What's the deal with aluminum?
In an early example of online health trends, in the 1990s a chain email (remember those?) decrying the use of antiperspirant went the 90s version viral, showing up in hundreds of thousands of inboxes over the course of several months.
It was the first time that the debate about deodorants, antiperspirants, and, in particular, aluminium content in these products was brought to mass attention. Rather than having resolved itself in the last 25 years, however, aluminum is still a hotly debated topic in the cosmetics world.
And with good reason.
Below, we break it down for you - the allegations leveled at aluminum in antiperspirants, and why we choose to stay away from them here at Nala.
Plugging up your sweat glands (How antiperspirant works)
Antiperspirant was developed at the turn of the 19th century, and relied on straight aluminum chloride mixed with sweat to form a gel that plugged the user’s sweat gland. Unfortunately a significant portion of the population proved mildly allergic to the aluminum chloride, and developed itchy rashes and inflammation in their underarms when using the product.
Time may have passed, but modern antiperspirant relies on the exact same technology - an aluminum chloride compound that’s less allergenic mixes with sweat to form a gel-like substance. This gel literally plugs up your sweat gland, keeping sweat from escaping the body.
Given that sweating is a natural function our body employs to flush our system of toxins, and, alternately, to keep us cool and free from heat stroke, you can appreciate how stopping the process altogether might be cause for concern.
The “body burden” of aluminum
When fish swim in mercury-heavy waters, they bear what scientists have dubbed the “body burden”: they present with elevated levels of mercury in their systems.
The same is true of the aluminum compound found in antiperspirant - regular users have been found to have highly elevated aluminum levels. The effect of aluminum on our systems is still hotly debated, as you’ll discover in our next two points, but it’s been reliably shown to have a negative impact on our kidneys, at a minimum.
Xenoestrogens and Cancer
Now we move into more contested territory, and the basis of “aluminum-gate” from the early 90s: do elevated levels of aluminum in our system cause cancer, breast cancer in particular?
While there still isn’t 100% conclusive scientific proof of the link between the two, more and more research is tending that way because aluminium has been shown to be a xenoestrogen.
Xenoestrogens are substances that mimic estrogen in the body, plug into our estrogen receptors, and encourage our body to start producing new cells where new cells aren’t needed. The impact is seen in the reproductive centres of the body (because estrogen plays a central role in our reproduction), and includes everything from cysts, to full blown tumours.
While these cysts and tumours are not always linked to cancer, the correlation (and research backing the correlation) is growing.
The threat of Alzheimer’s
The other big conversation to do with aluminium relates to brain health - specifically, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating, fatal disease that causes memory loss and dementia in its sufferers. While there’s, again, not solid proof that aluminium contributes to the onset of the disease, those with dementia due to Alzheimer’s have been shown to have increased levels of aluminium in their brains.
So does aluminium cause cancer and Alzheimer’s disease?
The answer is, simply, that we don’t know… yet.
No one can seem to agree whether this ingredient directly causes these conditions, but there’s enough science-based, peer-reviewed research out there for us to know that this metal does end up in our system, and does wreak havoc once there.
And there’s more than enough correlation between these diseases and the metal for us to want to keep it out of daily-use products like deodorant and why Nala and all our products will always be free-from aluminum.