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The use of aluminium in cosmetics and other products that come into contact with the skin

2 min read

Over recent years there have been consumer concerns around the use of aluminium in cosmetics and other products that come into contact with the skin.  The biggest concern centres on the use of aluminium salts in antiperspirants and its apparent link to increased breast cancer in women.

Aluminium salts are the active ingredient in antiperspirants.  They act by blocking sweat ducts and prevent sweat from escaping onto the skin surface, reducing the moist environment in which odour causing bacteria multiply.

In 2007 global media sources misinterpreted research from scientists at the Birchall Centre for Inorganic Chemistry, Keele University, UK, by reporting they had discovered a link between breast cancer and antiperspirants.

The study was a laboratory analysis of tissue from 17 women from a hospital in Manchester, UK, who had undergone mastectomies as part of their treatment for breast cancer.  The researchers used the samples from the women to see how much aluminium there was in the breast tissue and in which regions (areas) of the breast it occurred. They then compared the aluminium content from the different breast regions.  The researchers found aluminium in both breast tissue and breast fat. They also found that aluminium content was higher in the outer regions of the breast than in the inner regions.  The researchers confirmed the presence of aluminium in breast tissue and “its possible regional distribution within the breast”.  The media then reported these findings as proof of a link between aluminium in antiperspirants and breast cancer in women.

These media conclusions however misinterpret the findings in several ways, some of which the researchers pointed out in their original summing up.  Firstly they did not compare the amount of aluminium from the breast cancer patients with levels in women who didn’t have breast cancer so they had no way of knowing whether the levels of aluminium were different from those in healthy women.  Secondly they did not know whether the women in this study use aluminium-containing antiperspirants or not, so there is no way of knowing where the aluminium came from.  Finally they acknowledged they had no direct evidence that the aluminium measured in the breast biopsies had originated from an antiperspirant.

To date there are no strong epidemiologic studies or published scientific evidence proving a causal link between the use of aluminium in antiperspirants and breast cancer in women.  The Skin Health Alliance will therefore continue to align itself to international regulation around aluminium and partner with those brands choosing to use it in their products.