Aluminum acetate is a special topical preparation that contains the element aluminum. If you’ve ever had a rash, insect bite, or other skin irritation, you may have used aluminum acetate to reduce the itching and irritation.
While it has several uses for topical skin irritation, aluminum acetate itself can sometimes cause allergic skin reactions. That’s why it’s important to know when it can be helpful and when to avoid using it and see a doctor.
What is aluminum acetate used for?
Aluminum acetate is a salt that’s used as a topical astringent. When applied to the skin, it helps to shrink the body tissues, which can have a protective effect on irritated and inflamed skin.
It’s sold as a powder to mix with water or as a topical gel. You don’t need a doctor’s prescription to use aluminum acetate solutions.
The medication is available over-the-counter in most drugstores. You can buy it under names like aluminum acetate solution, Burow’s solution, Domeboro, or Star-Otic.
Aluminum acetate can be used to treat skin irritations from:
- poison ivy
- poison oak
- poison sumac
- substances such as soaps and cosmetics
- insect bites
It may also be helpful for foot problems, including athlete’s foot, swelling, and excessive sweating, and as a treatment for ear canal infections.
What precautions should I be aware of?
Aluminum acetate is for external use only. Do not compress or dress the area being treated with plastic to prevent evaporation.
Possible side effects of aluminum acetate include skin dryness, irritation, and inflammation.
Some people may find they’re hypersensitive or slightly allergic to aluminum acetate. This is often the case when you’re allergic to other metals, like nickel.
Stop using it if you experience symptoms like redness, swelling, itching, or trouble breathing immediately after applying aluminum acetate.
It’s also possible your skin can be sensitized over time to aluminum acetate. This means that even if you have applied aluminum acetate to your skin before without problems, you could develop an allergic reaction at a later time.
How should I use this medicine?
Aluminum acetate is applied on the skin at the site of irritation. It’s most commonly available in a powdered form that’s mixed with water, or can be used in a soak.
The following are some of the most common ways you can use aluminum acetate to relieve skin irritation.
Compress or wet dressing
To create a compress/wet dressing, get prepared with:
- an aluminum acetate solution
- clean and white washcloths
- a clean working surface that can get slightly wet
- Soak the cloth or cloths with the solution.
- Gently squeeze the cloth to remove excess moisture. The cloth should remain damp, but not dripping.
- Gently apply the cloth to clean skin, draping loosely over the skin.
- Leave on for 15 to 30 minutes or as directed by a doctor.
- Rewet the dressing every few minutes if it gets dry.
- Remove the cloth and let skin air dry.
- Repeat as your doctor directs.
Complete these steps:
You can also soak an affected area of skin. For example, skin affected by an athlete’s foot can be soaked in an aluminum acetate solution.
Prepare the soaking solution as recommended by the aluminum acetate’s package instructions. Soak the affected area for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Repeat up to three times a day.
Soaking for too long could cause severely dry skin, so keep an eye on how your skin looks and feels after each soak.
Aluminum acetate is also an ingredient in ear drops used to relieve chronic ear infections and otitis externa, also called swimmer’s ear.
Solutions for the ear are commonly marketed as Burow’s solution.
This is a mixture of 13 percent aluminum acetate. To use, soak a cotton ball in Burow’s solution, which is sometimes diluted to a fourth of the original strength for instilling into the ear as drops.
Talk to your doctor before using this solution because it could be harmful if you have a hole in your eardrum.
There isn’t a lot of research about aluminum acetate as a topical treatment, but there are studies on the use of Burow’s solution as an ear solution.
According to a 2012 study, treatment with a Burow’s solution once a week made ear discharge disappear within 1 and 17 weeks. On average, the discharge was gone within about 5 weeks.
The study’s authors found applications of the solution helped to reduce the amount of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria in the ear. It was also effective at killing MRSA bacteria, which is resistant to many antibiotics.
How should I store this medicine?
Store aluminum acetate products in a cool, dry place away from excessive heat or at room temperature. Keep powder packets in a tightly sealed container.
When should I call a doctor if I have used aluminum acetate?
While aluminum acetate can treat mild skin irritations, it isn’t the right medication for every skin complaint. There are times when it’s better to call your doctor instead of continuing to try and treat a skin problem at home.
Examples of when it’s time to call a doctor include:
- you have a temperature higher than 100ºF
- your itching keeps you awake all night
- the rash covers more than one-fourth of your skin
- the rash has spread to areas of your body such as your eyes, mouth, or genitals
Seek immediate medical attention if you’re having problems breathing along with your rash. This could be a sign of a serious allergic reaction.
For some people, aluminum acetate can provide relief from certain skin irritations. But it may not work for everyone.
If you’ve tried aluminum acetate on areas of skin irritation with no luck, it may be time to call your doctor for stronger topical preparations. A doctor can recommend other treatments in addition to aluminum acetate that can help.