The Swiss are worried about the role that antiperspirants, and specifically aluminium salts in antiperspirants, may play in breast cancer, and they have taken steps to do something about it. On Tuesday the 5th of May 2017 their National Council (Conseil National) voted by 126 to 58 to approve a bill (postulat) that the Federal Council (Conseil Fédéral) effectively should consider banning the use of aluminium salts in antiperspirants and commission research to establish their role in breast cancer. According to the Green MP, Lisa Mazzone, who brought the bill to the National Council, there is now sufficient doubt about the safety of aluminium salts in antiperspirants to assert the precautionary principle to their continued use.
There is now sufficient doubt about the safety of aluminium salts in antiperspirants to assert the precautionary principle to their continued use.
The catalyst which propelled the already burgeoning concern about the safety of aluminium salts in antiperspirants to a level of doubt worthy of such a sanction was recent research by Swiss scientist Stefano Mandriota which showed that aluminium promoted tumourigenesis and metastasis in a well-established mouse cancer model.
The arguments for and against the applicability of this model and these results to human breast cancer are already legion and, in the main, well-founded. However, what appears to be unique about this issue is that members of the National Council have interpreted the new research as strong support for previous research linking antiperspirants to breast cancer and, and this is the unique and extremely surprising aspect, they have decided to act. They are not prepared to wait for future research over the next five to ten years to confirm or refute the connection; they believe that now is a time for action on the health implications of living in the aluminium age. Is this a ‘brave new world’ or just a Swiss anomaly?
Aluminium salts are the only truly effective antiperspirant and so banning them in future antiperspirant products will be problematic both for antiperspirant manufacturers and for the many individuals who rely upon them to prevent excessive perspiration and body odour. Adopting the precautionary principle in banning the use of something which is extremely effective and has no immediate substitute or replacement might be considered as premature and, perhaps, not the best immediate way forward. One alternative approach is legislation which compels manufacturers of aluminium-based antiperspirants to include a warning message on their product, at least until scientific research provides unequivocal evidence to support or refute the role of aluminium in breast cancer. At least in this way the choice remains with the consumer.
WARNING: THIS PRODUCT MAY CAUSE BREAST CANCER
Honorary Professor, UHI Millennium Institute
Group Leader - Bioinorganic Chemistry Laboratory at Keele