Sweating it Out
Over the years social awareness has encouraged more and more people to use deodorant and antiperspirants to reduce sweating and odour.
Why do we Sweat?
The process of sweating is due to small structures in our skin known as sweat glands. Eccrine glands are responsible for producing a fluid which is 99 per cent water and which most people associate with underarm wetness. A second type of sweat gland, known as the apocrine gland produces a secretion that is broken down on the surface of the skin by bacteria. It is this breaking down process which actually causes the smells we associate with body sweat.
1. Is there any proven link between the use of antiperspirants and breast cancer?
There is no scientific evidence that the risk of developing breast cancer increases if you use antiperspirants. Indeed, there is strong evidence to show that antiperspirants are safe and do not cause health problems. A recent and comprehensive clinical study found no links between the two.
2. Have there been any scientific studies that specifically investigated the possibility of a link between antiperspirants and breast cancer?
Yes. A recent large study of women aged 20-74 published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in October 2002, examined the use of antiperspirants in women with breast cancer. The researchers compared antiperspirant use among a group of women who had contracted breast cancer and a second group who were matched in age to the first group, but who had not contracted cancer. Both groups of women used antiperspirants in similar ways, and the scientists running the study found no link between the antiperspirants and breast cancer.
3. Does using antiperspirants stop me 'sweating out' harmful toxins?
No. This argument forms the basis for an email that began circulating a few years ago, and it has also appeared in some newspaper articles. However, experts in this field do not agree with this theory for two reasons:
The body does not sweat to 'flush out' toxins
Antiperspirants do not alter the body's overall ability to sweat, to any significant degree
The overwhelming majority of toxins, around 95 per cent are removed from the body by the liver and kidneys. The body sweats to control temperature and not to remove toxins -- sweat consists almost entirely of water, with some sodium and fat, none of which are toxic.
Sweat is produced from 2 to 5 million sweat glands around the body, and antiperspirants only affect those in the armpit. Surprisingly, there are relatively few sweat glands in the armpit and they produce only about one per cent of the body's sweat - we are just more aware of it because the sweat can't evaporate as easily from under the arm as from other areas of the body. Antiperspirants work by dissolving in sweat to produce a thin coating on the skin that temporarily reduces underarm sweating, but does not alter the body's release of sweat to any significant degree.
4. Is it true that ingredients from antiperspirants can penetrate the skin and accumulate in the breast tissue, potentially damaging DNA and leading to breast cancer?
The suggestion that ingredients such as Aluminium and Zirconium salts might damage cell DNA is sometimes raised in newspaper articles, but there is no evidence that they accumulate in the breast tissue, or that they can affect human DNA. In fact, aluminium is one of the most common elements on earth, and one that humans come into contact with everyday. It is estimated that exposure to aluminium from antiperspirant use is about 2.5 percent of the amount of aluminium present in a typical diet, which doesn't take into account additional exposure from airborne particles.
5. Can antiperspirants affect hormone levels and thus cause cancer?
There is no evidence that antiperspirants can affect hormone levels, and recent research has found no link between antiperspirant use and breast cancer. It is true that the hormone oestrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells, and that rising levels of oestrogen in women in developed countries may be responsible for the increase in breast cancer prevalence. However, this is not due to antiperspirant use.
6. Is there a link between increased incidences of breast cancer and the increased use of antiperspirants?
It is certainly true that the prevalence of breast cancer is rising in developed countries. However, there are many scientific studies linking this rise to factors other than antiperspirants, and no evidence that antiperspirants are the cause. Indeed, there is strong evidence to show no link between antiperspirant use and breast cancer.
The majority of doctors and scientists who have studied this area attribute the increased prevalence of breast cancer in developed countries on the 'western' lifestyle adopted by residents over the last 50 years, including:
Diet: Calorie-laden diets and sedentary lifestyles result in women producing higher levels of oestrogen.
Smaller families: Oestrogen levels are lower during pregnancy and breast feeding, and women in the developing world tend to have many children, helping them to reduce their risk. However, women in the developed world tend to have smaller families, meaning that they do not benefit from this protective affect. Scientists also believe that the higher average age for women having their first children in developed countries increases the risk of breast cancer.
Lifestyle Choices: Increased drinking amongst women, as well as rising levels of obesity, have all been linked to the rising prevalence of breast cancer and many other diseases.
Improved healthcare: The increased availability of breast cancer screening has led to far better detection of breast cancer, giving the appearance of a dramatic rise in occurrences. Additionally, breast cancer tends to occur in women over the age of 50, and the well documented 'ageing' of the populations of developed countries means there is a greater proportion of women of this age group in the population, and therefore higher numbers of breast cancer diagnoses in any given year.
7. Most breast cancers occur in the upper, outer quadrant of the left breast near where right handed people apply antiperspirants. This sounds like plausible evidence for a link -- is it?
It has been known for over 50 years that breast cancer predominantly affects the left breast, but this is not because of 'over application' of antiperspirant by the majority right-handed people. Detailed consumer research, which involved placing a recording device into aerosol antiperspirants and measuring exactly the volumes applied to both armpits, has shown that there are no significant differences between the amounts of antiperspirant applied to either armpit, regardless of whether you are right or left handed.
Research in the late 1990s has attributed the prevalence of breast cancer in the left breast to development in the womb, during which time early growth of the heart in the left side of the chest means that additional blood supply is needed in this area. It is the extra arteries, veins, and capillaries on the left hand side of the chest that make the left breast more vulnerable to cancer.
It is also well documented that 60 percent of breast cancers occur in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. However, this is also where 60 percent of breast tissue resides, which explains the prevalence of breast cancers in this area.
8. If antiperspirants are safe, why are women told not to use them before having a mammogram?
This has nothing to do with the safety of antiperspirants. Women should not use any deodorant or antiperspirant before a mammogram in case it appears in the x-ray and is mistaken for an abnormality in the breast.
9. Is there an association between an increased risk of breast cancer, or any other adverse health effects, and using an antiperspirant after shaving?
The overwhelming scientific evidence is that there is no correlation between breast cancer and the use of antiperspirants after shaving. However, shaving does cause tiny nicks in the skin and some antiperspirants, particularly those that are also deodorants, contain alcohol which causes stinging and irritation to freshly shaved skin.
10. Is it true that antiperspirants contain preservatives called parabens, which have been linked to breast cancer?
Parabens are a type of preservative found in many everyday products, including cosmetics, shampoos, hair gels and even some foods. However, they are not used in any Unilever antiperspirants or in the vast majority of antiperspirants currently available. This is not because parabens are unsafe, but because antiperspirants are generally self-preserving. Additionally, the EU is satisfied that parabens are safe and has given approval for their use in a whole range of products.
11. Is it true that you can buy antiperspirant crystals which reduce sweat in a similar way to antiperspirants? Is this a safer alternative to spray and roll-on antiperspirants?
In parts of Asia, people reduce their sweating by rubbing ground up crystals of alum, know locally as tawas, into their armpits. The antiperspirant crystals that you can buy, and which are often marketed as a 'healthy' alternative, are also made of crystal of alum. Crystal of alum is an aluminium salt, and reduces sweating in exactly the same way as a 'modern' antiperspirant - by mixing with sweat to form a thin coating that temporarily reduces sweating. Indeed, the active ingredients of modern antiperspirants are also aluminium salts; usually Aluminium Chlorohydrate (ACH), or Aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY (AZAG). These salts have been tested thoroughly by antiperspirant manufacturers and relevant health authorities and provide the safest and most effective means of controlling sweat.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005