By Lindsay Cohn
For most of us, deodorant is a daily essential, as much as toothpaste and soap. Nowadays, as clean eating and green beauty products have gone mainstream, we’ve taken a closer look at the labels on our standard roll-ons and found chemicals that are far from body- or earth-friendly. But do the natural versions work as well? After all, warmer weather is coming and with it, more sweat. Luckily, as consumer demand for safer products has increased, so has the array of non-toxic deodorants.
We put a dozen natural deodorants to the test (which included plenty of sweaty sessions at the local Barre) to find out which ones pass the sniff test.
As you read on, note that although “deodorant” and “antiperspirant” are often used interchangeably in conversation, the products themselves have one key difference: Antiperspirants use chemicals to prevent perspiration, while deodorants combat odor with natural or synthetic ingredients, but don’t stop sweat.
WHY CHOOSE NATURAL DEODORANTS?
Your skin is your largest organ, and what you slather on gets absorbed into your body. Numerous studies have raised concerns about the safety of compounds commonly found in mass-market formulas.
Aluminum, a heavy metal, is the active ingredient in antiperspirant that keeps you dry—specifically, it causes ducts to swell, so sweat can’t escape. And while you may prefer dry pits (don’t we all), sweating is a healthy and necessary bodily function that helps your system eliminate toxins. By using an antiperspirant to plug sweat glands, you’re trapping those toxins inside your body. Multiple studies also link aluminum to liver damage, Alzheimer’s and breast cancer.
Even worse, antiperspirants often contain endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with the system in your body that regulates hormones, which control everything from metabolism to reproduction to your body’s stress response.
Parabens, preservatives commonly used in personal products, have been found in breast cancer tumors, and studies suggest phthalates, compounds that help fragrance stick to your skin, may reduce the amount of testosterone produced in both men and women, upsetting male fertility and fetal development in pregnant women.
The microbiome is getting a ton of press these days as we understand more and more how vital a role it plays in overall health. As such, there is growing concern that antibacterial compounds, like triclosan, present in antiperspirants, may mess with your microbiome, leaving you more vulnerable to disease and metabolic disorders.
Synthetic fragrance is another problem. Thousands of chemicals and synthetic compounds—including phthalates and other common irritants—are often hiding under the innocuous-sounding term “fragrance.” The chemicals in synthetic fragrance are often made from petroleum, and are linked to cancer, birth defects, and allergic reactions.
If all that isn’t enough to get you to back away from the neon-colored “powder-fresh solids,” consider the planet. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported that the average person uses 126 different chemicals on their skin every day. Not only do these substances impact humans but also wildlife and natural water resources. Unlike chemical-laced formulas, natural options are made with ingredients that are better for you and the environment. Some brands, like Meow Meow Tweet, even have biodegradable packaging.
“The bottom line is this: Conventional deodorant contains many chemicals and additives, categorized as hormone disruptors and even carcinogens. When all’s said and done, investing in a natural deodorant is a safe and smart decision for you, your family and the earth,” registered nurse Audrey Christie McLaughlin, CCMA, tells Clean Plates. “My best advice is to look for organic, non-GMO products and have a detox plan in mind. Most importantly, remember that you are supposed to sweat, but there’s no need to be stinky while doing it.”
HOW TO MAKE THE SWITCH
Instead of all those chemicals, natural deodorants use ingredients like charcoal, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and witch hazel to keep pits fresh. Botanical extracts and essential oils deliver clean or flowery scents, risk-free.
“When moving to a natural deodorant, it takes time for your body to adjust,” says Mary Futher, founder and product developer of Kaia Naturals. One common complaint people have when they first make the switch is increased odor. Though it might seem like this means that natural formulas are less effective, that’s not the case. “Breakthrough odor and sweating during the first few weeks are actually a normal sign that your body is doing its thing and going through a detox,” Futher says, noting that this process typically takes three to four weeks. Here are some recommendations for how to make the transition a bit smoother and less smelly:
- Try clay or charcoal soap, which will help draw out impurities from the skin under the arms and all over.
- Wear natural fabrics, like cotton, bamboo, and linen, which allow pits to breathe.
- Drink plenty of water to help flush toxins out of your system.
- Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, which can help combat body odor.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, processed foods and pungent items like garlic and onions, which can contribute to body odor, according to Columbia University Health Services.
- Dry brushing twice a week can help increase circulation, stimulate the lymphatic system and promote detoxification.
- Slather on some coconut oil. Not only is it soothing—particularly to sensitive parts, like your pits—but it also has antibacterial properties.
NATURAL DEODORANTS TO TRY
We tested a range of natural formulas—from sticks to sprays to pots—sweating through hot yoga, crowded barre classes, packed subways and even hot dates. Here are our favorites:
Natural fermentation technology, magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) and pure rose essential oil enhance the freshness-boosting abilities of takesumi (pronounced ta-keh-su-mee), also known as bamboo charcoal, which has been used in Japan for centuries to control odor and promote detox. In fact, charcoal is so powerful that it’s used in hospitals as an antidote for poison. This creamy formula rolled on with ease and kept our pits fresh all day. (Available online; $24)
Widely available at mass retailers, Schmidt’s is an easy and effective swap for drugstore deodorants. This aluminum-, propylene glycol-, paraben-, phthalate- and artificial fragrance-free stick contains a winning combination of arrowroot powder, baking soda, candelilla wax, vitamin E, fractionated coconut oil and shea butter. Bergamot peel and lime oils lend a bright, citrus scent, without the irritation of synthetic fragrance. (Available at Target; $4.99)
In addition to odor-fighting eucalyptus, this super-cool deodorant contains a naturally derived dream team of antimicrobial and antibacterial hops, moisture-absorbing kaolin clay, soothing aloe vera and essential oils (ginger, rosemary, grapefruit, chamomile, and lemon). It glides on smooth, hitting pits with a frosty, tingly sensation, and keeps ’em fresh all day. (Available online; $18)
We love this ultra-chic collaboration between non-toxic beauty maven Shiva Rose and natural deodorant power player Agent Nateur. This formula blends alluring rose and sensual sandalwood essential oils, nourishing coconut oil, sunflower and avocado butters and wetness-reducing baking soda. And we did we mention all ingredients are non-GMO, pesticide-free and food-grade? (Available online; $24)