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TOWELS NOT tampons, eating organic carrots, not eating food wrapped in cling film, yeah, I thought I did all that a person who isn't prepared to have their life truly inconvenienced or less tasty could do for themselves and the environment.

TOWELS NOT tampons, eating organic carrots, not eating food wrapped in cling film, yeah, I thought I did all that a person who isn't prepared to have their life truly inconvenienced or less tasty could do for themselves and the environment.

But this summer I took a much bigger step (for me and those around me). I gave up using anti-perspirant chemical deodorant. I didn't really understand why, but I'd heard that it could increase the risk of breast cancer. I wasn't sure of the science behind it. Something about the aluminium blocking the sweat glands meant that toxins couldn't get out which meant that they gathered poisonously around the lymph nodes. It made sense in my mind. Anything that effective had to be unhealthy.

And, apart from a few hairy days in the hottest weather, it's been fine. It's made me feel like a natural woman. I am using some hippie nonsense made of aloe vera and witch hazel that smells like a boiled sweet and probably makes no difference to my odour at all, but is the armpit equivalent of fake cigarettes.

But am I doing myself any good or just being anti-social? Dr Philippa Darbre, lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Reading, says: "I come from a background of 18 years in cancer research. We have seen the mortality levels level, if not drop, in breast cancer yet the incidence is still going up.

Surely it would be better to look at prevention? With breast cancer we don't know what the causes are, but we do know that oestrogens are involved."

Researchers in this under-funded area are thus looking for something that would damage the DNA. It seems odd that we believed that spraying chemicals about which we know so little into the armpit, which lets so much fluid out, would not have some consequence. Dr Darbre says: "Aluminium, found in anti-perspirants, can bind to the DNA. But also John Sumpter of the University of Brunel published research last year which showed that parabens, which is a common preservative added to deodorant, was firing mutated cells in the breast.

We don't know if it actually causes mutant cells yet but it encourages them." Maybe there should be a government warning: Think first, many biochemists don't use deodorant. Dr Darbre says: "When I gave up deodorant I had huge red weals under my arms. It was just like drug withdrawal symptoms. It took a year before it was normal again. Now I use nothing and it's fine. I just wash more often and no one's complained."

The bottom line comes from Ann Link, co-ordinator at the Women's Environmental Network. She says: "The use of hormone-mimicking chemicals is an experiment on people and the environment which could be increasing breast cancer. We can send a signal to manufacturers and protect ourselves by not using products with parabens, writing to companies, looking for alternatives, using less and washing more."

Ditching the deodorant

1. Be prepared to wash your armpits more often. Carry soap with you. It really isn't very difficult.

2. Stick with it. Psychologically it takes a bit of getting used to.

3. While your body adjusts give your pits a break with loose shouldered clothes.

4. Do it now in autumn when you will be sweating less.

5. If you use a herbal alternative always read the label. Be aware that, as a cosmetic, manufacturers are not required to list all ingredients.

Women's Environmental Network, tel: 0171 247 3327 or visit the website: www.gn.apc.org/wen

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