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    Monday
    Mar082010

    Exposing More Truths About Alum

    The subject of aluminum in crystal deodorant stones has sparked a lot of controversy since I published my first article, and it has even started a bit of a Twitter war.  My article was picked up by Dr. Mercola [popular holistic health expert and web guru] and he sent it to his e-mail list of over 200,000 people!  As readers started tweeting the article, one crystal deodorant company got word of it and sent out a barrage of tweets saying that it was "a scare tactic."  They created a special page on their website in response to my article and told people to visit it to find out "the truth." 

    So today I'm delving deeper in to the issue to respond to what they're calling "the truth" and to give you some more information I've uncovered.  For the original article that started it all, click here.  

    After calling my article "misleading and irresponsible," they state that "there are two types of aluminums, processed or naturally occurring."  They go on to describe how the anti-perspirant compounds like aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum zirconium are synthetic and harmful: "Because processed aluminums have a very small molecular structure, the concern is that it will penetrate the skin and can be a potential problem for people who have kidney issues."  They tout the safety of their product, stating that the alums they use in their product are "natural mineral salts and are forms of naturally occurring aluminum" and that they don't pose a risk because "alum molecules are too large to penetrate the surface of the skin."

    So, let's take a look at this. 

    Here's the molecular structure of Aluminum chlorohydrate:

      Molecular Weight: 174.45

    As you can see, it's kind of a ring of chemicals with some arms branching out.  (This benzene-like ring is probably why it can act like estrogen.  For more on benzene rings and estrogen mimickers, visit this article) It has the molecular weight of 174.45 

     

    Okay, now let's look at alum.  When alum (full name, Potassium or Ammonium aluminum sulfate) is in its solid crystal form, the molecules create a crystalline structure.  However, when it is wetted, the molecules break out of their crystalline structure and become ions (singular atoms with a positive or negative charge).  So, when you're applying a wetted crystal to your skin, you're applying aluminum ions, the smallest possible form of aluminum, to your skin.   

    Aluminum in ionic form (as it is when dissolved in water)

    Molecular Weight: 27

    As you can see, the aluminum ion is much smaller than a molecule of Aluminum chlorohydrate.  It only has a molecular weight of 27, whereas Aluminum chlorohydrate is 174.45.  If Aluminum chlorohydrate is small enough to be absorbed, then aluminum ions definitely are.  Aluminum ions are six times smaller than Aluminum chlorohydrate.  And considering that our bodies are made up largely of water, and that alum is so easily dissolved in water, it makes no sense that it wouldn't be absorbed in to your skin cells and your body. 

    They say their product is safe and had a chemistry professor "analyze" their product.  The chemist states: "Ion transport through the skin is rather rare and I would not expect it from the small amount that would rub off on your armpit or fingers while handling it."  But while a chemist gave his opinion on it for them, the product and its absorption was not actually studied.  They say that "there is no research to suggest that alum poses a possible health risk."  But that's because there is absolutely no research about the absorption of alum, whatsoever.  Thus, there is also no research to suggest that alum doesn't pose a possible health risk.

    They talk about how alum is naturally ocurring, but just because it occurrs in nature, doesn't mean it's safe.  And it's not as if their stones are really natural, either.  They're not going in to a cave and digging crystals out of the ground.  Alum doesn't occurr in nature enough to be able to do that.  Their product is being synthesized in a factory or lab, using bauxite ore, a by-product of strip-mining, and sulfuric acid. (See my previous article for more info on the process.)

    I searched the government's database of health studies for everything that I could about alum and aluminum ions, and while there are no direct studies testing the absorption rate of alum, I found some interesting things. 

    In recent years, vaccine powders have been studied as an alternative to injectable vaccines.  They've found that these powder vaccines can be just as effective and viable as an injectable vaccine.  The powder vaccine is made up of three primary ingredients, a natural powder like mannitol, the active antibodies, and, you guessed it, alum.  (Here's one study) In this case, even in its crystalline form, alum proves to be a potent ingredient that helps other ingredients absorb into the skin and become active in the body.  

