I am afraid this is old news, though as it happens new to me. I am not sure how I missed it but it turns out that a very large and well conducted survey was carried out into the link between antiperspirants and breast cancer. It was done in 2002 by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and is explicitly inspired by internet rumours about such a link.
It does fill in a gap in the paraben story for me. There had been talk about a link between parabens and breast cancer since the internet started being used to spread scare stories – which was pretty soon after the internet started. It certainly wasn’t a totally new notion. But it was the publicity given to work at Reading University on the BBC in 2004 that led to the bad name that parabens have had ever since.
The research had discovered parabens in breast cancer tissue, which is certainly something that was interesting and needed explaining. But the curious feature of the story for me was why the example of paraben containing product that was referred to was antiperspirant. Antiperspirants don’t need to be preserved and so there is no need for them to contain them. You did see them on ingredient lists for antiperspirants sometimes, because they might be used to preserve something that was being used in the antiperspirant like a plant extract for example.
So I was a bit puzzled about the focus on antiperspirants which actually came from the researcher herself. I had imagined that she just happened to pick one up and saw a paraben listed and away you go.
But this study may have been what was on her mind and why she homed in on just about the only category of cosmetic product which didn’t use parabens as a preservative. Anyway, if you are worried about parabens I am afraid this study is neither here nor there. It doesn’t clear them of causing breast cancer because antiperspirants don’t contain parabens. If you are worried about antiperspirants for other reasons, this at least is good evidence that they don’t cause breast cancer.
So that at any rate is some good news. We can answer the question, do antiperspirants cause breast cancer with a definitive no. I wonder why the studies that show everything is fine get so little coverage?