Let me start with the bad news: no natural deodorant is going to work like Secret or any conventional antiperspirant you may be used to using. That said, the longer I’ve used natural deodorant, the better it works, and I actually seem to sweat less (a lot of you say this is the same for you).
I now save my conventional, Bad Stuff antiperspirant for the occasional “emergency” situations when I’ll be nervous or hot and cannot afford to sweat at all (like my appearance on Dr. Oz’s show a couple of years ago—I was up there talking about the dangers of phthalates in food, and all I could smell was the phthalate-laden fragrance of the Degree Shower Fresh I was wearing!).
The good news is that there are more safe, natural deodorants to choose from than ever. They come in sticks, jars, roll-ons and sprays. And, yes, many of them actually work.
What’s Wrong with Conventional Antiperspirant and Deodorant?
In general, I’m concerned about deodorant and antiperspirant because of exposure–we tend to apply these products every day and leave them on for long periods of time. Also, more of the product’s ingredients can penetrate the skin thanks to little nicks left behind after shaving.
Here are the common ingredients that I’m most worried about in conventional deodorants or antiperspirants:
- Aluminum is the reason that most people are worried about antiperspirants. Aluminum-based compounds prevent us from sweating by temporarily plugging our sweat glands. They may be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, although evidence for both is contradictory.
- Fragrance is the ingredient I’m usually most concerned about in deodorants. (This is the case with many other skincare products, too.) Fragrances generally contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, which you won’t see listed on the label. Even “phthalate-free” deodorants often contain synthetic fragrances, which have unknown phthalate replacements in them, some of which may be just as bad. Always opt for unscented products or those made with only 100% natural fragrances (essential oils).
- Triclosan, the antibacterial agent that forms carcinogenic chloroform when it comes in contact with water that contains trace amounts of chlorine, is found in many deodorants.
- Many deodorants contain parabens (preservatives that mimic estrogen) and artificial colors, which may be neurotoxins.
What’s Wrong with Natural Antiperspirants & Deodorants?
There is a lot of Sneaky Stuff being marketed as natural deodorant and antiperspirant. The most popular sneaky label is “aluminum-free,” because many of these deodorants still have bad stuff in them.
These are the sneaky ingredients that worry me most:
- Many “aluminum-free” deodorants, such as natural crystal deodorants, contain potassium alum. Potassium alum is natural, but it’s still a type of aluminum and therefore may carry the same risks. I do not recommend these products to women because of possible breast cancer links.
- Even many natural deodorants contain propylene glycol, a softening agent linked to cancer and reproductive damage.
- Concerning fragrances and preservatives are rampant among supposedly natural deodorants.
Ingredients That Are Safe and Effective
Body odor happens when sweat meets bacteria on the skin. Good natural deodorants combine a variety of ingredients to do one or all of the following: inhibit the growth of bacteria that makes sweat smelly; absorb some of the moisture from sweat; and reduce the amount of sweat by shrinking pores.
Good Stuff products do not act like conventional antiperspirants, which block sweat from leaving the body.
Here are some effective ingredients to look for in Good Stuff:
Here are some effective ingredients to look for in Good Stuff deodorant:
- Alcohol (sometimes listed as ethanol) inhibits bacteria. Note that alcohol will increase the penetration of other ingredients in the product, so if you’re using deodorant with alcohol, make sure it’s Good Stuff!
- Aloe soothes and conditions skin.
- Arrowroot powder absorbs moisture.
- Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) helps neutralize odors and absorbs moisture.
- Coconut oil and other vegetable oils and butters (shea, cocoa, mango, etc.) moisturize and soothe irritated skin (hello, shaving). Coconut oil is also anti-microbial.
- Corn starch absorbs moisture.
- Essential oils are added for natural fragrance and other properties (like antimicrobial tea tree, lichen, and rosemary).
- Hops extract (yes, as in hops from brewing beer) is antimicrobial.
- Kaolin clay (aka white cosmetic clay) absorbs moisture.
- Vegetable glycerin and natural waxes (like beeswax and candelilla wax) bind ingredients together and are most common in stick deodorants.
