Have you used your deodorant today? In some circles such a question might raise some eyebrows but if you are concerned about toxic exposures, the question carries additional significance. Some researchers have concluded that the cumulative effect of daily deodorant use could be damaging to your health, most importantly by increasing your risk for cancer. The evidence so far is inconclusive.
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Breast cancer is high on the list of concerns, not only because of the underarm’s close proximity to breast tissue but because several common ingredients in deodorants are estrogenic compounds. Estrogenic compounds have the ability to trigger some of the same effects as the body’s own hormone estrogen. One of estrogen's roles in the body is to promote the growth of breast tissue, so an excess might lead to cancerous overgrowth. Aluminum is used as an antiperspirant to plug sweat ducts but is also know to be estrogenic.
Another common ingredient in deodorants as well as many other personal care products are parabens, identified often with a prefix such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben or benzylparaben. These compounds are also estrogenic and may act as hormone disruptors in the body. Triclosan is a common antibacterial ingredient that, when combined with water, will form chloroform, a probable carcinogen.
In 2004, a study in the "Journal of Applied Toxicology" found parabens in 18 of 20 breast tumors; however, there was no examination of paraben levels in normal tissue to determine if a causal relationship truly existed. In 2006 a study published in the "Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal" studied the habits of 54 women with cancer and 50 without. Researchers found no association with use of deodorants. A larger study in 2003 in the "European Journal of Cancer" found the age of diagnosis of 437 breast cancer survivors was significantly earlier in women who shaved and used deodorants, the presumption being that nicks in the skin from shaving procured higher exposure. The diagnosis was even earlier in people who began these habits before the age of 16.
Many ingredients in underarm deodorants have the capacity to cause skin irritation, which can range from mild redness and burning sensation to a full allergic reaction. Aluminum, parabens, triclosan, silica, steareth, propylene glycol and talc are all possible allergens. Additionally, other less uniformly added ingredients may cause harm under the conditions of daily application, such as "fragrance," which, according to the Environmental Working Group, can encompass any number of harmful chemicals not required to be explicitly listed in the ingredients list.
Today many deodorant companies are finding alternatives to these contentious chemicals. Preservatives such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate can replace parabens. Tea tree oil has similar antibacterial properties to triclosan. And vegetable-based agents can replace propylene glycol. In addition, other natural alternatives are available, such as taking oral alfalfa tablets or applying crushed salt crystals.