Is This Spice Rack Staple The New Turmeric?
This story originally appeared on Allure.
Turmeric's been getting a lot of love lately: It's already being hailed as the ingredient of the year for its antioxidant, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory proprieties, it's a key component in Instagram's favorite scrub, and Gwyneth Paltrow's using it in "lattes."This got us wondering: Is turmeric the only overlooked beauty wonder in your spice rack? (Hint: no.)
OK, maybe not your spice rack, unless you got into the home pickling craze, but probably your grandmother's. Alum, a.k.a. aluminum sulfate, is an aluminum compound with a variety of culinary uses, including purifying water, helping cakes rise, and keeping pickles fresh and crisp. It's also the coconut oil of the ye-olde-home-remedies world: "Cure your canker sores!" "Get rid of athlete's foot!" "Banish dandruff!" "Eliminate ingrown hairs!" "Ditch zits for good!"
So what's the real deal? "Alum is an astringent. The primary use for alum is in styptic products, those sticks and roll-on solutions that are used to stop the bleeding when you nick yourself while shaving," says cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer. Like all astringents, alum can cause the skin to temporarily contract, which obviously makes it great for closing up small wounds but also makes it a winner for your underarms. "Alum causes sweat pores to constrict and close up, which stops the perspiration," Hammer adds. "However, it's pretty old-school, and you won't find it used in most modern antiperspirant products, although some antiperspirant crystals/stones are made of alum."
As for those other miraculous claims, it's a solid "Well, maybe." Hammer explains that alum does indeed have antimicrobial properties, which would potentially help with ingrown hairs or fungal issues like dandruff or athlete's foot, but none of those are FDA-sanctioned uses. Likewise, if your mom ever put alum on those painful little bumps on your tongue or your go-to earth-friendly blogger suggested using it on zits, the astringent properties of alum might help temporarily, but they aren't likely to be a magic cure-all.
Which brings us to the big question: Is alum safe? "In topical applications, like for treating nicks, or using it as an antiperspirant, it is quite safe. It doesn't really get absorbed by the skin in any great amount," says Hammer, who warns that an alum-based product may be more irritating than more modern antiperspirant ingredients. For those looking to avoid aluminum altogether (despite the fact that no studies have found any identifiable link between aluminum and Alzheimer's), maybe go check out coconut oil after all.