives.