It’s generally easy to tell myth from reality.

Dragons? Mythical. Clash of the Titans? Pure Greek mythology. Sasquatch? Legend, unless Harry and the Hendersons is to be believed.

When it comes to your health, especially the health of your breasts, it can be harder to distinguish what you’ve heard from what may actually cause breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and we’re here to set the record straight.

Antiperspirant deodorants with aluminum don’t cause breast cancer.

You’ve heard: “antiperspirants block toxin-releasing sweat, so the toxins build up in breast tissue.” Or, “the aluminum in antiperspirants changes your estrogen receptors.” Or, “when you shave your armpits, you create tiny nicks that let in cancer-causing chemicals.”

Despite the pervasive myths, there is no scientific evidence that aluminum-based antiperspirants cause breast cancer.

Even the strongest aluminum-based antiperspirant doesn’t block all sweat, and sweat isn’t even how your body filters out most toxins: that work is done by your liver and kidneys. Lastly, you’re exposed to more aluminum through food than you are through your antiperspirant.

One truth: don’t wear deodorant with aluminum on the day of your mammogram. The aluminum can show up as specks on your mammogram, creating confusion for your doctor.

Still, deodorants can contain parabens and other nasty things. There may be some truth to the link between shaving your armpits and being diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age, though more evidence is needed.

Alternatives

If you want to stay fresh, au natural, give one of these natural deodorants a try; you might need to try a few to find the best fit for your ‘pits, but they do work--contrary to another myth.

Neither do underwire bras.

Another myth: “underwire bras cause breast cancer by preventing lymph in your breasts from being reabsorbed by your body.” Again, there is no evidence to support this claim or any other claims that underwire causes cancer.

This rumor may have started because women who are overweight are more likely to need the support of an underwire bra than slimmer women, who can comfortably wear a bralette. Because obesity after menopause is a risk factor for breast cancer, this population will overall have a higher incidence.

But their undergarments have nothing to do with it.

Your beauty routine might be ugly for your breasts though.

A 2018 study determined that moderate to frequent use of beauty products is linked to a 10-15% higher incidence of breast cancer, but was not able to determine whether the risk is tied to specific chemicals, combinations of chemicals, or related behavioral factors.

The three p’s. Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben), phthalates (especially monoethyl phthalate [MEP]), and synthetic phenols (including bisphenol A (BPA)) may be found in daily personal care products like soap, shampoo, nail polish, hair sprays, deodorant, sunscreen, toothpaste, lotion, foundation, lipstick, and mascara. They can all be absorbed through your skin, inhalation, or ingestion, and have mild estrogen-like properties, a breast cancer risk. More research is needed, however.

Carbon black. Would you rub coal tar on your face? Sorry to break it to you like this, but if your mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner, lipstick, nail polish, or other make-up includes carbon black (also known as D&C Black #2, acetylene black, channel black, furnace black, lamp black, and thermal black) that’s exactly what you’re doing. Carbon black has been linked to all sorts of cancers and organ toxicity.

Alternatives

You can find cleaner beauty brands like Honest Beauty, RMS Beauty, Juice Beauty, Ilia, Gabriel, 100% Pure, Lawless, Plain Jane Beauty, and cocokind online, at beauty stores like Sephora or Ulta, or even Target. Note: these are all just options we’re listing for your convenience; Gennev is in no way affiliated with or profiting from any of these companies.

Hair dyes and relaxers may lead to breast cancer.

While most hair dyes are safer now than when your mother was going through menopause, there may be a link between hair products and breast cancer, especially in Black women, hairdressers, and people who dye or relax their hair frequently.

Hair dyes contained known carcinogens until the early 1980s. Today, hair dyes still have a lot of harsh chemicals (like ammonia, parabens, phthalates, and more), and researchers don’t know whether or not all of them are completely safe. Darker shades of dye have more potentially harmful chemicals.

Black women are thought to be more at risk because they are more likely to dye their hair darker colors and use relaxing agents due to prevailing stigma and discrimination against natural hair and wigs, while white women mainly dye their hair. More evidence is still needed, however.

Alternatives

Go natural! Embrace your hair’s natural state. Why should George Clooney have all the fun? Gray hair is incredibly sexy on both women and men. Curls are beautiful. Find a hairstyle that makes the most of what your mama gave you.