- Vitamin E (tocopherol) is an antioxidant, so it serves as a preservative.
- Witch hazel and other astringent ingredients help shrink pores to reduce sweating.
- Zinc oxide is anti-microbial. Just be sure that it’s non-nano zinc.
Pro Tips for Success with Natural Deodorant
I’ve learned a lot about using natural deodorants from my own trial-and-error and the experiences of my clients and readers. Here are some tips to help you avoid common pitfalls (pun intended!):
- Time: If you’re making a big switch from conventional antiperspirants to natural deodorant, your body might need time to adjust before the natural stuff can be effective. Some even claim that your pits might have some detoxing to do.
- Staining: A common complaint about natural deodorants made with oils like coconut is that they stain clothes. Avoid this by using only a small amount (read the label) and giving the product a couple of minutes to absorb before you put on your clothes.
- Shaving: Some people also report that natural deodorants sting or cause irritation after shaving. An easy(ish) work-around is to shave at night and apply deodorant in the morning.
- Baking soda: Many of the most popular natural deodorants (Primal Pit Paste, Schmidt’s, Soapwalla, CocoPits, etc.) are baking soda-based. Baking soda can irritate some people’s skin, at least at first. Luckily, there are lots of baking soda-free formulas among the Good Stuff.
- Hormones: If you’ve given birth recently and/or are breastfeeding, you might be sweating more than usual—it’s not just your imagination, and you’re not alone! You might need to apply your deodorant more often. I’m a fan of freshening up a couple of times a day with baby wipes.
- The best of the worst: If you really need to NOT sweat, Ban is the best of the Bad Stuff. The unscented variety—even the antiperspirant—is not terrible. It does contain aluminum and the moderately concerning cyclopentasiloxane (a possible endocrine disruptor and carcinogen, but currently there is no strong evidence of such), but it’s much better than other Bad Stuff. Just save this for when you really, really need it, and try not to apply to freshly shaven armpits.
The Good Stuff
CocoPits jarred deodorants are made from a short list of organic, non-concerning ingredients. I haven’t tried this one personally, so I cannot speak to its efficacy.
Dr. Clark’s Zinc Deo is a roll-on deodorant that contains only two ingredients: water and zinc oxide. The zinc is non-nano and non-micronized. I haven’t personally tested this one for effectiveness, but I’m intrigued by the minimalist formula!
EO Organic Deodorant Spray is made from a short list of organic alcohol, water, and essential oils.
Green Tidings deodorant is the one very highly ranked on Amazon, so lots of you have tried it, though I haven’t. One of my best friends ordered it wasn’t impressed: “It kept the stink at bay, but was pretty messy.”
Honest Company makes a safe (if not 100% natural) spray-on deodorant with basic ingredients. If your confidence in Honest has been eroded from recent bad press, I don’t blame you, but if you’re already a fan of this deodorant, I think it’s safe.
Lafes twist-stick deodorant is my favorite stick deodorant. It’s glycerin based so it goes on clear. Lafe’s old formula contained potassium alum, which is why we waited until they came out with an aluminum-free version before offering it in our store.
Made with Love by Sama sent me sample deodorants and I liked them. However, when it’s warm they are reduced to a near-liquid form and require refrigeration to return to stick. This is common with oil-based deodorants. It wasn’t a huge deal for me, but it’s worth considering.
Nourish Organics makes stick deodorants that smell nice and don’t contain concerning ingredients, but don’t get great reviews for effectiveness.
A lot of you have asked about Lavanila. While many of the ingredients are “naturally-derived” rather than truly natural, nothing in these deodorants scores poorly on EWG’s hazard scale, so I call this Okay Stuff. Just don’t confuse it with Lanvilin, which is Sneaky (see below).
Piperwai was featured on Shark Tank and got a lot of attention. Some of you love it; others not so much. The only thing I don’t love is that it contains a proprietary blend of essential oils. I would rather know exactly what’s in any product I’m using.
Primal Pit Paste makes popular jarred deodorants and stick deodorants. They’ve been really annoying about getting back to me (in that, they haven’t, and I’ve been trying to get in touch with them for literally years!), and I have not personally tried their products. Still, the ingredients completely check out as Good Stuff and many of you have raved about their products, so I’m giving them my stamp of approval.
