Chemical Profile: Aluminum

Chemical Profile Aluminum MADE SAFE Blog

Why It Matters

Aluminum is a naturally occurring heavy metal most well-known in cosmetics for its use in deodorant and antiperspirants. Although there are gaps in the research on aluminum, it’s considered a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, other neurodegenerative diseases, and breast cancer. Cosmetic products containing aluminum are often used daily, and there are multiple sources of exposure to aluminum in our environment. This means it can accumulate in the human body, potentially increasing the risk of adverse human health effects.

What Is It?

Aluminum is a heavy metal that is naturally occurring and is released into the environment through the weathering of rocks. While aluminum naturally occurs in air, water, and the food we eat, it is also used as a cosmetic ingredient. [1]

More than 25 different aluminum compounds are used in cosmetics, and it is most well-known as a wetness and odor control in deodorant and antiperspirants. Of the different compounds, aluminum chlorohydrate is the most common in cosmetics, particularly antiperspirants. [8]

Chemical Profile Aluminum Infographic MADE SAFE Blog

Where It's Found

Aluminum compounds are found in deodorant, antiperspirants, sunscreens, toothpaste, and lipsticks. They are also used as pesticides, in medicines, and even medical devices.

Ingestion of aluminum can also result from cooking with aluminum utensils or consuming food that’s been packaged in aluminum foil or cans. The exposure of aluminum cookware to heat can result in leaching of aluminum into the food being heated. [2]

The Health Concern

There are major gaps in our understanding of aluminum’s health effects. Scientists do not currently adequately understand how aluminum is absorbed through the skin, and therefore cannot assess the risk aluminum presents through using personal care products. However, given there are multiple sources of exposure to aluminum in our environment, the potential for these confounding factors to increase the risk of adverse human health effects is of significant concern. [2] Additionally, the prevalence of aluminum in various cosmetic products, often used daily, means it can accumulate in the body.

Aluminum collects in the brain and is a well-established neurotoxin, particularly at high doses in occupational settings. [2] [4] [7] It is considered a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, as well as breast cancer. [5] However, the existing body of research connecting aluminum-containing cosmetics to the aforementioned diseases is limited and inconclusive.

The aluminum production process raises environmental concern. Aluminum for use in consumer products is formed in a process called aluminum smelting, by which alumina, refined typically from bauxite ore, is heated and melted. [10] This process is rather energy intensive and compromises air quality by releasing perfluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas, [9] amongst other toxic gases and particulates. [6] [9] Aluminum smelting is a principal source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a known carcinogen, to the environment. [3]

As of 2020, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety considers the levels of aluminum compounds in consumer products to be considered safe for human use. [8] However, because of aluminum’s prevalence and its potential and documented adverse effects, it is generally not allowed for use in MADE SAFE Certified products.

Natural ingredients may be vulnerable to contamination by aluminum naturally occurring in the environment. As part of the 360° Ecosystem Approach Screening, MADE SAFE evaluates all ingredients for potential contamination by metals or other potentially harmful constituents. Example aluminum ingredients not permitted by MADE SAFE include:

  • Aluminum
  • Aluminum acetate
  • Aluminum caprylate
  • Aluminum chloride
  • Aluminum chlorohydrate
  • Aluminum hydroxide
  • Aluminum oxide
  • Aluminum stearate

How to Avoid It

Read labels on products like deodorant, antiperspirants, sunscreens, lipstick, and toothpaste to avoid aluminum ingredients. When reading product labels:

  • Look for and avoid “alumina” or “aluminum” listed on ingredient labels
  • Avoid colorant “lakes,” which are usually expressed as a color and number combination, followed by the word “lake” (e.g., “Red 28 Lake,” “Yellow 6 Lake FD&C”) as these contain aluminum
  • Keep in mind, just because a deodorant may be aluminum-free does not guarantee the rest of its ingredients are safe.

If you must use aluminum-containing products, avoid applying deodorant or antiperspirant to newly shaved skin, as this could potentially increase the absorption of aluminum compounds or other ingredients. [7]

Baking soda is often used in deodorants in place of aluminum to neutralize odors. Be sure to use caution when trying new deodorants, as baking soda can be an irritant to sensitive skin.

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[1] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (ATSDR). (2008). Toxicological profile for aluminum. Centers for Disease Control.

[2] Alasfar, R.H. and Isaifan, R.J. (2021). Aluminum environmental pollution: the silent killer. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 28: 44587-44597. 

[3] Borgulat, J. and Staszewski, T. (2018). Fate of PAHs in the vicinity of aluminum smelter. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 25: 26103-26113.

[4] Crisponi, G., Fanni, D., Gerosa, C., Nemolato, S., Nurchi, V.M., Crespo-Alonso, M., Lachowicz, J.I., and Faa, G. (2013). The meaning of aluminun exposure on human health and aluminum-related diseases. BioMol Concepts. 4(1): 77-87.

[5] Klotz, K., Weistenhöfer, W., Neff, F., Hartwig, A., van Thriel, C., & Drexler, H. (2017). The health effects of aluminum exposure. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 114: 653-659.

[6] Martin, S.C., and Lariviere, C. (2014). Community Health Risk Assessment of Primary Aluminum Smelter Emissions. JOEM. 56(5S): S33-S39.

[7] Sanajou, S., Şahin, G., Baydar, T(2021). Aluminum in cosmetics and personal care products. Journal of Applied Toxicology. 41(11): 1704-1718.

[8] Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS). (2020). Opinion on the safety of aluminum in cosmetic products – submission II. European Union.

[9] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Aluminum Industry. Accessed September 14, 2022.

[10] Wesdock, J.C., and Arnold, I.M.F. (2014). Occupational and Environmental Health in the Aluminum Industry. JOEM. 56(5S): S5-S11.

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