Old Wives Tales: Using antiperspirant increases your risk of breast cancer.

The USA Food and Drug Association and European Union both advice that antiperspirants containing Aluminium should not be applied to broken or irritated skin i.e after shaving.

As a young girl I remember my mother as a doctor telling me "Do not use antiperspirants as they contain Aluminium which can cause breast cancer".  My mother's opinion was ' it is natural to sweat '.  So as not to worry about body odour, she advised me to wash under my arms every day (if I wasn't having a shower), and to wear breathable 100% natural garments such as cotton or wool which do not encourage the growth of bacteria when sweating.  Even though I'm someone who sweats a lot, I've found this has worked for me.

I recently mentioned this to medical colleague, who informed me that he never knew that deodorant containing Aluminium may be linked to breast cancer.  He was also surprised to hear that cooking in Aluminium saucepans or coffee pots could increase the risk of developing dementia.

Ten years ago, in a little gift shop New Zealand I bought my first natural deodorant.  I had no idea what this crystalised beige rock was.  The lady who worked there informed me that lots of women having radiotherapy for breast cancer were using this as a deodorant.   I still have this small rectangular piece of rock to take on my travels but have no idea what exactly is!

Potassium Alum

Today, I occasionally use a roll on deodorant made from a pure white rock salt called Potassium Alum, which occurs in nature ( see the photo above). This rock is commonly sold in markets in Morocco where men use it as an aftershave to stop bleeding from small cuts made while shaving.


But for some people rock salts are not enough.  A condition called hyperhydrosis (over-sweating), which is extreme sweating from the hands, feet or underarms can drench clothes in sweat as it drips of the body.  Over the years doctors have preformed some drastic procedures to treat this condition.  One such procedure was blocking the sympathetic nerves in the shoulder region to reduce sweating of the palms, unfortunately this often lead to over sweating in the feet or other more serious side-effects!  Today we have strong Aluminium containing solutions that can be used weekly for 6 weeks to reduce long term sweating. 

Botox injections also give good result for underarm sweating.

So why all the concern over Aluminium?

Lots of metals are toxic to the human body in high amounts, from Copper to Zinc to Iron.

Studies in women with breast cancer have shown that there are often increased levels of Aluminium in the breast tissue as seen on the biopsy, in comparison to women without breast cancer. (Darbre et al.2011)  But It is definitely not clear whether Aluminium in antiperspirants can be directly linked to this. (Darbre et al.2013,Mannello et al., 2013)

I think its important to know of potential harm from products you may be using day to day and to make your own choices whether to continue using them or not.  There are lots of natural alternatives to almost everything!

More information and other harmful cosmetics

You can read more about Aluminium and other harmful 'everyday ' chemicals in this link to breast cancer on the breast cancer UK site.  They also mention the chemical Triclosan which is found in anti-bacterial hand soaps and some toothpastes.  A few years ago I remember reading that this substance can interfere with functioning of muscle cells in mice(G. Cherednichenkoa et al, 2012) and although no human studies were available, it should be used with caution in patients with Myasthenia Gravis.  At present Triclosan is still deemed save for human use.


DARBRE, P. D., MANNELLO, F. & EXLEY, C. 2013. Aluminium and breast cancer: Sources of exposure, tissue measurements and mechanisms of toxicological actions on breast biology. J Inorg Biochem, 128, 257-61.

DARBRE, P. D., PUGAZHENDHI, D. & MANNELLO, F. 2011. Aluminium and human breast diseases. J Inorg Biochem, 105, 1484-8.

GENNADY CHEREDNICHENKOA, RUI ZHANGA,1, ROGER A. BANNISTERB,1, VALERIY TIMOFEYEVC, NING LIC, ERIKA B. FRITSCHA, & WEI FENGA, G. C. B., NILS H. SCHEBBD, BRUCE D. HAMMOCKD,2, KURT G. BEAME, NIPAVAN CHIAMVIMONVATC,F, AND ISAAC N. PESSAHA,2 2012. Triclosan impairs excitation–contraction coupling and Ca2+ dynamics in striated muscle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, 14158–14163.

MANNELLO, F., LIGI, D. & CANALE, M. 2013. Aluminium, carbonyls and cytokines in human nipple aspirate fluids: Possible relationship between inflammation, oxidative stress and breast cancer microenvironment. J Inorg Biochem, 128, 250-6.