The People's Perspective on Medicine

Are Natural Alum Crystal Deodorants Safe?

Crystal deodorants may be natural, but that doesn't mean they are aluminum free. Questions persist about the safety of using aluminum based antiperspirants.

Americans hate body odor. That is why we embrace antiperspirants and deodorants with such enthusiasm. You can’t blame us. Anyone who has traveled abroad has probably experienced some pretty strong smells from people traveling on public transportation.

Many people are leery of the aluminum found in antiperspirants. That’s why they have gravitated towards natural crystal deodorants. When people see the word “natural” they automatically assume it must be safe. And yet many natural products are not necessarily harmless. This reader wants to know about alum.

How Safe Is Alum in Underarms?

Q. Would you please comment on the safety of alum as a deodorant? I think it is the ingredient in many “Crystal” antiperspirant products.

A. We have heard from lots of readers that they gave up aluminum-based antiperspirants because of a fear of either Alzheimer’s disease or cancer. Here are just a couple of examples:

“The women in our family have been using crystal roll-on for some time, as we’ve been avoiding aluminum and parabens for years and we find that it works well.”

and

“For more than 10 years I’ve used deodorant-only products, because someone warned of a cancer risk. It’s a bit hard to find, but I found a crystal roll-on product that is fragrance, paraben and aluminum chlorohydrate free. Seems to work well. If I hadn’t just bought a new bottle, I’d try the Graedons’ Milk of Magnesia roll-on deodorant.”

and

“Have started using crystal roll on deodorant which is paraben free and is a natural product. It is made from mineral salts and is also hypoallergenic and safe for the environment.”

What’s in Natural Crystal Deodorants?

Crystal deodorant sounds like the ideal solution for avoiding aluminum in an antiperspirant. There is one problem, however. Many of the manufacturers of such products are very cagey about the ingredients in their “natural” crystal deodorant products. There is no doubt that such products are natural, since aluminum is a mineral found in nature. You will sometimes see the word “alum” or potassium alum as the main ingredient.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines alum as:

“a potassium aluminum sulfate KAl(SO4)2·12H2O or an ammonium aluminum sulfate NH4Al(SO4)2·12H2O used especially as an emetic [causes vomiting] and as an astringent and styptic [to prevent bleeding].”

Alum has been used for a very long time in reservoirs to clarify water. That is, it helps suspended particles settle to the bottom so they can be removed. It has also been used as a remedy for canker sores and in a styptic pencil to stop bleeding after shaving. That said, there is no doubt that alum contains aluminum, often hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate (potassium alum). Anyone who thinks that using a natural crystal deodorant eliminates aluminum is kidding herself.

How Concerned Should We Be About Aluminum?

Is the aluminum in natural crystal deodorants dangerous? That is a question that remains unanswered. How much aluminum is absorbed from delicate underarm tissue? No one has a good answer. That in itself is astonishing, since tens of millions of people use products with aluminum every day. They do this for decades. If aluminum is absorbed, does it pose any health risk?

Aluminum and the Breast:

An article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Oct 16, 2002) concluded that there was no connection between use of antiperspirants and the risk of breast cancer.

More recently, though, a study suggests that aluminum compounds can change the way breast cells divide, even at low concentrations (Journal of Applied Toxicology, online, Jan. 6, 2012).

The authors of this research conclude:

“Our observations do not formally identify aluminium [British spelling for aluminum] as a breast carcinogen, but challenge the safety ascribed to its widespread use in underarm cosmetics.”

There is also research to suggest that aluminum concentrates in breast tissue, possibly from exposure to aluminum-containing antiperspirants (Journal of Applied Toxicology, April, 2011).

A study in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry (Nov. 2011) points out that:

“The human breast is exposed to aluminium from many sources including diet and personal care products, but dermal [skin] application of aluminium-based antiperspirant salts provides a local long-term source of exposure.”

These researchers note that nipple aspirate fluids have been shown to contain aluminum at higher levels in breast cancer patients than from healthy control subjects “providing evidence of raised aluminium levels in the breast microenvironment when cancer is present.”

A thoughtful review of this entire topic was published in Best Practice & Research. Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism by a British oncology professor.

Some of the comments include:

“Several components of cosmetics have genotoxic properties, including the aluminium salts..”

“Dermal absorption of topically applied antiperspirant aluminium salts has been demonstrated through intact mouse skin and and the skin of the human underarm. Aluminium in the form of aluminium chloride or aluminium chlorhydrate has been shown capable of interfering with the function of oestrogen receptors of human breast cancer cells both in terms of ligand binding and oestrogen-regulated gene expression.”

