Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aluminum in The Crystal Deodorants?

"Aluminum-Free" is probably the most visible phrase you'll see while walking down the natural deodorant aisle. And some of the most popular natural deodorants in that aisle are the "crystal" deodorant stones and sprays. But most people don't know that these crystal deodorant products do contain aluminum!

The crystal deodorant stones are made from alum. While there are different types of alums, the most widely used form of alum used in the personal care industry is potassium alum (aka, potash alum). The full chemical name of potassium alum is potassium aluminum sulfate.

The most common way to create potassium aluminum sulfate is through a process called hydrometallurgy. In this process, sulfuric acid is combined with bauxite ore (which is, by the way, not produced at all in the US). The reaction between the sulfuric acid and the ore creates aluminum oxide. This is then reacted with potassium sulfate to form potassium aluminunum sulfate.

While potash alum does naturally ocurr in mineral deposits such as alunite and kalinite, the deodorant stones are manufactured in this less-than-environmentally-friendly way, shipping ore from overseas and using toxic chemicals like sulfuric acid. The stone manufacturers claim that alum is a mineral salt, "similar to that found naturally in the earth's crust." Radioactive uranium is also found naturally in the earth's crust--but that doesn't mean you'd want to use it as a deodorant.

So, is the deodorant stone really a problem?

The reason that most people try to avoid aluminum in deodorant is because of its possible link to Alzheimer's disease. While experts have not come to a consensus that aluminum causes Alzheimer's, there is some strong evidence of a link. For instance, in 1988 a truck driver accidentally dumped 20 tons of aluminum sulfate in to a town's drinking water. Now, over 20 years later, they are finding a higher incidence of Alzheimers in the people of this town that were exposed to the aluminum in the drinking water. Many people point to the fact that aluminum is found in high concentration in brain matter affected by the disease. But while there is plenty of strong circumstantial evidence, researchers are still trying to find out if and how aluminum compounds work within the brain to create the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's. Because not everyone exposed to aluminum develops Alzheimer's, many experts believe that some people who are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's are particularly suseptible to aluminums. That it acts as a catalyst in the process that creates plaque in the brain. As a precautionary measure, many doctors such as popular web guru and natural health expert Dr. Mercola suggest avoiding aluminum as much as possible.

The common aluminum compounds in anti-perspirants have another risk. Chemicals like aluminum chlorohydrate are estrogen mimickers that can throw off the body's delicate hormonal balance. While no evidence suggests that alum carries this particular risk, it is a form of aluminum and would carry the same possible link to Alzheimer's. The toxicity of potassium alum is also quite high. There have been cases of people who have died from ingesting only 30 grams of alum...that's only one ounce of product. To give you an idea, an average deodorant stone is about 4 ounces---so if a larger chip off a deodorant stone were to break off and be ingested, it could be lethal (especially to a child).

The bottom line is, that while using a deodorant stone is probably better than using a conventional anti-perspirant, it's not aluminum-free and it still poses a possible Alzheimer's risk and contributes to background toxicy in the body.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why We Don't Make "Body Lotion"

We put the question out there on our Facebook page: Which products would you like to see us make in 2010? Many people responded that they wanted a "normal" body lotion. I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about why our manufacturing standards keep us from making a more typical "body lotion."

I have to start out by saying that we do actually have a body lotion--It's our body butter. It's lotion. It's for your body. So, really, it's body lotion. However, the market has come to equate the term "body lotion" with a more watery, less concentrated lotion.

What we know today as "body lotion" is an emulsion--or water and oil mixed together. Most body lotions are what they call an oil-in-water emulsion. Basically 80% water with a little bit of oil. So, why can't we do that?

1. Emulsifiers
In order to create an emulsion, you need an emulsifier--an agent that will combine water and oil. The most common way of doing this is with a chemical emulsifier like stearic acid, cetyl alcohol, PEGs, or vegetable emulsifying wax. These emulsifiers will give you that typical mayonaise-like texture that you would expect in a lotion. We refuse to use these chemicals in our products. While many other companies claim they're "natural" or "derived from coconut" that's not acceptable to us. They're still synthetic chemicals, we can't get them in a certified organic form, and many of them are commonly contaminated with 1,4 dioxane.

There are a few organic ways that we could combine water and oil. A blend of organic lecithin and GMO-free xanthan gum would be one way. But we've tried this before in testing, and used other lotions that use this emulsion system and it's just not that great. It gives a really slippery, slimy feel that ends up leaving a sticky feeling once it's dried. There's also the beeswax-borax method of emulsion. But borax doesn't score that great in the EWG skin deep database, and we don't want to use an ingredient if it has a question mark. The main issue with borax is when it's inhaled, so even though it wouldn't really put customers at risk in a liquid lotion, our employees would be exposed to it in high quantities. We don't want to take that risk. I don't advise against making your own beeswax/borax lotions at home--the quantities are small enough to not be a problem. But on a larger production scale, a large amount of borax could create quite a cloud of irritating dust.

2. Preservatives
Next, there's the problem of preservatives. Any time you have water in a formula you have the potential for pathogens to grow. Bacteria. Fungi. Mold. So, if we made a water-containing emulsion, we'd have to use a preservative. And that usually leads to chemicals---parabens, urea, methylisothiazolinone. And of course we avoid these.

There are some organic ways of preserving--blends of essential oils or with organic ethanol. Blends of preservative essential oils have a tendency to be quite strong-smelling, so they end up taking over the scent of the product. A raspberry lotion doesn't end up smelling very good blended with clove, thyme, lavender and eucalyptus. And with many of our customers preferring unscented options, it just isn't feasible. In addition, they're not a fail-safe method. I've tried organic products preserved with essential oils and have seen mold grow before my eyes.

Organic ethanol can be used, but you have to make sure to add plenty of humectants and emollients to counteract the potential for irritation/drying effect from the ethanol.

3. We don't think it's right
Yes, we could probably make a body lotion--preserve it with ethanol, emulsify it with xanthan gum and lecithin--but we don't think it's right. A product like that is 80% water. We don't feel it's right to charge people for a product that's mostly water, and then have it dry out their skin more.

However, we do understand that it is nice to feel that instant "hydrating" feeling that a water-based lotion brings. But you can achieve the same feeling with our body butter. Just turn on the tap, wet your hand, and pat on water to your skin. Then, apply a small amount of our body butter. You'll have that lotion-ey feel that you're used to, and it will make your body butter last even longer. (Just be sure to keep water out of the body butter jar.) Your skin will thank you.