Purelygreat deodorant creams contain a handful of natural ingredients, but I haven’t tested any of them so I cannot promise that they work.
Real Purity is another brand that several readers asked about—you say you use it and like it, so good news: I’d call it Good Stuff! I should mention, however, that it does contain potassium sorbate, a food-grade preservative that I am not personally worried about, but which EWG ranks a 3.
Sam’s Natural is another brand that a bunch of you asked about. I haven’t tried it, but with ingredients that include only things like baking soda, shea butter, and a variety of essential oils, it’s definitely Good Stuff!
Schmidt’s makes a popular jarred deodorant, and recently launched a stick version as well. There’s nothing but the Good Stuff in both. My friend once brought over a tub of this stuff for me to check out after she bought it at Urban Outfitters. I was surprised by the legitimately clean ingredients, as Urban Outfitters (and Anthropologie, too) are FULL of Sneaky products well-packaged to look natural. Schmidt’s is a happy exception!
Soapwalla is a new addition to our store and has quickly developed a cult following. It’s my go-to and current favorite. At first it’s a little odd to apply deodorant with your fingers, but I got used to it pretty quickly. I love that Soapwalla is a small operation. They’re located near my home in Brooklyn, so I was able to go meet Rachel (the owner), pick up the products, and see their small-scale production. These factors bring Soapwalla to the head of the Good Stuff pack.
(Don’t forget to scroll up now to check out the Bad and Sneaky Stuff tabs!)
The Bad Stuff
As I mentioned above, if you really need a conventional antiperspirant or deodorant, the unscented Ban is your best option.
The Sneaky Stuff
Arm & Hammer Natural Deodorant contains triclosan, propylene glycol, and synthetic fragrance. This is the Sneakiest of the Sneaky!
Aubrey Organics isn’t terrible, but does contain sodium benzoate.
I used to love Crystal Essence deodorant and used it for years, but it turns out that it’s so effective because it contains potassium alum. The same is true of those crystal deodorants (as in, the ones that are just an actual rock.)
Dr. Hauschka’s line of deodorants come with the same issues as their other products, which is natural but still unsafe ingredients, like geraniol, linalool, and limonene. I don’t like that their fragrance blend is “proprietary,” although they do say it’s only essential oils.
Green Beaver calls itself natural deodorant, but contains some not-so-great stuff, such as steareth-100.
I long considered Herbal Magic to be Good Stuff, but they recently changed their formula, and the fragrance is now synthetic. However, their unscented deodorant is still Good Stuff.
Jason Natural deodorants contain synthetic fragrance, citral, eugenol, linalool, limonene, and other concerning ingredients.
Kiss My Face deodorants contain propylene glycol, synthetic fragrance, and—in the case of their roll-on deodorants—potassium alum.
Lanvilin deodorants are free of phthalates, but the fragrance is not natural, so I am suspicious of the undisclosed chemicals likely lurking! (Note: Don’t confuse this products with Lavanila, which is Good Stuff.)
Malin & Goetz works well and has the nicest packaging of any deodorant I’ve seen. Unfortunately, it’s got a bunch of problematic ingredients, including phenoxyethanol and propylene glycol.
Naturally Fresh crystal deodorant contains only two ingredients, but both are types of “alum” and should therefore be avoided.
Nature’s Gate deodorants contain propylene glycol and synthetic fragrance, although they recently went paraben- and phthalate-free.
Tisserand does contain tea tree oil and other natural ingredients, but it’s also got loads of synthetics, including benzyl alcohol and methylchloroisothiazolinone.
Tom’s of Maine antiperspirants and deodorants contain propylene glycol and glyceryl laurate (which causes enhanced skin absorption of other chemicals), but all fragrances are natural—so it’s perhaps the best of the Sneaky.
Weleda deodorants contain a number of natural ingredients that are nonetheless potential immunotoxins, including geraniol, linalool, limonene, and coumarin. It also contains benzyl salicylate, which EWG ranks a 7 on their hazard scale due to its potential as a hormone disruptor.
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