Rumours have been spread on the Internet that using antiperspirants in the armpit might cause breast cancer and that shaving under the arm opens up pathways for harmful chemicals. Aluminium or paraben chemicals, used as preservatives, are blamed. On the label, parabens may be listed as methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben, isobutyl paraben or E216.

Why Do Some People Think that Antiperspirants Might Cause Breast Cancer?

Most cancers occur in the area of the breast closest to the armpit. Also, breast cancer is slightly more common in the left breast, which could be because right-handed people tend to be more heavy-handed with deodorant when using that hand. Breast cancer is more common in countries where a lot of antiperspirant is used. One study found paraben chemicals within breast tumours (Journal of Applied Toxicology 2004;24:5–13), and other research suggest aluminium may affect breast cells (Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 2007;101:1344–1346).

What Do Cancer Experts Think?

Cancer experts are not convinced by these arguments. They point out that the reason most cancers occur towards the armpit is because there is more actual breast tissue in that area. Breast cancer is more common in richer countries, but this could be due to diet rather than use of deodorants. If there is an effect from parabens or aluminium, it must be very small.

Has Any Research Been Done?

  • Researchers in Seattle, USA, asked 813 women with breast cancer about their use of antiperspirants and deodorants, and whether they applied them within 1 hour of underarm shaving. They also asked the same questions of 793 women who did not have breast cancer. They found that women who used antiperspirants/deodorants and women who shaved their underarms did not have a greater risk of breast cancer (Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002;94:1578–1580). So the research shows that antiperspirants/deodorants are safe.
  • Another study of breast cancer patients found that those who shaved their armpits most often and applied deodorant tended to have developed their cancer at a younger age. But this does not prove anything, because there was no ‘control group’ of women without cancer. The reason for the result could simply be that younger women shave and use deodorants more often than older women (European Journal of Cancer Prevention 2003;12:479–485).

No research has proved a link between antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer.

Do All Antiperspirants/Deodorants Contain Parabens or Aluminium?

Most antiperspirants and deodorants are now paraben free and aluminium-free deodorants are also available. To be sure, check the list of ingredients on the label. Alternatively, use vinegar or bicarbonate of soda. Just put some in your hand and rub it on. These preparations do not stop sweating, but they inhibit the bacteria that cause the smell.


First published on:
Reviewed and edited by: Fiona Elliott
Last updated: December 2020

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