• En

It does not take a chemistry expert to recognise the fine white crystals of alum in a traditional Indian household. If you have not yet heard of fitakri and its immense benefits for your health, you are definitely missing out on a well-known antiseptic.

But what exactly it is and why has it got so much fame?

Well, the term alum loosely defines a type of mineral salt which contains sulphur, aluminium and an atom with a positive charge (ion). This ion is usually sodium, potassium or ammonium. Regardless of the type, most varieties of alum share the same benefits. For instance, alum is commonly added in pickles to keep the fruit skin from turning soft and potash alum makes an excellent mouthwash. It is slightly acidic in flavour and leaves a dry or astringent aftertaste. But is it safe to add alum to your food? Depends on the amount you are adding. The Food and Drug Administration lists all the three forms of alum as GRAS, Generally Identified As Safe when added in a limited amount to food.

It might also interest you to know that sodium alum makes an important part of self-rising flours while ammonium alum is used in various cosmetics including aftershaves and deodorants.

Since it is difficult to differentiate between the three by just a look, it is better that you check the label before purchasing alum and always buy from trusted brands.

Did you know?

Apart from the abovementioned types, some other minerals are also categorised under the general term alum. This includes the crystalline blue chrome alum, the soft and striated selenite alum and aluminium sulphate, which is an aluminium salt but is not a true alum.

  1. Alum (fitkari) benefits
  2. Alum benefits for skin and face
  3. Other benefits of alum
  4. Alum side effects: Is alum safe?
  5. Takeaway

Though alum is considered to be safe as a food additive, it is not recommended that you consume alum in any form. Topical application or mouthwashes made from alum are commonly used to prevent oral and skin problems. Let us explore the well-known uses and benefits of alum in the light of scientific evidence.

Alum as an antimicrobial

Being an antimicrobial agent is probably the most well-known property of alum. As a topical preparation, it is traditionally used to avoid skin infections. In fact, alum is a primary component of many antiseptic creams and aftershave bars.

Laboratory-based studies suggest that potash alum inhibits the growth of several pathogenic bacteria. This includes Vibrio cholerae (causes cholera), Shigella (causes dysentery) and E.coli (the causative agent of various gastrointestinal disorders). It has also been found to be effective against skin pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus and S. epidermidis.

Alum for oral health

Alum or fItkari is one of the oldest remedies for oral problems such as toothache and gum bleeding. Traditionally, a paste made from alum is either applied directly on affected gums or used as a mouthwash to get relief from tooth extraction pain. Research evidence indicates that alum constricts blood vessels in your gums and reduces bleeding in case of tooth extraction or gum infections. It is further reported that the vasoconstrictive (narrowing blood vessels) ability of alum is as potent as that of epinephrine, a drug that is commercially used to stop bleeding during teeth extraction.

Clinical studies suggest that regular use of potash alum mouthwash is effective in reducing dental plaque and microbial load in children within a duration of 4 weeks.

It is also claimed to be as efficient as a fluoride toothpaste in reducing the risk of dental caries in children.

Potash alum mouth rinse has also been found to reduce mouth ulcers.

The use of a salt solution is much more common than alum for reducing gum bleeding and mouth infections. However, according to a double-blind study mentioned in the Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry, alum is much more effective than salt saline in inhibiting the growth of infectious bacteria in the oral cavity.

Fitkari for killing mosquito larvae

Did you know alum can help you get rid of mosquito larvae in your locality? Mosquitoes are one of the primary vectors of a number of diseases including dengue, malaria and chikungunya. Globally, these diseases take away millions of lives every year and the condition is even worse in developing countries. Blame lack of hygiene, education or healthcare facilities or whatever you may.

In India and other tropical countries, warm climatic conditions play an important role in promoting mosquito breeding. Add the ever-increasing resistance to commonly used pesticides and the condition becomes worse. Alum, as a natural compound, comes as a saviour in such condition.

Lab studies demonstrate the larvicidal (kills larvae) properties of alum powder against dengue mosquito larvae. This is because potash alum binds all the salts in water and destroys larvae skin soon as they come in contact with it. It has further been reported that potash alum powder is as effective as some chemicals that are used to kill and inhibit the growth of mosquito larvae.

Alum improves the effect of vaccines

Alum is one of the oldest known adjuvants and has been in use since the last 80 years. What is an adjuvant, you may ask?

An adjuvant is a substance that is administered along with vaccines and helps in slowly but gradually developing an immune response against a particular disease. Vaccines that include an adjuvant are known to be more potent and provide a better immunity.

As an adjuvant, alum is still used in various vaccines including DPT, Hepatitis A and pneumococcal vaccine.

