Can Antiperspirants Cause Cancer?


Have you heard that aluminium-containing antiperspirant deodorants can increase your risk of getting breast cancer? Are you worried and considering whether to stop using your trusted antiperspirant and opt for "safer" antiperspirant options instead?

If you have had a look at "natural" deodorants, they usually have "free from aluminium salts" boldly written on the packaging. So are aluminium salts, which are excellent antiperspirants, really so bad for your health? And if they are, how strong is the link between the use of aluminium-containing antiperspirants and the risk of getting breast cancer?

Don’t throw your antiperspirants in the bin just yet! Here is why…

What are antiperspirants?

The word antiperspirant, when broken down into two parts "anti" and “perspirant,” simply means any agent that prevents perspiration. Perspiration is the medical term for sweating.

Our skin has sweat glands all over, and the distribution of sweat glands varies, with some parts of the body, such as your palms and soles, having more sweat glands than all other parts of the body.

Sweat is a weak salt solution produced by the sweat glands in response to various factors. The primary reason why we sweat is to regulate our body temperature. You may notice that when you sweat and the sweat evaporates from the surface of your body, you feel a little cooler.

Factors such as hot weather, exercise, eating spicy food, medicines, recreational drug use, and anxiety can also cause you to sweat. In addition, conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, thyroid gland, endocrine (hormone) glands, the reproductive system (menopause), and being obese can cause sweating, which may sometimes be in excessive amounts. The medical term for excessive sweating is hyperhidrosis.

Antiperspirants are the first-line treatment for hyperhidrosis clinically and are also available commercially in antiperspirant deodorants. Antiperspirants come in many forms such as creams, roll-ons, sprays, powder, and wipes for application to the target areas, which can include the armpits, palms, and the soles of the feet.

Antiperspirants used for the clinical management of hyperhidrosis and commercially available antiperspirant deodorants contain aluminum salts. What differs is the type of aluminium salts and the strength used. Commercially available antiperspirants contain aluminium chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate, and aluminium zirconium, with aluminium zirconium being the most effective of the three. 

Clinical strength antiperspirants contain the more effective aluminium salts, aluminium chloride, or aluminium zirconium.

Antiperspirants vs deodorants: is there a difference?

You will usually see deodorants labeled as antiperspirant deodorants, but antiperspirants and deodorants, although they can be manufactured together in a single product, serve different functions.

Antiperspirants that contain aluminum salts reduce sweating by acting on sugars present on the surface of the skin and in sweat to physically “block” the sweat glands and prevent sweating. Deodorants, on the other hand, work to mask odours that are caused by sweat-eating bacteria present on body surfaces that have sweat glands.

Are there any ingredients in antiperspirants that cause cancer? 

It is said that exposure to aluminium salts in antiperspirants can increase your risk of breast cancer. This theory is based on the assumption that aluminum salts in underarm antiperspirants are absorbed in large amounts through the skin and into the surrounding breast tissue and blood. When this happens, aluminium salts are said to have oestrogen-like effects on breast tissue that results in changes that increase the risk of breast cancer. Oestrogen is a female reproductive hormone that is said to increase the risk of breast cancer in certain individuals.2

Fortunately, studies have shown that aluminium salts have very poor absorption through the skin, and to date, no study has been able to demonstrate that aluminium-containing antiperspirants are associated with an increased breast cancer risk. Instead the major drawback associated with the use of aluminium salt antiperspirants is skin redness and irritation.

A review of all the evidence from studies carried out by the National Cancer Institute on the link between breast cancer and aluminium-containing antiperspirants found no conclusive evidence to support the theory that aluminium-containing antiperspirants cause breast cancer.1 

Additionally, antiperspirants don’t only act on sweat glands (which are called eccrine glands medically) but also act on pheromone-producing apocrine glands, which are located in the armpits and the groin. The sweat-eating bacteria on the skin can break down secretions from the apocrine gland to cause what is known as body odour. 

So could the action of antiperspirants on the apocrine glands rather than the sweat glands increase your risk of breast cancer? The evidence on this is conflicting, with some sources stating that antiperspirants may not have any effect on reducing secretions from apocrine glands, while others state that even if they have any effect, it is minimal and not associated with an increased breast cancer risk.4

Are there any alternatives to antiperspirants?

The field of medicine is dynamic and research always brings forth new information that guides the use of antiperspirants and new formulations that can serve as alternatives to antiperspirants.

In the meantime, If you would like to go the route of staying off antiperspirants despite research showing that they are safe to use, there are various options available to you:

If sweating is not a concern for you and you just want to smell fresh, you can consider using aluminium-free deodorants, which are gaining popularity among individuals that want a "natural" alternative to antiperspirants.

Tips to reduce sweat and perspiration on the skin


  • Wear loose-fitting clothes
  • Wear fabrics that allow the skin to breathe, such as cotton and linen 
  • Dress according to the season
  • Use cornstarch powder after having a bath to keep the target areas dry
  • Apply antiperspirants at night on clean dry skin 
  • Discontinue medicines that cause you to sweat


  • Don't use soap cleansers as these may irritate the skin and increase the risk of excessive sweating. Instead, opt for soap-free alternatives, which are gentler on the skin
  • Don't drink caffeinated beverages - caffeine makes you more likely to sweat3


It may seem like a choice between using or not using when it comes to antiperspirants. Sweat is salt water and is odourless, the smell associated with sweat comes from sweat-eating bacteria on the skin. Thus, if sweating does not bother you and you're more concerned with masking odour, you can try using cosmetic products that reduce the number of these sweat-eating bacteria on the skin. Such products include the antibacterial agent, benzoyl peroxide, which is available as a wash. 

If you would like to reduce excessive sweating but are still on the fence about the safety of antiperspirants despite the evidence from several studies confirming their safety, you can explore any of the options listed above with your dermatologist.


  1. Mirick D, Davis S, Thomas D. Antiperspirant Use and the Risk of Breast Cancer. CancerSpectrum Knowledge Environment [Internet]. 2002 Oct 16 [cited 2023 Mar 30];94(20):1578–80. Available from:
  2. Yue W, Wang JP, Li Y, Fan P, Liu G, Zhang N, et al. Effects of estrogen on breast cancer development: Role of estrogen receptor independent mechanisms. International Journal of Cancer [Internet]. 2010 Aug 20 [cited 2023 Mar 30];127(8):1748–57. Available from:
  3. Kim TW, Shin YO, Lee JB, Min YK, Yang HM. Caffeine increases sweating sensitivity via changes in sudomotor activity during physical loading. Journal of Medicinal Food [Internet]. 2011 Nov 1 [cited 2023 Mar 30];14(11):1448–55. Available from:
  4. Hölzle E. Antiperspirants. Dermatopharmacology of Topical Preparations. 2000;(978-3-642-57145-9):401–16. Available from: 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Maimuna Abdurrahim

Master of Science (by distance learning), Infectious Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, U. of London

Hi! My name is Maimuna and I am a pharmacist currently practising in primary care. I have always been passionate about general wellness and enjoy participating in activities that increase awareness of how to live healthier lives.

I strongly believe that empowering individuals with information about health conditions, medicines, and how to live healthier lives results in better outcomes for their health and well-being. I hope that you enjoy reading this article and that you’re able to pick up one or two salient points that’ll be of benefit to you and your loved ones.

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