Summer is finally here in the desert. We had a blessedly cool May, but now the summer sauna has returned. As we enjoy (or lament) the sweat-inducing heat, what is the best way to keep ourselves smelling sweet while maintaining our skin and breast health?

For many years, I have remained skeptical about the claims that standard antiperspirants and deodorants increase the risk of breast cancer. There is still not enough evidence that directly links antiperspirant use to breast cancer; however recent studies have clearly shown certain chemicals that you put on your body can increase cancer risk significantly.

Aluminum is a metal and a preservative that is used in antiperspirants to plug your pores and stop you from sweating. Parabens are synthetic chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetics, deodorants, pharmaceuticals, and food. According to governmental informational sites such as National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society, there is not enough evidence linking these substances to increased breast cancer risk. However, their data was based on older studies from 2002 up through a 2016 systematic review of two case-controlled studies by Allam. The “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” says Dr. Harvey, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Toxicology. In a 2016 review, he stated that parabens have been measured as present in 99% of human breast tissue samples, can stimulate sustained proliferation of human breast cancer cells, and increase invasiveness and migration activity of breast cancer cells at concentrations measurable in the breast tissue.

Dr. Philippa Darbre, an oncologist who studies the effects of additives such as aluminum and paraben in underarm products and other cosmetics, has found that these substances can create an estrogen-like effect on human breast tissue, and has questioned the role of these additives in personal products for years. New data published in The Lancet from Linhart’s group in 2017, showed that in a large study of 460 women there was a 388 percent increased risk (OR of 3.88 percent, 95 percent CI 1.03-14.66) of upper outer quadrant breast cancer in women under 30 years old in the highest risk group who use aluminum-based underarm products multiple times a day. They recommend that women, especially in the highest risk group, limit the use of these type of underarm products.

Aside from washing regularly and thoroughly, there are other cleaner options for healthy armpits. Deodorant products that do not contain aluminum aren’t as effective at stopping sweat; however, consider the trade-off. I recommend concerned patients switch to products that are based in essential oils, baking soda, tapioca starch, coconut oil, and shea butter. Baking soda and corn or tapioca starch do help soak up some wetness if you apply throughout the day. If you are sensitive to baking soda, there are products for sensitive skin.

If you’re extremely committed, you could even make your own natural deodorant. To make it easier, Jetsetter magazine reviewed 15 types of aluminum- and paraben-free underarm products that could be helpful (search best natural deodorants at Doing mini pit scrubs with soap and water throughout the day is another clean option to keep your breasts healthy and smell sweeter.

Dr. Fung is a primary care naturopathic doctor with a focus on integrative cancer care and PRP regenerative joint injections at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. For more information call (760) 771.5970 or visit

Sources: 1) Darbre, Aluminum and the Human Breast- 2016; Morphologie (shows damage that Al has on human breast tissue); 2); 3); 4) Allam, Breast Cancer and Deodorants: A Systematic Review 2016; (showed no significant risk factor between 2 case controlled studies) Cent Eur J Public Health 2016, 24(3):245-247 | DOI: 10.21101/cejph.a4475; 5) Linhart, Talasz, Morandi, et al, Use of Underarm Cosmetic Products in Relation to Risk of Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study; Ebiomedicine, 2017 – Published in The Lancet;; 6) Darbe, Personal Care Products and Breast Cancer; Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, 2011 ;; 7) Lappano, Malaguarnera, Belfiore, et al; Recent Advances on the stimulatory effects of metals in breast cancer; Mol and Cell Endo, 2017; 8) Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer; NCI (neutral; not enough information; outdated information); 9) Heid, Markham; Time Magazine: You Asked: Can Deodorant Give you Cancer? June 17, 2015;; 10) 15 Best Natural Deodorant, Jetsetter Magazine;; 11) Darbe, Harvey, Parabens can enable hallmarks and characteristics of cancer in human breast epithelial cells: a review of the literature with reference to new exposure data and regulatory status; 2014.

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