Lately, I keep seeing commercials that push aluminum-free deodorants and antiperspirants, and I was wondering if I missed some important health issue that is causing some sort of epidemic across the world. Now, those who debunk anti-vaccine tropes know all about the mythical dangers of aluminum.
You can assume when I hear claims about aluminum in deodorants that I’m going to squint my skeptical eyes and see if there is anything to it.
Many of the claims center on breast cancer, although some people make claims about autoimmune diseases or kidney diseases linked to the aluminum in deodorants. I’m going to stick with breast cancer for this article because that’s the focus of many of the claims. And it’s a deep rabbit hole that I had to climb into.
Aluminum antiperspirants and breast cancer?
Before diving into this, let’s first discuss why aluminum is in our deodorants. Aluminum is used as an antiperspirant — it stops sweat. Usually, it’s an aluminum salt that blocks the sweat glands from doing their job. The deodorant function targets the bacteria in the armpit, thereby stopping the smell that arises from there.
In the USA, deodorants and antiperspirants are combined into what most people just call deodorants, though the aluminum salt antiperspirant is still there.
This is where breast cancer comes in. What people claim is that aluminum salts do two things:
- They block the sweat glands near the breast (the armpits are very close to the breast of course) from removing toxins that cause cancer.
- The aluminum accumulates in the breast tissue and causes breast cancer.
We will examine both points, but first, let’s see if there are any links between aluminum-containing antiperspirants and breast cancer.
The two supposed reasons why aluminum might cause cancer are doing scientific research backward, something we’ve seen from the anti-vaxxers. For example, they think that aluminum in vaccines causes autism, but the vast body of scientific research says there is no link between vaccines and autism. The anti-vaxxers are attempting to provide us with biologically plausible mechanisms to show causation, but real science shows there’s no correlation let alone causation.
The same thing with deodorants. They are trying to provide convincing reasons why aluminum may cause breast cancer, but is there any evidence of a correlation between these deodorants and breast cancer?
Well, that’s where we get some pretty good and convincing evidence that there is no link between aluminum antiperspirants and breast cancer.
- A systematic review (considered to be at the top of the hierarchy of medical research) published in September 2016 found no difference in breast cancer risk in groups that used aluminum deodorants.
- A cross-sectional analysis found that the risk of breast cancer was equal between the control group and the antiperspirant group.
- A review of research shows that aluminum-based antiperspirants are not linked to breast cancer.
Some research shows that aluminum might accumulate in breast tissue with the use of antiperspirants, but it has not been shown in other studies. One of the authors of this study is Christopher “Aluminum” Exley, a discredited researcher who pushes false claims about aluminum in vaccines. Once I saw his name involved in this “research” my brain was about ready to dispute any claims that aluminum in antiperspirants was associated with breast cancer.
However, most research still shows no link between the antiperspirant and breast cancer. And breast cancer tissue shows no difference in levels of aluminum compared to normal breast tissue. It seems to be coincidental rather than causal.
However, aluminum is filtered out by the kidneys in most people with normally functioning kidneys. Like with vaccines, the aluminum in antiperspirants is simply removed from the body before it might cause harm.
Of course, if you suffer from poor kidney function (which is diagnosed by a physician), you should probably limit the use of aluminum
Debunking the toxin claim
Let’s get back to one of the claims by the anti-antiperspirant crowd — apparently, they think the sweat glands near the breast tissues are the ones that remove the toxins that cause cancer. That all sounds good, except for the point that it’s not how sweat glands work.
Yes, some cancers are caused by “toxins” (it’s a broad term that almost has no meaning in cancer biology, but it is a popular “scare” term). However, sweat glands are not the primary, secondary, or tertiary location for filtering out toxins. That’s the duty of the liver (mostly) and kidneys.
Moreover, even if the sweat glands had some minor role in removing toxins, there are sweat glands elsewhere across the body where they could perform that duty.
Reading the literature on aluminum antiperspirants and breast cancer seems to lack definitive case-control or cohort studies that support that claim. And in systematic reviews and other types of research, no link could be found.
Given the lack of robust research supporting the claims, I’m going to have to say that it’s debunked. I do not see evidence establishing a link between these antiperspirants and breast cancer. And I am not buying the claims of a mechanism of action supported by the anti-antiperspirant groups. It just does not meet the standards of good science.
I know many of you who are reading this article aren’t interested in the science of vaccines, but I was shocked that antiperspirants and vaccines got tied together by the quack, Christopher Exley. I don’t know how much Exley has influenced the narrative about aluminum and breast cancer, but a quick search shows a lot of the claims about antiperspirants and breast cancer seem to link back to his “papers.”
Nevertheless, the body of evidence shows no robust or even weak support for the claim that aluminum antiperspirants have anything to do with breast cancer.
I noticed something very curious. One of the journals that publish a lot of aluminum anti-vaccine nonsense is the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. And it seems to be publishing a lot of breast cancer nonsense by Exley.
- Allam MF. Breast Cancer and Deodorants/Antiperspirants: a Systematic Review. Cent Eur J Public Health. 2016 Sep;24(3):245-247. doi: 10.21101/cejph.a4475. PMID: 27755864.
- Darbre PD, Mannello F, Exley C. Aluminium and breast cancer: Sources of exposure, tissue measurements and mechanisms of toxicological actions on breast biology. J Inorg Biochem. 2013 Nov;128:257-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2013.07.005. Epub 2013 Jul 13. PMID: 23899626.
- Mousavi M, Vaghar MI. The relationship between use of aluminum-containing anti-perspirant and hair color with breast cancer. J Family Med Prim Care. 2021 Jan;10(1):182-186. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_1219_19. Epub 2021 Jan 30. PMID: 34017723; PMCID: PMC8132781.
- Osto M, Farshchian M, Alnabolsi A, Smidi SA, Baiyasi M, Potts GA. Aluminum-containing antiperspirants are not associated with breast cancer. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2022 Jan 24. doi: 10.1111/jocd.14796. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35073435.