Like many health and beauty products, traditional deodorant sticks contain a lot of synthetic and chemical ingredients. So, whether you’ve never used deodorant (but recently decided you need it) or you’re trying to clean up your act in terms the products you buy and use on your body, natural deodorant can be an attractive option. I, for one, never wore deodorant until a few months ago. Then I moved to the Sunshine State, where the only seasons are hot and hotter. Things got real sweaty, real quick. I was pregnant at the time, so I wanted to try a natural deodorant that was free from harmful chemicals, but I was also skeptical about whether any natural deodorants would work as well as traditional Speed Stick. In addition to trying natural deodorant out for myself, I spoke with deodorant pros (yes, they exist) and dermatologists to get the facts on natural deodorants so we can all say a healthy sayonara to stinky pits once and for all.
What’s the deal with regular deodorant?
According to Caitlin Hoff, a health and safety investigator at ConsumerSafety.org who also blogs for the watchdog group, “Aluminum compounds are the most commonly criticized chemical components of traditional deodorants.” Aluminum salts, which are found in most antiperspirant deodorants, work by dissolving on the skin to form a thin gel on its surface, which temporarily clogs your pores and stops you from sweating. And if that means less sweating (and stinking), then what’s so bad about aluminum? Unfortunately, public discourse has linked aluminum-based deodorants to everything from breast cancer to Alzheimer’s disease, but there’s little proof to back up those claims. However, Hoff says that people with sensitive skin or allergies do need to be careful when using traditional deodorants. “Aluminum-based ingredients can cause skin irritation by covering pores and reducing sweat flow. A buildup of this sweat underneath the skin leads to irritation and in some cases small bumps in the skin.” Jennifer Stagg, a biochemist, naturopathic doctor, and author, warns consumers to watch out for some hard-to-pronounce ingredients in traditional deodorants as well. “Some of the more harmful ingredients to look out for include triclosan, imidazolidinyl urea, methylparaben, propylparaben, and even fragrance,” Stagg tells HealthyWay. Triclosan and imidazolidinyl urea are antimicrobial ingredients added to many health and beauty products. Some short-term studies have shown that triclosan can affect thyroid levels, but according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), there hasn’t been enough research to draw definite conclusions about triclosan’s safety. Imidazolidinyl urea, however, has been shown to adversely affect human health. Because this deodorant ingredient actually forms a formaldehyde compound, people who are allergic to formaldehyde could be at risk for developing an allergic reaction to deodorants that contain imidazolidinyl urea. Methylparaben and propylparaben, the other two ingredients Stagg warns against, are preservatives. Parabens can be endocrine disruptors and may be responsible for certain hormonal imbalances. Yikes.
Should you go au naturel?
The nice thing about natural deodorants, says Hoff, is that they are made of natural ingredients. She goes on to say, “Those simple ingredients of essential oils and botanical extracts can leave you smelling just as fresh as a traditional deodorant without the possible irritation or chemical harm to both the body and environment.” Be careful, though. Not all natural deodorants are created equal, and it can be easy to duped by a product that claims to be all natural but isn’t. How can you tell if a natural deodorant really is all natural? Stagg says the best thing to do is visit the Skin Deep Database, a resource put together by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that promotes consumer awareness for healthier living. The Skin Deep Database explains the ingredient information for thousands of products, including deodorants, so you can make an informed decision about which natural deodorant to try.
Does natural deodorant really work?
So first things first: Although we use the words deodorant and antiperspirant pretty much interchangeably (or at least I do), there’s a big difference between the two. Deodorants simply mask odors, but antiperspirants, as the name suggests, are actually designed to temporarily stop you from sweating. Most traditional deodorants on the market are actually antiperspirants that both smell good and keep sweaty pits at bay. So will natural deodorant work? Yes and no. Yes, natural deodorant will mask body odor so that you don’t show up to your hot date smelling like the contents of a Diaper Genie. But natural deodorants are not as good at stopping perspiration because they don’t contain aluminum. So, if you work up a good sweat (hopefully in the sack with your hot date or during an endorphin-boosting workout) you may need to experiment with a few different kinds of natural deodorants to find one that works for you.
What’s actually in natural deodorant?
The nice thing about natural deodorants is that most of their ingredients are extremely accessible. Unlike the laboratory compounds contained in traditional deodorants, most natural deodorant ingredients can be found in your local health food store. Some of the top ingredients that make natural deodorants work are baking soda, arrowroot powder, coconut oil, beeswax, and essential oils for fragrance. Sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda, is the ingredient that takes the place of aluminum in most natural deodorants. It absorbs sweat and neutralizes odor and is considered much safer than aluminum, although some natural deodorant users report that baking soda can cause skin irritation. Certain natural deodorants created specifically for people with sensitive skin nix the baking soda and include diatomaceous earth instead, which is a less abrasive, naturally occurring, crumbly sedimentary mineral rock (kind of like talc). Arrowroot powder is a binding agent, similar to cornstarch, that when combined with coconut oil helps natural deodorant form a paste. Beeswax is added to natural deodorants in stick form to help keep its shape, and essential oils are used in scented natural deodorants to give them an appealing fragrance. Ready to try a natural deodorant? Here are six of the top-rated natural deodorants on the market:
Primally Pure Natural Deodorant
Primally Pure Natural Deodorant lets you know right away that it is not an antiperspirant. You will sweat while wearing Primally Pure (as with most natural deodorants). Still, Primally Pure gets rave reviews from customers, like Liselle DeGrave, who says, “I myself use the Primally Pure deodorant and love it! It doesn’t stop you from sweating as our bodies need to sweat, however it does combat odor. I have tried Tom’s of Maine and Traders Joe’s deodorant and nothing works like Primally Pure’s product.” Primally Pure comes in great scents like lemongrass and lavender, but you can also get an unscented deodorant if you have allergies or sensitive skin. Their deodorants are contained in BPA-free packaging. Right now, you can only order Primally Pure on their website.
