In recent years, rumors have swirled that suggest deodorants and antiperspirants cause cancer, specifically breast cancer. And while the National Cancer Institute says there’s no conclusive evidence to back up that statement, plenty of women – and men – are still concerned about underarm odor control products.
Your armpits are teeming with sweat glands and bacteria. This combination can make for some pretty foul odors that have sent humans searching for ways to mask body scents since ancient times. The first deodorants were simple aromatic oils. Then humans invented aluminum- and zinc-containing antiperspirants that both conceal odors and stop us from sweating. And today, there’s a plethora of odor control options – conventional and organic – on drugstore shelves.
But are these products safe to use daily? Here, Sana Zuberi, M.D., family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health answers the most common questions about body odor control:
How did this idea that antiperspirants and deodorants can cause cancer get started?
Zuberi: There’s concern that ingredients in antiperspirant, especially aluminum, can absorb into the skin and ultimately infect the cells. Studies do show that aluminum can accumulate in human tissue, and proponents of the link say damage to just one cell can evolve into cancer down the line.
Which is worse: antiperspirant or deodorant?
Zuberi: Antiperspirants are designed to keep you dry while deodorant controls odor. Many products on the market today contain ingredients for both. While there’s no proven link between cancer and either antiperspirant or deodorant, ingredients in antiperspirant, including aluminum, titanium and sulfates are more suspicious.
Can a person become tolerant or resistant to deodorant?
Zuberi: I never used deodorant until I was a teenager. I would get sweaty, but I never smelled. Once I started using deodorant, I couldn’t skip a day without smelling. Studies suggest that aluminum- and zinc-containing antiperspirants alter the armpit bacteria in such a way that makes the stinky bacteria thrive.
What are some alternatives to control body odor?
Zuberi: General hygiene goes a long way toward controlling odors. If you’re still bothered by odors and/or wetness, natural deodorants and antiperspirants may also be effective. Many of these products include herbal ingredients and essential oils, such as lemon and lavender. Such oils can help control sweat – and odors – without blocking the pores in your skin.
If you’re trying to lower your risk of cancer of any type, be sure to follow some of the cancer prevention advice that research has shown makes a difference: stop smoking, wear sunscreen and keep your weight and alcohol consumption in check. Of course, it’s also important to be aware of what’s in the personal care products you buy. Your best bet: Select items with just a few ingredients that you know are safe and effective. Still concerned? Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and ways to minimize them.
To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Sani Zuberi practices family medicine at Henry Ford Medical Center – Plymouth, where she sees patients of all ages for their primary care needs.