It was a Sunday afternoon and I found myself clipping coupons from the Sunday paper. As I milled through the stack of advertisements, I came across a coupon for a Tom’s of Maine antiperspirant. I am a big fan of Tom’s of Maine deodorant. As a brand, I feel like I can trust any one of their products I pick up off the shelf.
For my own personal reasons, I chose not to use a product that contains aluminum. When I came across the antiperspirant AD, my first thought was they found a plant that will prevent you from sweating. I was intrigued. That afternoon, I drove over to a local pharmacy and there it was, sitting next to the deodorants. I removed it from the shelf, turned over the product and staring at me was the word “aluminum.”
It didn’t seem right to me — a company who portrays themselves as natural would offer a product with aluminum. I don’t mean to pick on Tom’s of Maine; I am still a consumer of theirs. But I have learned over recent years that you can never trust a label. You must read the ingredients every time you purchase the product, because they may change.
How did aluminum get in there?
Susan Dewhirst, the public relations and goodness manager for Tom’s of Maine, said they used to carry an anti-perspirant in a roll-on form.
“When we discontinued the anti-perspirant roll-on we really made some of our consumers unhappy. We were very happy to make a stick that met all of our stewardship models,” Dewhirst said.
In the U.S., cosmetics are regulated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. However, not all personal-care products are regulated as cosmetics under this law. Products intended to cleanse the body or promote attractiveness are regulated as cosmetics. If, however, they are intended to affect the structure or function of the body or if their intended use is for a therapeutic purpose, they are regulated as drugs.
According to the FDA, deodorants, which are intended to mask body odor or impart a more pleasant aroma to the body, are regulated as cosmetics. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to premarket approval by FDA, with the exception of color additives and several ingredients restricted or prohibited by regulation. With those exceptions, cosmetic firms may use any ingredient, provided it is safe under labeled or customary conditions of use.
Aluminum-containing ingredients are used in cosmetic products registered with the FDA’s Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program for various functional purposes in cosmetic formulations, such as anti-caking agents and to improve formulation stability; they are sometimes also used as cosmetic astringent or deodorant ingredients.
Is aluminum bad
Since the 1960s there have been numerous studies linking aluminum with Alzheimer’s disease. The studies found that there were high levels of aluminum found in the brain of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Though, the aluminum itself could not be found as the cause of Alzheimer’s.
“Connections to Alzheimer’s have been around for a number of years. Nothing has been definitive,” said Pam Scheeler, stewardship manager for Tom’s of Maine. “Aluminum is widely prevalent. Any individual is being exposed to aluminum from a variety of different routes from the foods that you eat, potentially the cookware used to prepare those foods, as well as personal care products, as well as other products you encounter in your day-to-day activities.”
Some products that contain aluminum:
n many body lotions and creams,
n most cosmetics,
n shampoos and conditioners,
n suntan lotions, and
n lip balm.
The FDA says it does not have sound scientific information indicating that aluminum compounds, as used in cosmetics, present a health risk to consumers. The FDA has not prohibited or restricted the use of aluminum compounds in cosmetics. Additionally, several aluminum compounds have undergone safety assessment by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review and were found safe, as currently used in cosmetics. The CIR is an industry funded panel of medical, toxicological and chemistry experts that meets quarterly to conduct safety assessments of cosmetic ingredients. The FDA participates in the CIR on a non-voting liaison basis and may or may not agree with CIR assessments.
Antiperspirants are regulated as over-the counter drugs because of their effect on the function of the sweat glands. Products intended both as deodorants and antiperspirants must meet the requirements for both cosmetics and drugs.
The FDA says aluminum chlorohydrate and other similar “active pharmaceutical ingredients” are most commonly intended for use as antiperspirant “active ingredients” and thus are subject to regulation under the applicable OTC Drug Monograph for Human Use.
“Almost any material can be purified and presented in different grades. If you are putting it into an over-the-counter drug product it is the highest purity of the material available. The United States Pharmacopeia has purity requirements for all over-the-counter drugs. The material is purified to meet those standards, so you are not getting levels of other impurities in the end products,” Scheeler said.
The active ingredient of antiperspirant consists of any of the following within the established concentration and dosage formulation. Where applicable, the ingredient must meet the aluminum to chloride, aluminum to zirconium and aluminum plus zirconium to chloride atomic ratios described in the U.S. Pharmacopeia-National Formulary.
n Aluminum chloride up to 15 percent, calculated on the hexahydrate form, in an aqueous solution nonaerosol dosage form.
n Aluminum chlorohydrate up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum chlorohydrex polyethylene glycol up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum chlorohydrex propylene glycol up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum dichlorohydrate up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum dichlorohydrex polyethylene glycol up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum dichlorohydrex propylene glycol up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum sesquichlorohydrate up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum sesquichlorohydrex polyethylene glycol up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum sesquichlorohydrex propylene glycol up to 25 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium octachlorohydrate up to 20 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium octachlorohydrex gly up to 20 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium pentachlorohydrate up to 20 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium pentachlorohydrex gly up to 20 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrate up to 20 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly up to 20 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrate up to 20 percent.
n Aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly up to 20 percent.
Where do we go from here?
Tom’s of Maine is very transparent in what it puts in its products, from using recycled aluminum to providing paraben-free products. It posts all of its product information on its website.
“There is a lot of information out there on why or why they might be bad. We would encourage consumers to go out and read that information and decide for themselves,” Scheeler said.
For me, the next time I need to buy a stick of deodorant I just need to take an extra minute and carefully choose the one that is right for my principles.
Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@