    So now let's look at aluminum ions, which is really what you're putting on your skin when you use the crystal stones and sprays.   

    Aluminum ions are toxic to plants and animals.  The crystal companies love to say that aluminum is a naturally occurring mineral from the earth, but they don't tell you that naturally-occurring aluminum in soil is problematic.  Plants don't grow in aluminum-rich soils.  Aluminum is abundant, but it plays no part in any biological function in plants or animals  Current research points to the possibility that aluminum robs cells of magnesium (source) a vital mineral, and that's why they won't grow. 

    One of the biggest problems of acid rain is that aluminum leaches (turns from a solid metal to a dissolved, ionic form) into water under acidic conditions.  In streams and bodies of water that have turned acidic, plants and animals die because of the aluminum toxicity from soil leaching. (source)

    If you're trying to avoid aluminum in your life, you've probably decided to not use aluminum pots and pans.  You know that putting acidic food in aluminum causes aluminum leaching in to the food.  When aluminum is leached in to food, it turns from a solid metal, in to ionic form.  This is the same aluminum ion you create when you wet the crystal deodorant stones. When they create alum, it's effectively the same process.  They add sulfuric acid to aluminum-rich bauxite ore.  The aluminum is leached in to ionic form, and then the resulting liquid is dried out and the remaining aluminum salt crystalizes in to the stone that you use for the deodorant.  When you wet the deodorant stone, you're effectively putting aluminum in the most bioavailable form possible on your body's largest organ: your skin.   

    A few facts about alum:

    Alum is commonly used in municipal water supply purification because it helps to remove particulate matter.  However, cities have to carefully filter and monitor levels of aluminum left behind because of its toxicity. 

    Mice who were dosed with alum showed significant losses in memory.  (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10437134

    This Russian study looked at alum to asess its safety in the workplace.  It's classified as a class 3 moderately hazardous material and the study recommended that employers monitor the air quality for the dust from these ingredients and not to let it exceed a half of a milligram per cubic meter.  (Source) MSDS sheets for alum recommend that if it comes in contact to skin, to rinse skin for a minimum of twenty minutes.  Additionally, during transport it's classified as an environmentally hazardous material. 

    People have died from eating as small as 30 grams of alum.  If a shard of the crystal were to break off of your deodorant stone and a child or pet were to accidentally eat it, they would get very ill and could possibly die.  Eating 1/4th of a typical deodorant stone would be the lethal dose for a normal healthy adult. 

    It's your decision:

    In the defense of alum, it's not as "bad" as synthetic aluminums because it doesn't display xenoestrogenic activity like synthetic aluminum compounds have been found to.  And, of course, the risks involved with alum are higher when ingested than when applied to skin.  The link between the bioaccumulation of aluminum and Alzheimer's disease is still being studied and debated.  There is no direct causual connection, although there is some strong circumstantial evidence linking aluminum to the degenerative disease. 

    If it is your lifestyle choice to avoid aluminum, avoiding alum in the crystal deodorant stone would logically be part of that.  There is no proof that it wouldn't be absorbed in through the skin. The amounts being absorbed would be rather small, but we're talking about daily repeated use.  The body has a nearly impossible time getting rid of aluminum, so if it is being absorbed, it is accumulating in the tissues of your body with hardly a chance of escaping.  It is up to you to decide if you want to take that risk.    

    To show that I'm not trying to propagate scare tactics, I offer this to the skeptics: If someone can prove me otherwise with a credible study, I'll be happy to amend my claims and publish your information. 

    Reader Comments (35)

    Stephanie,
    Thank you for standing up for what you think is right. You are right to publish this information so the consumer can make an educated choice. I like to do business with smaller honerable companies and I really appreciate you and yours. Thanks for keeping us informed.