In spite of the development of so many chemical-based adjuvants, alum still remains the first choice with most experts. This is due to the fact that the compound has minimal side effects, the ability to work with different disease antigens and low cost.

Alum as a deodorant

Alum is commercially used for the production of crystal deodorants, which reduce body odour and excessive sweating. This is because of the antibacterial activity of alum. Alum inhibits the growth of odour-causing bacteria; thus, preventing excessive body odour.

Though it would be hard to make deodorant at home, not to mention the hassle, you can also make a room freshener from alum crystals. Here is how:

  • Heat some alum with water to dissolve the crystals completely. Avoid boiling it since boiling will cause it to froth.
  • Once all the alum is dissolved, let it cool and add your favourite essential oil to it. Lavender and tea tree are some good oils of choice for this. Not only do they smell good but also have antiseptic properties.
  • Put the solution in a clean and dry spray bottle. You can buy new spray bottles at any plastics store near you.
  • Keep the bottle in a clean and dry place and spray it in the room as you please.

Alum is well-known for being a skin whitening and antiageing compound. But is that true? And how safe it is for topical application?

Alum is considered to be potentially safe when applied in small amounts on the skin but it would not change the inherited colour of your skin. In fact, no amount of cosmetics can. However, alum may help in improving other skin conditions. Let us have a look at them:

Alum for open pores and acne

Being an astringent, alum shrinks skin tissue and closes open pores. It also washes out the cell debris and bacteria from your skin that may lead to acne development. In vitro (lab-based) studies indicate that alum possesses potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This means that it can be used for getting rid of acne inflammation and acne scars. To use alum for acne relief, you can follow this simple recipe:

What you’ll need:

Recipe:

  • Mix all the dry ingredients in a clean and dry bowl.
  • Add lemon drops and rosewater to make it into a paste.
  • Apply a thin layer of this paste on your face or acne-prone area.
  • Leave it for 15 minutes.
  • Wash with lukewarm water and pat dry with a clean towel.

The best part about this pack is that lemon adds to the astringent and antibacterial activity of alum along with clearing dark spots and scars. Fuller’s earth would leach out extra oil from your skin, leaving it rejuvenated and glowing.

Do not forget to put some coconut oil or moisturiser over your face later on, since all of these ingredients have a drying effect on your skin.

Fitkari as an anti-ageing remedy

Do you know alum powder makes an important ingredient in antiageing and anti-wrinkle creams? And all this time it was lying useless in your cupboard? Well, better late than never. Studies indicate that alum antioxidants fight metabolic damage and delay the ageing process, providing respite from the early signs of ageing including wrinkles and dark spots. Bid adieu to those fine lines with this simple face mask:

What you’ll need:

  • A pinch of alum
  • Egg white from one egg.
  • A spoonful of Multani mitti
  • Few drops of almond oil

Recipe:

  • Take a clean and dry bowl.
  • Break one egg and carefully separate the white part, leaving out the yolk.
  • Add all the dry ingredients to the egg white and pour 2-3 drops of almond oil in it.
  • Mix it along with some water to obtain a fine paste.
  • Apply an even and thin layer of this paste on your face.
  • Let it sit for 15 minutes and wash with lukewarm water.
  • Pat dry with a clean washcloth.

Almond oil provides nutrition and vitamin E while egg white helps in tightening your skin.

Do not rub the pack on your face since it may scrape your skin.

(Read more: Home remedies for tightening face skin)

Alum for dark circles

Inflammation and increased blood supply are the major causes of dark circles in ageing individuals. By constricting blood vessels and preventing inflammation, alum may help you in keeping those pesky dark circles at bay. Here is an easy recipe:

What you’ll need:

  • A pinch of alum
  • Some rose water
  • Half a lemon

Recipe:

  • Make a paste by mixing alum powder with some rose water.
  • Apply the paste over a cut end of a lemon.
  • Gently press the lemon to release a bit of juice.
  • Rub the lemon gently on the underside of your eyes, ensuring that it does not get into your eyes.
  • Alternatively, you can put a drop of lemon in alum and rose water and apply it as a pack on the undereye area.
  • Let it sit for a few minutes.
  • Wash and clean with lukewarm water.

Do not rub the pack, gently pat dry it with a clean and dry washcloth once you have washed it or you can take a wet (but not dripping) cloth and wipe it clean gently.

(Read more: How to remove dark circles)

Alum for wound healing

Since it slows down bleeding and prevents bacterial growth, alum is traditionally used as a wound healing agent. Just put some alum paste over the wound and wait for the miracle.

