Saturday, June 29, 2013

Beauty Myths: Your Anti-Persperant Is Also Probably Not Giving You Cancer

When I was in elementary school, I had a hippie dippie teacher who was very certain that anti-persperant causes breast cancer. She solemnly lectured our class about the dangers of these products, asserting that she would never use such death traps on her own armpits. When I, as most pubescent children do, started getting gross and smelly, I thought about her warnings with mild, inert terror.

Thankfully, that terror, as with most cosmetics-related terror, is unfounded. If you want to rock the deodorant-free lifestyle, you rock on with your bad self. But if you're hiding from anti-persperant products exclusively because you fear an inevitable disease-ridden doom, you might as well go buy yourself a stick of Dove.

Such fancy flavors!
Source: http://www.prettycity.com/product/images/925.jpg
The idea that anti-persperant might cause breast cancer was based on an observation: a disproportionate number of tumors occur in the upper outer quadrant of the breast tissue, directly adjacent to the area where women apply deodorant. This led some researchers to hypothesize that either parabens, a preservative, or aluminum chloride might cause or hasten breast cancer development.

Although rumors about a relationship between breast cancer and deodorant had been bouncing around for years, the icing on the panic-attack cake was a 2004 study by Darbre and colleagues that found small concentrations of parabens in breast cancer tissues. Although this doesn't show anything on its own, as finding parabens in a small sample of breast cancer tissue does not demonstrate that said parabens actually did anything harmful, it definitely raised the alarm... albeit prematurely.

Not... PARABENS!
Source: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-e532HlDnCaM/USXrjlWMDeI/AAAAAAAALEk/wD9Chr3c6lk/s640/l-3.jpg
I've already written a bit about paraben-hysteria, wherein people freak out about how parabens are going to give you cancer and death and horror and AHHH HERE IS MY MONEY PARABEN-FREE COMPANIES. Thus, I'll keep this brief. The Darbre study spurred a huge amount of (controlled, well-done) research into a potential relationship between breast cancer and parabens. These researchers found a whole lot of nothin'. Most have concluded that "it is biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of any estrogen-mediated endpoint, including effects on the male reproductive tract or breast cancer". (Furthermore, given that one of the key pieces of 'evidence' suggesting that parabens cause breast cancer is the proximity of armpits to boobs, I have yet to see any well-considered explanation detailing why you would need to worry about putting parabens, say, in your foundation, which is rarely applied in the breast-y region. But I digress...)

The evidence that aluminum salts are harmful has been equally scant. A study by Exley and colleagues found that aluminum is present in breast tissue, but acknowledged that harmful effects had yet to be shown.

Source: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_loc45nWYMB1qirokw.jpg
Thus, with evidence about the proposed harmful ingredients being a total wash, it may be more helpful to look at studies that look at deodorant as a whole. A literature review of 59 studies on the topic, published in 2008, provides a clear answer: "No scientific evidence to support the hypothesis [that deodorant is a risk factor for breast cancer] was identified and no validated hypothesis appears likely to open the way to interesting avenues of research." They also add that most of the studies they looked at were methodologically unsound. These conclusions align in lockstep with the European and American health authorities.

As Ted Gansler, director of medical content for the American Cancer Society, observed, "There is no convincing evidence that antiperspirant or deodorant use increases cancer risk."

If you are looking to decrease your risk for breast cancer, there are lots of real, non-smelly ways to do so, which include eating healthily, exercising, and keeping alcohol consumption low. You know, the stuff that makes shitty headlines. Breaking: "It's Still A Good Idea To Eat Vegetables!"

15 comments:

  1. <3
    science trumps hippie once again!
    -says a total lefty liberal BUT OMIGOD I HATE BULLSHIT EITHER WAY

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    Replies
    1. Yes, same! I am about as left as they come, but it's unwise no matter what your camp is to ignore the empirical evidence.

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  2. Can the same be said for the purported link between aluminum-containing antiperspirants/deodorants and Alzheimer's?

    ...cause fear of developing Alzheimer's may be why I use a stupid expensive Malin+Goetz deo with no aluminum.

    Love your blog, by the way. Just started reading two weeks ago, you have great content.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed it can. If you want, I can do a separate post on it.

