The People's Perspective on Medicine

Are All Natural Deodorants Free of Aluminum?

Have you been seduced by the word natural? It seems safer than "synthetic." Some natural deodorants and all antiperspirants contain aluminum salts. So what?
Alum aluminum salt

People love the word “natural.” You’ll find this word on food, beverages, dietary supplements and cosmetics. People have become justifiably concerned about pesticides, fungicides, plasticizers, endocrine disruptors, preservatives and lots of hard-to-pronounce chemicals. Aluminum has also come under scrutiny over the last few decades. It is found in all antiperspirants. Many people would prefer to avoid this mineral, but not all natural deodorants are free of aluminum, as this reader discovered.

Natural Deodorants Are Not Always Aluminum-Free!

Q. I’ve always read labels carefully and avoided antiperspirants with aluminum. However, I thought that natural crystal deodorants containing potassium alum would be safe. After all, I’ve used alum for making pickles.

You have written that alum is actually aluminum. Now I feel terrible that I have not only used crystal deodorant myself, but I have also given it as gifts to my entire family. I wonder how many other people have been fooled.

A. Alum is an aluminum “salt.” One of the most common forms is aluminum potassium sulfate. It is used in water treatment plants to help precipitate floating particles so the water looks clear.

Alum is also used in pickling. Pharmacies sell styptic pencils that contain alum. It can stop the bleeding from a shaving cut. Natural crystal “rock” deodorants often list alum or potassium alum as the primary ingredient. Many people don’t realize that alum contains aluminum.

Antiperspirants MUST Contain Aluminum!

Antiperspirants also contain aluminum salts such as aluminum chlorohydrate. In fact, the FDA requires aluminum salts in all antiperspirants. That’s because such compounds cause swelling of the pores in underarm skin. As a result, the sweat glands are blocked and sweat can’t escape as easily.

Although the FDA considers aluminum salts safe, some scientists disagree. They worry that aluminum salts might act to change the way that hormones act in the body, including in breast tissue (Journal of Molecular Biochemistry, 2018).

The authors of this article introduce their research this way:

“Aluminum [Al] is the most abundant metal and the third most widely used. Humans are exposed to aluminum compounds through diet, antacids, vaccines, and various house hold products. Moreover, application of Al-based antiperspirant to the underarm provides a high and continuous exposure to aluminum of an area located to the near proximity to the human breast…accumulating evidence indicate that the aluminum ion (Al+3) is toxic. Abnormally high levels of aluminum are related to pathological conditions such as dialysis dementia, iron-adequate microcytic anemia, osteomalacia, neurodegenerative diseases, and breast cancer.”

These researcher reported:

“To conclude, our results show that aluminum salts induce a remarkable increase in estrogen receptor protein level possibly via interference with estrogen receptor gene expression or estrogen receptor protein stability. This effect may have consequences in breast physiology, affecting estrogen receptor mediated gene expression via direct or indirect estrogen receptor DNA binding…

“Our findings do not provide conclusive evidence that aluminum is a breast carcinogen. However, the daily exposure to aluminum in connection with its possible role as an endocrine disruptor raises concerns about the safety of its use.”

Unanswered Questions About Aluminum:

How much aluminum is absorbed from aluminum antiperspirants or natural deodorants containing alum? You will find some current research about aluminum absorption through underarms in this article

We need far better research about absorption. Last spring a study sponsored by the FDA discovered that ingredients in sunscreens were absorbed into the body. While it applies to completely different compounds, that finding came as a great surprise to most consumers. 

Are some people more susceptible to aluminum salts than others? This too remains a mystery. Some people tell us that aluminum antiperspirants cause them skin irritation. Others seem immune to this reaction.

Is aluminum a neurotoxin? The answer is yes, but does enough get into the brain to cause problems? This remains controversial.

What Else Can You Do?

We admit to a conflict of interest. Several years ago we developed an aluminum-free deodorant with magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia or MoM) as its active ingredient. One reader wondered about its safety too:

Terry writes:

“I do wonder about alternatives (such as milk of magnesia). If there are questions about the safety of aluminum, what about the safety of magnesium? Can one metal be substituted for the other without substituting a similar harm?”