That is, these compounds may act as hormone disruptors.

Aluminum and the Brain:

It comes as a surprise to most health professionals to learn that basic researchers have categorized aluminum as a neurotoxin. An article in Food and Chemical Toxicology (Sept. 2017) notes:

Neurotoxicity of Al [aluminum] is well established and linked to oxidative damage and neurodegeneration.”

Aluminum appears to cause oxidative stress in the brain. It does this in part by increasing inflammatory cytokines. These proteins are crucial cellular messengers that can lead to inflammation. Some neuroscientists now believe that Alzheimer’s disease is largely an inflammatory disease and that aluminum may play a role in its etiology.

An article in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease (July 27, 2017) notes:

“Intriguingly, chronic or cumulative exposure to aluminium reflected by increased levels in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and serum may be one environmental factor in the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of MS [multiple sclerosis], Parkinson’s disease (PD) and AD [Alzheimer’s disease]. There is a wealth of research examining the potential association between increased exposure to environmental aluminium and the development of the last of these illnesses. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis involving eight cohort- and case-controlled studies conducted prior to 2015 involving 10,567 participants concluded that increased aluminium exposure increased the risk of developing AD by some 71%.”

The authors conclude:

“Aluminium has no known beneficial physiological action in the human body and some genetic polymorphisms predispose to a greater susceptibility to its adverse effects. Therefore, a strong case can be made for avoiding unnecessary exposure to environmental sources of aluminium salts, especially on the part of children, pregnant mothers and women of child- bearing age who may become pregnant. Such avoidance need not lead to hardship or inconvenience; aluminium cookware may be replaced by safer alternatives, while aluminium- containing antiperspirants, potentially implicated in the rise of cases of breast cancer particularly affecting the upper outer quadrant of the mammary gland, may be replaced by non- aluminium versions.”

Are There Alternatives to Aluminum?

It will probably take many more years to resolve the controversy about any relationship between aluminum and breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. In the meantime, people who seek to avoid aluminum in their armpits will probably want to look beyond crystal-type natural deodorants. Many people find that milk of magnesia (MoM) applied to the underarm helps against odor, so that may be an attractive alternative. There is more information about this here.

Revised: 4/26/18

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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.” .
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Thank you, Patty. Wish I had a next door testing lab.

In the mid 80s I learned about the dangers of aluminum–especially in deodorants. People thought I was crazed and just on my soapbox again.
I think [I KNOW NOW] I have been ‘duped’ into thinking the crystal ‘rock’ or Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal spray was safe. What did I think when I read the ingredient of ‘potassium alum’? I thought it was the alum used for pickling, a food source. And safe–but it is actually aluminum….. It does say NO aluminum chlorohydrate. Causing me to believe safe. Which spell check says is even incorrect spelling?—chloralhydrate? Oh yikes, missed this article and have not only been using for years but using in stocking stuffers for the entire family.
I am so grateful for this information. [along with so much more you do to inform us]

PS-back in the 80s I read all ingredients. Found Old Spice Lime was aluminum free but no longer able to find. One thing I learned back then was: there were men’s deodorants aluminum free but could not find any women’s.

With all the conflicting information, I think I am doomed to stink.

A few people I know, in a group interested in using natural methods, kept insisting that the “crystal deodorant” they bought at their local health food store was deemed safe because it “didn’t have aluminum” in it. I had done a bit of research and was pretty sure they were wrong. I bought a crystal and took it to an enviromental testing lab next door to my business and had them test for aluminum. The crystal was over 70% aluminum. As I remember, one is supposed to wet the crystal and rub it in the armpit area. At the time, aluminum exposure was thought to be a cause for Alzheimer’s Disease. I shared my test results with the group via email and a few had a difficult time reconciling themselves to the test.

I found within the group, the idea had also been spread verbally as well that “Chinese Chalk” was a safe way to repel and kill insects. For those who don’t know, Chinese Chalk are chalk sticks that come in a small red box and contain insecticide. A couple, belonging to the group, was renting a room from me, and had gone around my home, without permission, and drawn a line of the chalk in many places to kill gnats. We had a few in the house, but no infestation. I had planned to use a boric acid bait, but they apparently were impatient to wait for it to work.

