Breast cancer and personal care

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which might be more usefully renamed Breast Cancer Prevention month. Most of us are aware of breast cancer. Now let’s increase our understanding of how to avoid it, and foster some habits that might help us reduce this scourge.

Several ingredients contained in almost all “ordinary” personal care and many household cleaning products have been linked specifically to breast cancer. Ditching them in favour of the ingredients and recipes in spotless would be one really positive step that you can take to reduce your, and others’, risks of developing breast cancer.

When it comes to breast cancer, the main cause for concern is parabens. These chemicals are commonly used as preservatives in a very wide range of personal care products including underarm deodorants, shampoos, moisturisers, shaving gels, toothpastes and many others. Parabens are endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) which mimic oestrogen. Applied directly to our bodies, they are readily absorbed by the skin. They also have far-reaching ecological impacts (see this for example) and have been found in surface and ground waters. Conventional waste and drinking water treatment plants are not able to completely remove them.

The link between parabens and breast cancer is based on the fact that “most of the known risk factors for breast cancer are related to cumulative lifetime exposure to estrogens” (1). This study hypothesises that exposure of breast buds to the hormones in personal care products in utero and in early life, as well as continued exposure in adulthood, results in both an increased risk of breast cancer, and increased lethality of breast cancer. Unfortunately, these ingredients are often not disclosed by manufacturers, which the study points out makes it hard for research to move forward. It also makes it hard for us to be sure they are not present in the products we buy and use.

Parabens have been found in human breast tumour tissue, in a form indicating that they have been absorbed by the skin (2,3). Up to 60% of breast tumours are located in the fifth of the breast known as the upper-outer quadrant, nearest the underarm. Researchers believe this shows the impact of parabens in underarm deodorant and shaving products. This is backed up by other research linking earlier age diagnosis of breast cancer with more frequent use of deodorants and underarm shaving. (4)

By replacing commercial shaving gels, deodorants, body sprays, lotions and moisturisers with spotless alternatives, you can avoid parabens and the many other dubious chemicals present in so many of these products. Go to the personal care pages to learn how. Seize control of your health and help prevent breast cancer this October.


1. Donovan M, Tiwary CM, Axelrod D, Sasco AJ, Jones L, Hajek R, Sauber E, Kuo J, Davis DL. Personal care products that contain estrogens or xenoestrogens may increase breast cancer risk. Med Hypotheses. 2007;68(4):756-66. Epub 2006 Nov 28. PubMed PMID: 17127015.
2. Harvey PW, Everett DJ. Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):1-4. Review. PubMed PMID: 14745840.
3. Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):5-13. PubMed PMID: 14745841.
4. McGrath KG. An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2003 Dec;12(6):479-85. PubMed PMID: 14639125.

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