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. B

    It seems like all the research on all things we eat, breath, ingest in our skin, use on our skin and scalps, just leaving your house is harmful like the air we breath,
    So what do we do, it is hard to even exist, so just don't use any deodorant at all, that is the best way around it.

    Look at the air in UTAH somebody really needs to do some research on the bad quality of air the the state of Utah!!

    JRG

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie & all of the public

    Steph, way to do your research. I found the fact that pharmaceutical companies are using alum-based powders as possible drug delivery mechanisms especially compelling. Please keep up the great work keeping us informed and making exceptional products with no bad stuff.

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

    Thank you once again for grounding your claims in research and shedding some light on the manufacturing process behind "crystal" deodorants. Those never worked for me anyway, so now I have even more reason to avoid them.

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa G

    You had me at benzene ring.

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelly

    Stephanie,

    thank you for your research! Keep up your work, we all need it!!!

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterandra

    Excellent research, Stephanie.
    We as consumers thank you for sharing it.
    You might have saved a few lives or put off terrible toxic diseases that destroy all quality of life. At the very least you have informed and educated a lot of us.
    The truth might hurt sometimes but it can always stand on its own.
    I hope these manufacturers use this information to make some good decisions going forward. This is a great opportunity for them in a way.

    Keep up the great work, Stephanie.
    Wishing you much health, wealth, and wisdom.
    :-)

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAJ, Long Island, NY.

    Scientifically sound yet written for all to understand. Many thanks!!

    One of your Canadian supporters(-:

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMacFam

    I've followed both articles with interest, Steph, thank you for publishing them. I've got three deodorants in the house. One is a form of the alum rollon you speak of, one is Axe deodorant, and the third is your Pit Putty. I would really love to use the pit putty exclusively but I've found that if I'm not careful to rub it in quite right, I stink. I've actually had some better luck with traditional deodorants.

    Now, I wonder if it's part climate. I live in one of the coldest regions of the lower 48 states and so things like raw honey remain solid as a rock and the pit putty is quite solid and flaky during the winters. It seems softer in the summer a bit. I've had Pit Putty since the summer of 2009.

    I'm concerned about my health but I also am cognizant that I don't want to offend anyone at work with my...body odor I guess.

    So I'm wondering what to really use. Do I bother using anything at all if I have issue with whatever I use?

    Please don't take this as a knock on the Pit Putty. I've used several sticks of the Coconut Lime lotion stick and I use the unscented lip balms for about a year. I've even used the soaps and like them, though I'm currently experimenting with a dead sea salt soap for my excema. Bubble and Bee is in fact, overall, my favorite natural products company.

    I think I see enough compelling reasons in your article for me to be very wary of the traditional deodorants and even the so-called natural alum sticks but am still not settled on a deodorant that seems to work for my body chemistry and is safe.

    Thank you again for your great article.

    - Charley

    Thu, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharley

    Charley,

    I stopped using deodorant altogether about 10 years ago and here is what I went through initially. There seems to a "detox" period where for about the 1st month I stank to high heaven and had to wash my armpits several time during the day to keep from offending other people. After that 1 month and 1/2, unless I eat really spicy/fragrant food, just my usual shower/bath routine works just fine. If I am at work and find that I am a little fragrant, I use a little coconut/lime moisturizer on my armpits and the essential oils usually take care of any noticeable smell.

    Fri, March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiranda C

    Stephanie,
    Between you and Dr. Mercola, I feel I am armed with the BEST information available.
    I LOVE that you just don't SETTLE with an explanation (because that's the way I am), you want not only proof but it has to make sense. I thank you for your determination so that I can be a well educated consumer making the BEST choice for ME!
    I am so very thankful for all that you do!
    Please keep it coming!