Sephra Regan founded her all-natural skincare line NONIKO after beating cancer. NONIKO deodorant, like Primally Pure, comes in a convenient stick form and is scented using only therapeutic grade essential oils. NONIKO deodorant comes in really alluring scents, like bergamot/grapefruit, but the company does warn that those with sensitive skin may have a reaction to the baking soda found in the deodorant. NONIKO deodorants can be purchased online at nonikoskin.com or on Amazon (where they’re Prime eligible!)
Trim Mama Hippie Stick
Trim Healthy Mama Hippie Sticks come in a fun tie-dye stick form and include scented, unscented, and baking soda–free options. The scented version, which features fragrances akin to an all-natural bouquet, really does smell great (perfectly floral without being reminiscent of your grandmother’s powder room). The unscented version simply smells like coconut oil (which does NOT smell like coconut). Hippie Sticks can be purchased through Trim Healthy Mama’s website, on Amazon, and through other online retailers.
Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant
One of the more widely available natural deodorants on the market, Schmidt’s can be purchased in most stores, including Target. Schmidt’s also gets points for their sensitive skin line, which does not contain baking soda but does contain magnesium, which helps slow sweating but won’t make your pits break out. Schmidt’s also comes in at a lower price point than some of the natural deodorants on this list. And best of all, Schmidt’s is considered one of the best cruelty-free deodorants on the market, so you can feel good about your purchase and smell good at the same time!
Primal Pit Paste
While we’ve listed only stick deodorants so far, most natural deodorants, like Primal Pit Paste, actually come in a jar. The difference is that most natural deodorant sticks contain beeswax (to get the consistency right), whereas pastes don’t require that component. Using a deodorant paste is sometimes a little messier because you have to apply it with your fingers, but it works just as well as or better than a natural deodorant stick. Primal Pit Paste is great because you can actually purchase different strengths (level 1, 2, or 3) based on how sweaty or stinky you get. They recommend starting at a level 2, which is the level sold in stores. Primal Pit Paste can be purchased in most natural grocery stores and is available on Amazon.
Thinksport stands out as a leader in natural personal care products. People rave about their sunscreen, and now the company’s released a line of all-natural deodorants in several great scents like grapefruit/currant and chamomile/citrus. One of the things that stands out about Thinksport is their commitment to the health and safety of the environment. Their packaging and products do not contain any known carcinogens or other harmful chemicals, and they do not test on animals. Thinksport’s natural deodorant is another affordable option that will keep your pits stink-free. Best of all, Thinksport is available on Amazon Prime. Two-day shipping for the win!
For those who really want to go natural, look no further than Crystal deodorant, which is a bit different from other natural deodorants on the market. According to a Crystal spokesperson, Crystal’s deodorant is “a unique gem-like stone made of all natural mineral salt, which forms a protective barrier that actually prevents odor-causing bacteria.” While you are actually rubbing a rock on your pits, Crystal deodorant still comes in a tube just like regular deodorant, and you apply it while the skin is wet, just after a shower or bath. Does it work? According to many reviews, yes, it actually prevents body odor. And just like the other natural deodorants you might try, it does not prevent sweating. Crystal’s website states that one tube of Crystal deodorant will last for a year, which makes it the most economical natural deodorant option available. In addition to being sold online, Crystal deodorant can also be found in most drugstores, like Walgreens and CVS.
Ready to make the switch?
Are you ready to make the switch to natural deodorant? Before you do, you may want to detox your pits. An armpit detox might sound a little crazy, but it can help remove the buildup of chemicals that may have accumulated in your skin while using traditional deodorant. An armpit detox will also help your body adjust more quickly to natural deodorant, which means you won’t sweat as profusely as your body adjusts to your new deodorant of choice. Rebekah Epling, who makes her own natural beauty products, shares her armpit detox recipe:
All-Natural Armpit Detox
- 1 ½ teaspoons Bentonite clay, which is available online and in most health food stores
- ½ teaspoon turmeric, found in the spice aisle of most grocery stores
- 2 or 3 drops of tea tree or manuka essential oil (Manuka oil is a bit harder to find—you’ll probably have to order it online—but it has three times the antifungal properties of tea tree oil, so it’s more effective as a detox ingredient.)
- 1 ½ teaspoons witch hazel or apple cider vinegar (Look for witch hazel that is double distilled and doesn’t contain a high amount of alcohol—opt for something that contains less than 10 percent.)
Mix the first three ingredients together in a plastic or glass bowl with a non-metal utensil, then add the witch hazel or apple cider vinegar to create a paste-like consistency (you may need more or less witch hazel than the recipe calls for to create a paste). Rub the mixture onto your armpit and let dry completely, about 10 to 15 minutes. Use a wet washcloth to remove.
Now that you’ve considered an armpit detox, why not gear up to make your own natural deodorant, too? This natural deodorant recipe is super easy to make and will last more than long enough for you to use it up.
Natural Deodorant Recipe:
- ¾ cup arrowroot powder (Similar to cornstarch, arrowroot powder is a thickening agent that can be purchased at most health food stores.)
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 4 to 6 tablespoons melted organic coconut oil
- 6 to 10 drops of essential oil (Essential oils are optional, but you can add your favorite essential oil, like lavender, to give your deodorant a fragrance.)
Combine the arrowroot powder and the baking soda. Add 4 tablespoons of coconut oil and mix. Add more coconut oil if needed to achieve the consistency you want. Add in essential oil(s) if desired. Store in an airtight container. To use, simply apply a small amount to your armpits as needed and let dry.