Here is my answer to Terry:

There is a huge difference between aluminum and magnesium. Your body does not need aluminum to function. This mineral provides no biological function.

You could not survive without magnesium. It is absolutely essential for your body and many people are low in this electrolyte.

Here is what Medline Plus (from the U.S. National Library of Medicine) has to say about magnesium

“Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heartbeat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps adjust blood glucose levels. It aids in the production of energy and protein.”

Should you wish to learn more about magnesium-based deodorants, here is a link to several different options.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Aluminum-Free MoM (Milk of Magnesia) Roll-on Deodorant

We have heard from many readers that MoM (milk of magnesia) makes a terrific deodorant that does not irritate the skin. Our unscented aluminum free roll-on is effective, gentle, and contains no aluminum whatsoever.

Aluminum-Free MoM (Milk of Magnesia) Roll-on Deodorant
  • Gorgogietas, V.A., et al, "Potential interference of aluminum chlorohydrate with estrogen receptor signaling in breast cancer cells," Journal of Molecular Biochemistry, Aug. 24, 2018, PMCID: PMC6108589
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My husband and I have been using Milk of Magnesia for our underarm deodorant for several years. It is wonderful: effective and easy to use. Some people say it is “messy.” I don’t think that is a problem at all. I pour it into a small jar with a good tight lid. It gradually thickens and I have to put a few drops of water in it to thin it down again, but it requires no other maintenance. Apply it over the bathroom sink and rinse your fingers –not a messy burden at all. To me it is wonderful not to be taking chances with my health by applying aluminum. The magnesium may even be healthful. My brother’s doctor prescribed a magnesium gel for the bottom of his feet because he needed more magnesium in his body.
The best part of all: I buy my Milk of Magnesia at a dollar store for $1.00! It is more effective than any other deodorant!

So I was using what I thought was a good safe alternative, crystal deodorant. The way the product is described make it seem like it is safe since it specially states it has no Aluminum Chlorhydrate.

Amazon describes it as safe with this explanation (I removed the product name, but the rest was a complete copy/paste, misspellings and all, of their description): 100% Natural Hypoallergenic Eliminates Odor Unscented Non-staining 24 hr Protection Also works great for foot odor!Contains no Aluminum Chlorhydrate … is made from crystallized natural mineral salts which kill odor causing bacteria. …contain no harmful chemicals, oils, perfumes, or emulsifiers. It’s just pure and natural. …made from naturally occuring bauxite ore. They are minded and refined into pure alum crystals. Alum is a natural compound found in nature. It is present in the water we drink, in the foods we eat, and the air we breathe. Alum is the third most abundant element on earth, after oxygen and silicon. Our deodorant crystals contain large alum molecules that cannot be absorbed into the body or blood stream. The alum in the crystals is in a salt form and is not in the metallic form. These products have no forms of aluminum that can clog pores or be absorbed in the body. Our deodorant works naturally by killing the bacteria on the skin. Our deodorants work in harmony with your own body chemistry and impede the growth of bacteria by altering the pH level of the skin and forming an environment that stops bacteria in its track. Our deodorants are guaranteed to be free of synthetic oils (these stain your clothing), alcohol (which can burn and irritate your skin), emulsifiers and solvents (which clog pores), synthetic perfumes (which can cause severe allergic reaction) and propellants (which can harm the ozone layer).

Sure makes it sound like this deodorant does NOT contain ANYTHING harmful. So my question, Joe, is bauxite ore creating a safer alternative??

Bauxite is a natural source of aluminum.

Most of the time I use nothing. Soap and water seem to work fine. But then there are times when I seem to perspire more, and I notice that the real problem with smell can be from the fabric I’m wearing. And, I actually tend to perspire under my arms when I’m chilled. I have been occasionally using the crystal deodorant that says it’s aluminum free, but I believe it contains alum, and it doesn’t make me itch. Funny, that was one of the reasons I quit using antiperspirants was itching. Then I discovered I rarely needed anything. I guess I’m going to try something else now.

I only use my homemade deodorant. All natural: 1/4 cup Coconut oil, 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup cornstarch. Mix all thoroughly. Add essential 15 drops if desired. Do not melt the coconut oil, use hardened. Put in lidded container. Use as deodorant. Works exceptionally well!

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