While putting alum on superficial cuts may help you reduce bleeding and prevent infection, it is best to check in with your doctor if you get a deep cut.

(Read more: Open wound treatment)

Fitkari as an aftershave

Alum blocks have been in use as an aftershave product since ancient times and are still sold commercially as an antiseptic and aftershave. It soothes skin burns caused due to razor blades along with stopping bleeding from razor cuts. Also, it closes pores and provides protection from bacterial infections.

Alum blocks are pretty easy to use. Once you have shaved, just rub the block over your face gently. Do not put extra pressure since alum may scrape your skin.

Let it sit for a few minutes, wash your face with lukewarm water and apply an oil or moisturiser.

  • Traditionally alum powder is applied on hair to get rid of head lice.
  • Preclinical studies demonstrate the hypolipidemic (reduces body fat) effects of potash alum. Upon regular administration, it was found to be helpful in reducing bad cholesterol levels in the body while at the same time increasing HDL or good cholesterol. However, there are no clinical studies so far to confirm a similar effect in humans and to ascertain the safe dosage.
  • Alum is used to purify water in villages. It forms clumps with all the impurities and bacteria which settle at the bottom of the vessel. Being an antimicrobial, alum also helps to reduce the total bacterial load of water.
  • Alum was traditionally used for the treatment of cataract in ancient Egypt. As an astringent, it is traditionally used to clear eye abscesses, though care must be taken that alum does not get into your eyes.
  • Alum irrigation is a technique used to treat hematuria (blood in urine) caused due to radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
  • Due to the lack of scientific evidence, not much can be confirmed about the safety profile of alum when used during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Expecting and nursing mothers are advised to talk to a doctor before using alum.
  • According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, alum reduces sperm motility and total sperm count. (Read more: Men's sexual problems and solutions)
  • Alum may be toxic when consumed in large amounts. In a case study, unsupervised use of alum for the treatment of fever was reported to cause liver damage and failure.
  • According to a study mentioned in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, alum toxicity increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. However, this claim is still a bit controversial and needs more evidence to be confirmed.
  • Long term exposure to aluminium salts in the form of deodorants is believed to increase the risk of to breast cancer. However, there is no evidence that says the same.
  • Though potash alum stones are used for soothing razor burns and cuts, it has been found to be responsible for transferring Hepatitis A infection since the virus remains alive for a long time on alum stones.

Alum may be your best friend or biggest foe depending on how you use it. While it is considered safe when added in food items in a small amount, consuming large amount of alum, whether as a remedy or in food, may cause liver damage and prove to be fatal.

It is always recommended to check in with a doctor to discuss the dosage according to your symptoms.

References

  1. Michael Ashu Agbor and Sudeshni Naidoo. Ethnomedicinal Plants Used by Traditional Healers to Treat Oral Health Problems in Cameroon. 2015; 2015: 649832. PMID: 26495020
  2. Olmez A, Can H, Ayhan H, Okur H. Effect of an alum-containing mouthrinse in children for plaque and salivary levels of selected oral microflora. 1998 Summer;22(4):335-40. PMID: 9796505
  3. Rupesh S, Winnier JJ, Nayak UA, Rao AP, Reddy NV. Comparative evaluation of the effects of an alum-containing mouthrinse and a saturated saline rinse on the salivary levels of Streptococcus mutans.. 2010 Jul-Sep;28(3):138-44. PMID: 21157043
  4. Hyung-Sik Seo.An Experimental Study of the Anti-oxidant and the Anti-inflammatory Effects of Alum and Burnt Alum. 2012 Jun; 15(2): 11–14. PMID: 25780636
  5. Sunita Awate, Lorne A. Babiuk, and George Mutwiri. Mechanisms of Action of Adjuvants. 2013; 4: 114.PMID: 23720661
  6. Shabad and K. C. Seema. Mosquito larvicidal potential of potash alum against malaria vector Anopheles stephensi (Liston). 2010 Oct; 34(2): 75–78. PMID: 21966124
  7. Christopher Chee Kong Ho and Zulkifli Md Zainuddin. Alum Irrigation for the Treatment of Intractable Haematuria. 2009 Oct-Dec; 16(4): 66–68. PMID: 22135514
  8. Tomljenovic L. Aluminum and Alzheimer's disease: after a century of controversy, is there a plausible link?. 2011;23(4):567-98. PMID: 21157018
  9. Waheed Y, Safi SZ, Qadri I. Role of Potash Alum in Hepatitis C virus Transmission at Barber's Shop. 2011 May 9;8:211. PMID: 21549016
Read on app
cross
Ask your health query now and get connected with a doctor within 10 minutes!