    Fri, March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenee, PA

    Stephanie-I had actually called you after reading your original article, I was so concerned- horrified-terrified; all my adult years-nearly 35- I've avoided aluminum (I thought); yet I've been using the crystals for, oh, I'd say 20 years-they worked awesomely well for me. Eventually-a few years ago-I saw they contained a form of aluminum, but assumed it was ok-I'd never heard any different ...my heart sank at the implications for my life. Yet do I applaud you for going on and doing the time consuming research, and compiling the evidence into an article on this subject. Thank you. I have not tried any of your products yet-it just wasn't in my budget. Now, however, I will gladly buy from you, both because you have some of the best productas around-ingredient wise-and it's the minimum I can do to support your vigilant and thorough and unceasing research into substances and their effects on our bodies. I am hoping chelation will remove aluminum as it removes most minerals from our bodies. I am starting a suppository form ("Detoxamin") containing 750mg EDTA. What have you heard as to the efficacy of this product?

    Fri, March 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDG

    A recipe for home made play dough has alum as an ingredient. It can be purchased at the grocery store in the baking section. Is this the same type of alum? Would this be harmful for children using the dough?

    Sun, March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPreschool Teacher

    Yes, I would find a different recipe. This is the same alum that I'm talking about in the article. If the children ate a large amount of it, they could get very sick from it. In addition to exposing them to trace amounts of ionic aluminum.

    Mon, March 15, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

    Charley--e-mail me at stephanie [ @ ] bubbleandbee.com. I'll be happy to uphold our replacement guarantee for you. It's all about finding the right blend of ingredients for your body chemistry; we have lots of options to choose from; let's get you THE ONE!

    DG-I'm not familiar with Detoxamin. Thanks for all your kind words; let me know how our products work for ya!

    Everyone--thanks so much for all your support! You're awesome!

    Mon, March 15, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

    I use these stones because they really work. I have no interest in deodorants that cover smell, as those don't even work for me. Using essential oils to mask a smell is useless to me. These stones actually prevent the bacterial growth that causes smell.

    You provide a lot of interesting science I'll be looking for confirmation and proof of, but you fail to provide suggestions you use for what instead. Obviously mainstream deo companies don't provide anything remotely looking safe or viable... so what do you recommend or hear as a better option?

    Thanks for the info... no doubt I'll be linking to this in my upcoming review of using the salt stone deos.

    Wed, March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAshley Sue Allen

    My main concern is that they need some serious help with spelling, grammar and punctuation. :) I'm only half-joking. It certainly makes me take a company/person less seriously if they don't know how to communicate properly.

    Signed,
    A Stickler

    Wed, April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKG

    Thanks for sharing your research. Your arguments are stronger than those of the company marketing these antiperspirants.

    I've used a crystal for a number of years now (they last practically forever; I bought one about 5 years ago and it looks like there's enough left to go another 10). I wanted something unscented, and outside of the standard drug store brands, these crystals are the only product that worked for me. I used to find the Tom's of Maine Calendula deodorant effective, but then the formula was changed by adding hops and it stopped working (besides which, I find their deodorants don't last long enough for what they cost).

    I started having my doubts about these crystals a few weeks ago when I learned the difference between a deodorant and an antiperspirant. These alum crystals are definitely antiperspirants, no matter what the manufacturers claim. I don't believe interfering with a natural bodily function like sweating is a good idea. And now I learn from your article that these may not be any safer than the big drug store brands in regards to aluminum.

    Fortunately, I've found a deodorant that is relatively free of garbage that actually works and whose smell I can stomach (Burt's Bees Herbal Deodorant), so I will be ditching the crystal.

    Aubrey Organics have a men's deodorant that is also effective, but the pine smell reminds me of a car deodorant and there's something about it that makes me feel queasy when I put it on.

    I may try to create my own deodorant someday from essential oils, since I haven't been too pleased with anything I've found so far scent-wise.

    Tue, August 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIgor

    Egad!!

    I just finished posting on your Bubble & Bee blog that I would just go ahead and keep using the crystals (the good brand of them at least). But while casually reading this post here I saw two things that freaked me out.

