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Aluminum is the most common element on Earth. It's also a common source of confusion in terms of its presence in cosmetics, specifically whether that presence poses a health risk. The fact is, when you read "aluminum" on an ingredient list, it isn't pure aluminum—not even close.
Pure aluminum is not added to any skincare or makeup product. Rather, compounds (mixtures of aluminum), such as aluminum combined with other natural elements, are safety used in a variety of ways in personal care products, foods and medicines. These compounds contain only traces of aluminum, and in daily use over the long term are perfectly safe. Such ingredients actually contain less aluminum than what occurs naturally in plants, vegetables or even in the human body).
Here are a few examples of the most common aluminum compounds used as ingredients in cosmetics, and a brief description of what they are (as well as their global safety status).
- aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum chloride contain only trace quantities of pure aluminum. These are most commonly used in antiperspirant and deodorants (and some medications) with extensive safety records.
- alumina is also not "aluminum," but rather a combination of minerals that contain various mixtures of aluminum, silica, chloride or zirconium and oxygen. It is also known as "aluminum oxide" or "aluminum hydroxide," and is used safely in cosmetics, medicines and medical devices.
- magnesium aluminum silicate is refined from clay and often used as an absorbent ingredient in cosmetics. It is unable to penetrate skin.
- aluminum starch is made from a reaction of a plant-derived ingredient (starch), and often used as a thickening or absorbent ingredient in cosmetics. It has an extensive safety record.
In cosmetics, the minute quantities of aluminum present in such ingredients are not at risk of absorption, as it these ingredients are insoluble—they are physically incapable of absorption into the body. This is true of such ingredients, whether they are used in cosmetics or skincare/personal care products.
In fact, skin does not readily absorb cosmetic ingredients. It's actually quite challenging to penetrate the skin's outer layers with skincare or medical products—such formulas must be specifically engineered to allow ingredients to penetrate even the most superficial layer of skin.
Thus, aluminum or aluminum ingredients do not contribute to health risks, and a link otherwise has not been established. Quite the opposite, as the Mayo Clinic, The World Health Organization, the European Union and the FDA have all concurred that there is no linkage of aluminum in personal care products to other health risks.
Published literature and an overwhelming amount of research has shown that skin cannot absorb aluminum from these ingredients, and what is used is far less than what we are exposed to daily in the food and water (given aluminum is a natural element that's present all around us—whether we use products with aluminum ingredients or not).
About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!