Is the Aluminium in Beauty Products, Food and Medicine a Health Hazard?
In recent years the possible effects of aluminium on the human body have gained more attention. Consumers and advocacy groups seized the topic following a few in-depth media reports. The 2013 documentary The Age of Aluminium mentions a possible link between deodorants containing aluminium salts and breast cancer. It also features cases of Alzheimer’s that were allegedly triggered by medication containing aluminium.
As a result of increased consumer awareness, manufacturers of beauty products in Europe now indicate whether their products contain aluminium salts.
However, aluminium isn’t just in beauty products. It can be found in various foodstuffs and occurs naturally in our drinking water. Aluminium can also be absorbed and processed through dietary supplements. That means that the metal particles can build up in the body over decades. One of the properties of aluminium chloride (an aluminium salt) is that it can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier in certain concentrations. Evidence shows that high concentrations of aluminium chloride can lead to neurotoxicity and affect bone structure.
Increased concentrations occur primarily through the use of aluminium salts in various consumer goods - especially antiperspirants, personal care products that prevent body odour (deodorant sprays or roll-ons). Supposedly, the ingredients are absorbed more quickly through the skin and can build up more easily in the body when directly sprayed or applied to the skin under the arms (just after shaving). The tolerable dose for an adult weighing 60 kg is 8.6 micrograms, according to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). However, studies by the BfR show that the limit is exceeded when antiperspirants containing aluminium salts are used.1 If the skin has also been damaged by shaving, the values can be many times higher.
Nevertheless, scientists are yet to provide research linking cancer or Alzheimer’s to the use of deodorants, and studies on the effects of exceeding the aluminium intake limit are yet to demonstrate its danger. Scientists remain divided as to whether the excessive use of such aluminium salts can be the cause of real danger. However, the BfR warns against unduly exceeding the limit. It encourages consumers to be mindful and, ideally, to switch to aluminium-free products.
The manufacturers of products containing aluminium, especially in the cosmetics industry, could be facing latency and late-claim issues driven by the current uncertainty on the effects of aluminium salts on the human body. They may have to suffer the costs of recalls if these products are shown to present a danger to our health. Given the public debate on aluminium, manufacturers might soon find themselves in scenarios where they have to deal with consumer claims. The costs of defending against potentially illegitimate claims would also be of great importance.
Ultimately, we have to wait and see what position scientists take on the effects of aluminium on the body and whether or not the public discussion and scepticism will continue to build. However, while this remains to be determined, manufacturers and insurers alike should implement adequate risk management and monitor the situation to minimise potential claim scenarios and risks.