I did a bit of research and found that though the chalk was banned by the EPA in the U.S., it was imported to dollar stores in large shipping containers in mixed loads of goods and had been escaping detection by port inspectors. It was cheap and worked, but contained toxic chemicals that are so dangerous, they are banned in the USA. The boarder was quite put out when I asked them to use an ammonia-based cleaner and paper towels and to clean every spot where they’d used it. The woman refused to believe it was toxic to people, simply because she listened to a rumor that it was safe.

I think everyone needs to verify so called “facts” they hear from others on any product they are considering using. One must use a reliable source that can be trusted, since many people read something on the internet that “sounds good,” and reprint it verbatim on their own site. Some readers readily consider something truthful when they find the same data repeated elsewhere.

In an effort to avoid the aluminum I switched to plain old MofM. I developed a rash from using that. I have since switched to Tom’s of Maine. They have a product specifically labeled as Aluminum free. Seems to work fine. A bit on the sticky side for just a few moments but I’ve gotten used to it. They even sell it at my local BJ’s, so I don’t have to hunt for it.

I thought it was titanium in deodorants that was the greatest harmer?

I am a chemist. Although I usually use a conventional deodorant that contains the usual Aluminum compound, I am leery of it. My guess is that the Aluminum in this case is not absorbed much into the body because it is in a water-insoluble form…but who knows, I have not seen any studies on that (they may exist, however). I would not use a salt block containing alum, potassium alum, etc. I am concerned that this would easily be absorbed into the body. The reason for my concern is Alzheimers. It is well-established that Al is found in alzheimers lesions in the brain. I met a researcher who confirmed that the scientific community still believes this.

However, heavy metals as a group might be a problem. Please note that many “non-Aluminum containing” deodorants may contain a closely related compound that uses Zinc instead of Aluminum as a key aspect. This compound is very good at combating smells, however, it is possible (but maybe not likely) that zinc could be absorbed into the body. So there is some caution here. If you have this kind of concern, I would look for something that doesn’t contain aluminum or zinc.

I stopped using commercial antiperspirant several years ago. Lemon juice is perfect.

Is arm & hammer essentials deodorant safe. It says no aluminum or parabens?

I make my own deodorant, using shea butter, coconut oil, baking soda (the real odor-absorbing ingredient), and lavender oil. There are many recipes on line.

Lavender oil is a hormone disruptor. It is fairly safe to smell. Not safe to put on your skin.

I was using the crystal deodorant but was not getting the best oder control that I had wished for, then I started using colloidal silver first with my crystal deodorant. It has worked very well for me. I have even learned that relatives use nothing but CS as a deodorant and it has worked extremely well for them. That will be my next step in going more natural, using only CS.

If you reduce animal products consumption and start eating whole food plant based diet with an exclusion of processed and toxic junk, then your odour is almost non-existent and you will be as healthy as you can be too ;-)

I can live without beef, pork, poultry. I cannot survive without occasional sweet treats.

I think the best deodorant is bicarbonate of soda.

My deodorant uses witch hazel. It works really well for me but my sister said it was way too drying. I also found that after a 3 months of not using antiperspirant deodorants I naturally started sweating less

Magnesium oil (not reaaly an oil, so it doesn’t stain clothing) works great as well. It can sting a little so don’t apply it to freshly shaved pits. It comes in a spray bottle and I buy it at a health foods store. Spray 1 or 2 times per side and rub it in. It does not control perspiration, just odor.

Lemon juice works really well, and even works for two days!

Over 20 years ago, I paid to have one of these crystals tested for aluminum at a government-certified scientific testing facility next to my office just to find the truth. The crystal, purchased at a local health food store, and labeled as healthy was approx 47% aluminum. I was so glad I decided to test before considering its use! The amount was astonishing, as I’d had many people online and in person tell me that they contained no aluminum. Anytime I meet someone who is using them, I tell them my test results.

Recently I started keeping a little spray bottle of vinegar water in the bathroom cabinet to use on the sink to break up the film from toothpaste and soap. Much easier & cheaper than commercial products. Tried it underarm and found the smell was gone. Glad to know that the idea is to kill the bacteria.

After developing a severe skin allergy from virtually all antiperspirant-type deodorants, both scented and unscented, I tried Peoples Pharmacy MOM. It is a great deodorant. However, I live near the Gulf of Mexico where it’s hot and humid much of the year. Just a few minutes spent out-of-doors means my clothes are wet with underarm perspiration. This is NOT socially or aesthetically acceptable! It would be wonderful if someone would develop an antiperspirant/deodorant combination that is less likely to produce an allergic reaction…and that WORKS!