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    2. In this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769828/ it has been concluded that Alzheimer's is actually a form of diabetes that specifically targets the brain. So it's diet that puts you at higher risk for Alzheimer's, not deodorant or some other factor.

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  3. I had actually totally forgotten about the hysteria surrounding deodorant. The mother of one of my school friends refused to buy her any hygiene products at all because they were all so dangerous and all would most certainl give her cancer. We used to smuggle her cans of Impulse like it were Crack.

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  4. PLEASE do one of these on sulfates! I don't know how many times I have crazed people on the side of me at a store dishing out $20+ on sulfate free shampoo. I've read so many articles on the internet (namely hippie "no-poo" methodology types)that continuously annoy me, but really no chemistry professor has ever lectured in any of my classes that they're Tresemme shampoo is going to kill them. haha

    On another note, absolutely love the blog. Definitely a must read for all the science junkies, such as myself. Keep it up!

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    1. Sulfates aren't going to kill you but they are incredibly drying. They're such effective surfactants that they can fuck up your body's natural oil production, leading to MORE oiliness--not less. Obviously this is anecdotal, but the less I (and many others) shampoo my hair, the less often I have to. There is a trend among no-pooers to use baking soda on the skin, though, and that is not a good idea either.

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    2. I have never in my life heard that people think sulfates are poisonous. The purpose of sulfate-free hair products is that sulfates are harsh detergents which strip your hair as they cleanse, and using something more mild leaves your hair healthier.

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    3. To clear up the discrepancy on my comment:

      I wasn't referring to SLS effects on the scalp and oil production. I particularly referring to claims made notably in Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan (which in domino effect to its publishing,became a citation in a fair amount of internet articles). To be more specific, not sulfates themselves but the possibility of the synthesization process adding carcinogenic contaminants (such as 1,4 dioxane) was proposed as a grounds to avoid consumer usage of SLS. Unfortunately, I don't have the necessary time to fish up database articles, but I have seen snopes.com has a write up on it that summarizes all the findings. In general of course, it's accepted currently that sulfate containing products pose no health risk, but it is mostly personal preference that'll determine whether or not you wish to use them; with exception to those of course otherwise instructed by a medical physician. Similar to the deodorant vs no-deodorant argument.

      I apologize if I was not being specific and clear enough!

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  5. Thank you for another great post. This sort of panic about illness associated with common products, poor reporting of the research from media, etc. just makes me crazy. When I was working on my doctorate (about a million years ago) there was a big scare about breast implants causing systemic illness, neurological changes, etc. Big lawsuits, silicone implants withdrawn from the market, lots of money paid out by the manufacturers.... AND not one lick of research to support that the implants actually cause any illness. It was just enough that there was hysteria about the issue and women saying they were sick to result in the judge supporting their claims. However, the long term studies actually clearly show there is no association between illness and silicone implants. Which is why now you can get silicone implants again, if you are so inclined. Much of the public has a very tentative grasp of basic science (at best) and are pretty suggestible to boot - bad combination.

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  6. I LOVE that you call the deodorant varieties "flavors." Who licks your pits? ;) Love you humor, love your blog!

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  7. I love these posts (and your blog in general). I had class with a girl who insisted not only that deodorant gave you cancer, but that bras with underwires did too, and small chested she was not. Sorry honey, think I'll risk it.

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  8. I love your blog and, I think, I love you!

    Hey, I really don't want to come across as though I disagree with your point here (because I do agree that anti-antiperspirants have been proven to be safe), but I was wondering if you've read/heard anything about Florence Williams' book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History. I suppose the book (and its contents) could be considered sympathetic to your hippy teacher of yore, but I was genuinely surprised to realize that there is no specific science field dedicated to the study of breasts and that they really are objects of such intrigue. Williams had her breast milk tested and was surprised (as I think most of us would be inclined to be) to find her milk contained flame retardants and trace amounts of pesticides.

    Anyway, I found it to be rather interesting and caused me to wonder what else we do not know about our breasts. I'm only posting this because I thought you might enjoy that sense of wonder, too.

    For an easy primer on the book, I'd suggest this podcast from Stuff Mom Never Told Me:
    http://podbay.fm/show/304531053/e/1377102430?autostart=1

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