    1. Here you actually list the size and solubility of the Aluminum Ion. Very good stuff to know about. Very convincing and easily verified. Obviously this is a concern.

    2. You mention that aluminum effects the magnesium levels in the body !!! Red Alert!!

    I am currently suffering a magnesium deficiency and the problematic effects thereof. The main problem is that magnesium is needed for the body to properly use vitamin D. When there is insufficient magnesium vitamin D can "backfire" and cause the body to shut down, or lose energy. Sort of a knock out punch. And since vitamin D is such a necessary nutrient that most Americans are deficient in, there are even more side effects.

    Given the role of alum in reducing magnesium I have to avoid even the good crystal.

    Keep up the good work!

    Sun, October 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRonin

    Thanks for stopping by this blog, Ronin! I'm so that that we convinced you to make a change!

    Wed, November 10, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

    FABULOUS research. I wasn't satisfied by other claims against Crystal Deodorant, but this specific post is what did it for me. I GET IT now. THANK YOU for taking the time to post this research in a non-biased way.

    I have emailed this post to Jerry Rosenblatt the CEO and Founder of Crystal in search of a rebuttal. If he doesn't reply, then it's a good sign that he doesn't have the research to back up an alternative perspective.

    I encourage other readers's of this post to also email Jerry, the Founder of Crystal Deodorant, to prompt a response. They are dominating the "natural" deodorant market on misleading claims and need to realize the potential dangers. My guess is that they are buying their own BS and haven't done the research they really need to do.

    His email is jerry@thecrystal.com

    Sat, November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

    FABULOUS research. I wasn't satisfied by other claims against Crystal Deodorant, but this specific post is what did it for me. I GET IT now. THANK YOU for taking the time to post this research in a non-biased way.

    I have emailed this post to Jerry Rosenblatt the CEO and Founder of Crystal in search of a rebuttal. If he doesn't reply, then it's a good sign that he doesn't have the research to back up an alternative perspective.

    I encourage other readers's of this post to also email Jerry, the Founder of Crystal Deodorant, to prompt a response. They are dominating the "natural" deodorant market on misleading claims and need to realize the potential dangers. My guess is that they are buying their own BS and haven't done the research they really need to do.

    His email is jerry@thecrystal.com

    Sat, November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

    Intersting research. I was wondering if anyone has any info on the effects of alum rock on the heart. I get occasional atrial fibrilation and im now wondering if using the rock alum makes me more lekely to get episodes, I use it periodically and its not occured to me beforee reading this article. Any comments re this?
    regards gary

    Fri, June 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergary

    Hi Stephanie, thank you very much for the articles that you have produced. i work for a company who are selling an alum stone deodorant, but through the tests that we have run our ammonium alum does not contain aluminium chlorohydrate but only aluminium oxide, whereas potassium alum conatins much more harmful forms of aluminium. Through the lab results we have had and research we have carried out, this form of aluminium can not be harmful as it is not absorbed by the body in the oxide form, due to the change in the chemical structure when it is in an oxide form, it no longer represents a benzine ring to my knowledge. This is from what i have personally researched and discovered, do you know any more information on aluminium oxide itself?
    Many thanks
    Taylor

    Mon, December 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTaylor

    @Taylor--what forms of aluminum were found in the potassium alum samples tested?

    Ammonium alum is short for ammonium aluminum sulfate. When it becomes wet, this salt breaks down in to its separate ions, and would be then a solution of ammonium ions, aluminum ions, and sulfate ions in water. These aluminum ions are able to displace the water in the collagen within your skin, dehydrating the skin and also entering the skin cells.

    Here is one article about it:
    http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2010/5/13/confirmed-aluminum-in-crystal-deodorants-is-absorbed.html

    And an article about the dangers of aluminum, no matter what form:
    http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2012/9/11/dangers-of-aluminum.html

    Fri, January 4, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

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