I always wear a light cotton t-shirt under my normal shirt, so that any sweat is absorbed into the t-shirt and doesn’t show.

Also you can check for your specific products here:
http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

PLEASE SHARE THAT LINK!! You can search nearly any health products! For example my Crystal deodorant rates a 1 (safe) :
http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/product/600735/Naturally_Fresh_Crystal_Deodorant_with_Aloe_Vera/

Compare that to something bad rating of 4:
http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/product/469873/Irish_Spring_Antiperspirant_%26_Deodorant%2C_Icy_Blast_%282012_formulation%29/

Your “Crystal” deodorant may be rated safe by that company but it is composed of mainly aluminum; just what people here are trying to avoid.

What about TOM’S OF MAINE?? They also have aluminum free deodorants (scented and unscented). I Have used theirs for years and am satisfied. Why MOM’S even rhymes with TOM’s!!! They both must be great products!!!

Why milk of magnesia? Just mix coconut oil with baking soda. And add some arrow root powder. and then some sage oil. Perfect deodorant! Cheap, and you can mix other etheric oils for different different fragrances

“there is no doubt that alum contains aluminum, often hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate (potassium alum). Anyone who thinks that using a natural crystal deodorant eliminates aluminum is kidding herself”

What I can’t figure is why brands list Aluminum Free on deodorant that clearly contain Aluminum. It’s not being honest in product labeling. As far as I can research Mineral salts contain Alum and Alum has Aluminum in it. It’s not just the Crystal either, dozens of other brands mislabel too. Use of Potassium alum. is to inhibit bacterial growth and it’s cheap.

Because it is totally different. Just because something contains a chemical does not make it that chemical or even give it the same dangers or properties. Hydrogen is super flammable, dangerous and can kill you. Dihydrogen monoxide, 2 hydrogens to one oxygen, is required for life. It is water. Lol.

Lots of healthy compounds contain chemicals that could otherwise be considered dangerous when isolated or in a different combo.

I use Milk o Magnesia occasionally. But the biggest factor for not having bo in my armpits seems to be using castille soap. I shower with some and I don’t have to use deo. If I try regular soap, (animal based?) then I quickly smell if I don’t use deo… Coconut is antibacterial so maybe that’s why Kirk’s works so well…

Do you drink it or apply it??
People’s Pharmacy response: You apply it to the underarm.

In my experience, the most safe and convenient way is to order it from the People’s Pharmacy https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/store/body-care/aluminum-free-mom-milk-of-magnesia-roll-on-deodorant/.

hi i am actually using the crystal deodorants thinking it is safe. My chemistry knowledge is very poor. I wish to know more about that magnesium thing and where to buy it. Thank you

One way to apply milk of magnesia is with a cotton ball. The brand name I used was Phillips Milk of Magnesia. I don’t know if the kind I used contained saccharin sodium, because I switched to the People’s Pharmacy MoM after reading in another People’s Pharmacy article (https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2012/07/26/are-crystal-alum-antiperspirants-safe/) that “most of the milk of magnesia that you buy over the counter contains bleach (sodium hypochlorite) as a preservative”.
I tried opening the People’s Pharmacy MoM roll on and putting it into my spray bottle. It clogged badly and sprayed so widely that it often landed on unwanted areas near my underarms. Then I started using the roll on applicator and was able to target the underarm area much better.
I went through a stressful time, and found that the People’s Pharmacy MoM was not working as well for me as it originally had. I theorized that the odor-causing bacteria had become resistant to MoM or that the absence of the sodium hypolchorite (bleach) may the deodorant less effective. This seems plausible since bleach kills bacteria.
Now I alternate the People’s Pharmacy roll-on MoM with a deodorant purchased at my local health food store which contains ethanol, purified water, and lavender oil. This combination is currently working satisfactorily for me.

Hi,
I am also sick of aluminium and now finding out aluminium is in crystal deodorants too I’ve bought the milk of magnesia from USA and am about to start using it (I’m in the UK)! It’s just a bottle so how do I use it if I don’t have a sprayer yet do I just put some under my arm?
Also I’ve noticed the blue bottle fresh mint, has saccharin sodium and I’m not happy about this ingredients so where did you get your brand name one from what do I type into google to get the brand name one to come up please?
Should have ordered the original?
I’m excited to see if this actually ensures I don’t smell so I’m trying the mint one and if it works I then must get the original or it defeats the purpose of staying away from aluminium if using saccharin sodium as salt isn’t great for the body in too high doses and also this is another toxin potentially so want to be sure what we put under arms is all chemical free!
Looking forward to your answers and I’ll let you know if the mint one at least stops any smell and then if it does work on a chemical free one!
Cheers.