Switch from Oxidative (permanent) to Non-oxidative (semipermanent) dye. If you aren’t ready to embrace the gray, you can at least go with the lesser of two evils. Permanent dyes have more chemicals and oxidizing agents, like ammonia, to strip your hair of its natural pigment. This irritates your scalp and creates a point of entry for any potential carcinogens. Semipermanent dyes still have chemicals and potential to cause cancer but are gentler on your body.

Henna is the most natural permanent hair dye option. Aveda and Madison Reed are safer alternatives to most dyes, or try Manic Panic for a punk-rock pop of color. Note: these are all just options we’re listing for your convenience; Gennev is in no way affiliated with or profiting from any of these companies.

Nail polish poison

Did you know that nail salons have higher quantities of certain toxic chemicals than auto garages or oil refineries?

Nail polishes can contain some pretty nasty stuff; the “toxic trio” of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, and toluene; diethylhexyl phthalate (one of the phthalates mentioned earlier); and triphenyl phosphate are all known carcinogens or estrogen disrupters.

“Tough as nails” doesn’t exactly apply to your fingers; you can absorb the toxins in nail polish through your skin or the nail bed itself.

While manufacturers have phased out many (but not all) of these chemicals, you may want to toss that bottle of Sally Hensen you’ve had since your 35th birthday--and check the label on its replacement.

Women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer or have had lymph nodes removed need to take extra caution with nail care to avoid infections that can lead to lymphodema, particularly on the impacted side of the body. Bring your own nail tools to the salon, keep your cuticles intact, or skip the manicure altogether.

Alternatives

Look for nail products that are at least “eight-free:” these do not contain dibutyl phthalate (dbp), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, or triphenyl phosphate (tphp).

Zoya, Honeybee Gardens, LVX, Flora 1761, Tenoverten, Londontown, Butter London, Base Coat, Jinsoon, Côte, and Orly Breathable have options to cover almost any taste or style, and may even be available at your local pharmacy, department store, or Target. Note: these are all just options we’re listing for your convenience; Gennev is in no way affiliated with or profiting from any of these companies.

Harm in the home

The FDA requires food, cosmetics, and drugs to provide a full list of ingredients on their labels; everything else is a Wild West of chemicals, including dish soaps, detergents, disinfectants, glass cleaners, carpet cleaners, stain removers, air fresheners, and other household cleaners.

You could be exposing yourself to estrogen disrupters like triclosan, BPA, phthalates, parabens, alkylphenols, and benzophenones while doing chores and you would never know it.

Even children’s toys  may not be safe.

Alternatives

Make your own cleaning products. Lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda are all-natural cleaners that you probably already have in your pantry. Try scrubbing hard-to-remove food on stainless steel pots and pans with salt. Here are some other ideas and recipes for non-toxic DIY cleaners.

Buy products with natural ingredients. Organic cleaners like Method, Seventh Generation, Ecover, Dr. Bronners, Bon Ami, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, and Branch Basics are getting easier to find at mainstream grocery stores. Note: these are all just options we’re listing for your convenience; Gennev is in no way affiliated with or profiting from any of these companies.

One word: plastics.

You’ve seen hormone disrupting BPA, commonly found in plastics, pop up on this list a few times now. All plastics can leach chemicals like BPA if they’re heated or scratched.

Even BPA-free plastics may not be safe.

While it’s impossible to avoid plastic altogether, reduce your exposure to BPA and other chemicals by limiting canned food lined with plastic, avoid handling carbonless cash register receipts, don’t cook or heat food in plastic containers or bags, use waxed paper instead of plastic wrap, and eat out of ceramic, glass, or stainless steel dishware, never Styrofoam.

Breast practices

Talk to your doctor. If you’re concerned about your breast cancer risk, talk with your doctor or one of ours.

Always check labels. If you tend to keep and use make-up for years (which is bad for many other reasons), throw out anything that contains the potentially carcinogenic stuff listed here.

Deal with known carcinogens first. Why waste energy worrying about something that might cause breast cancer when alcohol and smoking are scientifically proven to increase your risk? Limit your alcohol intake and quit smoking. Seriously.

Avoid plastic whenever possible. We know it’s hard! You don’t need to obsess, just be more aware.

Get your annual mammogram. There are many myths around mammograms as well. The tiny risk from radiation does not outweigh the benefit of being able to pick up breast cancer in its early stages, when it is actually curable. Women 40 and over should get a mammogram every year or on the schedule recommended by their doctors.

How do you care for your breasts? Have you heard other tips for care and you’re not sure which are legit and which are myths? Join our online forums and get tips from our health care practitioners.