Alum is an ingredient that features highly in all of our current range of natural deodorants. Alum has been used for many years, in the Far and Middle East, as a deodorant, astringent and basic antiperspirant. It is also used on cuts after shaving because of its styptic properties (stops bleeding and closes pores).
Alum is used in our deodorants for its antibacterial properties, which helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria on the skin. It is the bacteria which causes the bad smell. Some people find it also performs a basic antiperspirant function, but others don’t and so we class it purely as a deodorant.
The truth about alum and aluminium
Many people get confused about Alum because the press talk about Aluminium being bad for us. Aluminium is the third most abundant element on the planet and we ingest it in large proportions every day in water and food. In fact, in some parts, its presence in water is the only thing that allows it to be drunk without harm. It is not particularly good for living organisms in the body so over eons we have evolved a particularly efficient and effective system for allowing naturally occurring Aluminium and its salt derivatives to pass through the body without effect.
However it is specific types of manmade Aluminium that have the health scares associated with them. Aluminium Chlorohydrate is a synthetic ingredient of antiperspirants/deodorants, designed to be absorbed into and to block the pores under the arms, to prevent perspiration. There have been some claims that there may be a connection between breast cancer and Aluminium Chlorohydrate but no real concrete evidence. For reference to some studies on deodorants and breast cancer see end of article.
The safe and effective natural deodorant
Alum has a long history of safe use as a deodorant ingredient and is a traditional alternative to many modern deodorants. Our natural crystal deodorant stones are made from just a solid moulded lump of crystallised alum, which is a naturally mined mineral salt.
The key differences between alum and aluminium chlorohydrate
The Alum we use in our deodorants occurs naturally, Aluminium Chlorohydrate is a synthetically made product.
The advantages of sweating
Sweating is a physiological effect, which is why antiperspirants are covered by the OTC monographs in the USA and are quasi-drugs in Japan. Unfortunately in UK legislation there is no difference made between deodorants and antiperspirant. We think that blocking the skins pores completely is not advisable and that the physiological action of the skin should be left intact as far as possible. Alums low degree of antiperspirant action means that your skins pores are not blocked completely, yet its high degree of antibacterial action mean that it acts as an effective deodorant and only partial antiperspirant.
Deodorant and antiperspirants - a very real difference
Aluminium Chlorohydrate is an active antiperspirant ingredient, which offers a high degree antiperspirancy and low degree of deodorant function. It is used in many over the counter and prescription antiperspirant products. Alum has low degree of antiperspirancy and functions more as a deodorant than an antiperspirant. See below for more information on how Aluminium Chlorohydrate works.
How aluminium chlorohydrate works
It is thought to work when aluminium ions are taken into the cells that line the eccrine-gland ducts at the opening of the epidermis in the top layer of the skin. As aluminium ions are drawn into the cells, there is water that passes in with them and causes the cells begin to swell and squeeze the ducts closed so that sweat cannot get out. There is a limit to the amount of water that each cell can accept and the cells reach a balance. Sweating stops until slowly the water escapes and the cellular swelling decreases and then the sweating process will resume. The process is dependent on the number of aluminium ions applied. The supposition that Aluminium Chlorhydrate blocks the pores is substantiated in the Merck Manual online “Aluminum chloride hexahydrate in a 6 to 20% solution in absolute ethyl alcohol is indicated for topical treatment of axillary, palmar, and plantar sweating; these preparations require a prescription. The solution blocks sweat ducts and is most effective when applied nightly and covered tightly with a thin polyvinylidene or polyethylene film; it should be washed off in the morning.” Reiber et al. 1995 also suggest that Aluminium chlorhydrate salt, is thought to form an obstructive plug of aluminium hydroxide within the sweat duct.
There possibility that Aluminium in antiperspirants can be absorbed through the skin has been suggested (Graves et al. 1990), but this hypothesis has not been clinically confirmed.
Studies on Breast cancer and Antiperspirants/deodorants - taken from the National Cancer Institute website at www.cancer.gov
- Jones J. Can rumors cause cancer? Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2000; 92(18):1469–1471.
- Darbre PD. Underarm cosmetics and breast cancer. Journal of Applied Toxicology 2003; 23(2):89–95.
- Darbre PD. Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer. Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 2005; 99(9):1912–1919.
- Harvey PW, Everett DJ. Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology 2004; 24(1):1–4.
- Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, et al. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology 2004; 24(1):5–13.
- Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002; 94(20):1578–1580.
- McGrath KG. An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. European Journal of Cancer 2003; 12(6):479–485.
- Fakri S, Al-Azzawi A, Al-Tawil N. Antiperspirant use as a risk factor for breast cancer in Iraq. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal 2006; 12(3-4):478–482.
Thank you for reading our article about Alum.