I like a using a spray type deodorant, so I bought milk of magnesia and put it in a tabletop mister with a clog free filter. I shake before spraying and it works like a charm! I bought brand name milk of magnesia because I noticed that generic brand contained additives I did not want. I ordered the mister online.

I’m glad I read this post! Thank you. For many years I’ve used the crystal deodorants, believing they were safer than the usual deodorants, in particular that they were free of aluminum. The first brand of crystal deodorant I bought listed the ingredient “mineral salts” on the label (that’s all). Of course, my knowledge of chemistry is poor, so that sounded OK to me.
Now I’ve thrown out what I had and bought the milk of magnesia roll-ons from People’s Pharmacy. I only wish I’d known how deceptive the crystal businesses were–all the money I’ve spent over the years for something that turned out to be false…

Switched to MOM a few years ago and love it. No more odor! You have to get used to the damp feeling but for odor it works better than any commercial deodorant I tried. I buy the generic brand in the big bottle. It does not stain clothing either.

I recently ordered some milk of magnesia (Gradens) deodorant; it was almost $10 with shipping. I think the roller was stuck because it took quite sometime to get any to come out.
It definitely does not work as well as the milk of magnesia from the bottle. You can get it from CVS or Walgreens for less than $2. It definitely does work better than Secret or one of the other brands off the shelf.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:
We are very disappointed you had trouble with our MoM deodorant. Here is a possible fix:
Defective Roll-On roller
So sorry you had this problem. Would you please try this procedure:
1. Shake well.
2. Hold container vertically under hot running water.
3. While holding under the running water rotate the ball clockwise several turns with the thumb and forefinger.
4. When ball is rotating clockwise freely under running water rotate ball ended over end, i.e., like one typically does when applying to underarm.
We think that will solve the problem, but if it does not, please let us know if you prefer a replacement or a refund.

Mine says “No Aluminum Chlorohydrate” while the ingredients state the presence of Potassium Alum. What gives?
Which is which, or are they both potentially dangerous?
People’s Pharmacy response: Both compounds contain aluminum, but they are different compounds.
We don’t yet know for certain how dangerous aluminum may be, but many people prefer to avoid it on the precautionary principle.

Crystal deodorants never worked for me.
Milk of magnesia (for me, anyway) only works on odor, but does not control perspiration.
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:
You are quite right that milk of magnesia is not an antiperspirant. Many people believe it does help control odor through a mechanism that has not been identified.
The FDA distinguishes between antiperspirants (classified as drugs) and deodorants, which are more cosmetic in nature. To advertise a product as an antiperspirant it generally has to have aluminum in one form or another. Aluminum chlorohydrate is a very common ingredient that the FDA approves of because it does help reduce perspiration.

The best deodorant I have found anywhere is simply lemon juice. I’m surprised I’ve never seen this mentioned.

I think lemon juice must be good. Read in an old Swedish book saying that removing sweat stains should can be done by first applying a solution of ammonia, rinsing, then 5 percent acetic acid solution (vinegar), finally rinsing.
I think the acidic condition will keep the natural bacteria in our armpits happy, and the smell producing bacteria under control.
When I had to give up inefficient deodorants, I tried vinegar, and it worked. But lemon juice feels and smells better.

My Thai Crystal Deodorant Mist says “Aluminum Free” right on the bottle. Can I trust it?

There are many products from overseas that claim to be healthy but are not what they seem to be. One of the worst is “Chinese Chalk”, sticks of chalk with strong pesticides imbued into them, plus dye on the outside of the red boxes usally contains lead. They are imported by some of the discount dollar stores in huge shipping containers of many inexpensive products. The statements “safe for children, pets, etc. are blatantly false, but the EPA cannot police every item that is imported.

Many herbal supplements source from China are found to contain common shrubs, not the herb they claim to contain.

Remarks-Chemistry formula should kSo4& AlSo4 or di Salfate. Both salt are mono. K & Al can’t exists together without di sulfate.

They might be safe but they sure don’t work. (for me anyway). I had to stay away from people the one day I used it, and apologize and explain why I walked away from them. I told them I had “deodorant failure’ and suggested they never bother to try it.

I tell you, the milk of magnesia Graden deodorant really works, no kidding.
I have never smelled either of them! ha ha.
Really, it works and is pleasant to use.

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