Deodorant gets such a bum rap. It’s just desperately trying to cover up our body odor, and we constantly wonder if it’s also trying to give us cancer, allergies, kidney diseases and more. Rest assured, the American Cancer Society has endlessly debunked the links to our beloved deodorant — but if you want to be on the safe side, we found some natural deodorants that also work.
First, we need to clear up a few misconceptions. Here’s the controversy in a nutshell: Deodorant contains aluminum, which may stimulate the production of estrogen, which in theory may be absorbed through your skin, which may get to your lymph nodes, which may cause cells to mutate into cancer. Men don’t have to worry as much. Since they don’t typically shave under their arms, there’s less of a chance of the aluminum getting through. But — and this is a big BUT — multiple studies have shown that there is no connection between deodorant and breast cancer. So all these “mays” may have failed to connect.
The natural deodorant flaws
If you’ve ever tried a natural deodorant, you probably already know the issue: Most don’t work well. That’s because they tend to avoid the ingredients that are effective in getting rid of the bacteria and neutralizing the bad smells, such as aluminum. “Natural deodorants work by using antibacterial ingredients like tea tree oil or lavender oil to kill bacteria and neutralize bad smells,” says Cheryl Rosen, M.D., director of dermatology at BowTied Life, a lifestyle blog in New York. “However, they may not be as effective at blocking odor as regular deodorants.” Fortunately, there are a few that do work.
Look for these ingredients
Natural deodorants need baking soda and arrowroot powder to absorb sweat and odor, Rosen says. Lori Jacobson, an esthetician and skin-care consultant for Better Goods, an independent organization that analyzes the ingredients in beauty and personal care, agrees that baking soda is essential. It’s an antibacterial and pH neutralizer, so this ingredient essentially neutralizes the acid in sweat, along with the bacteria in your underarm, which reduces odor. But some people, especially those with sensitive skin, find baking soda irritates the skin after a few uses, Jacobson says. “If you try a natural deodorant that uses sodium bicarbonate and find that your underarms are getting irritated and sore, this is probably the reason why,” Jacobson says. Activated charcoal is another fantastic ingredient, as it can extract oil, dirt and debris from your clogged pores, she adds. She also looks for arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, magnesium hydroxide, cornstarch, coconut oil and antibacterial oils such as tea tree oil or lemongrass oils.
There can be a transition period
Some people experience a transition period to get their bodies accustomed to using a natural deodorant, says Enrizza Factor, M.D., a clinical dermatologist and researcher. This transition period may last a few weeks or up to a month. To help the process along, Factor says, you may use underarm scrubs or exfoliating masks that may soothe your skin to decrease the irritation risk and help keep odor at bay.
Natural deodorants that worked for us
- Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant Stick, Charcoal & Magnesium
This deodorant doesn’t have aluminum, nor does it have parabens or artificial fragrances. It relies on charcoal and magnesium to neutralize odors, and it has baking soda to keep your bacteria away. There’s also coconut oil to soften the area under your arms. $10 at Shop.schmidts.com
- Pretty Frank (formerly Primal Pit Paste)
If baking soda is irritating to you, then this may be a better fit. Instead of baking soda, it uses zinc and magnesium. This is available in a jar (you apply it with your fingers) and in a stick form. We found that it works well for daily use, but using it for a spin class is a bit of a stretch. Starts at $13 at Pretty-frank.com
The main ingredient in this is sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda. Along with coconut oil and cornstarch, these make up the majority of the ingredients. It’s a simple alternative to regular deodorant that should work if you don’t have a problem with baking soda. Available in fragrance-free, lemon verbena and other scents. $9 at Acure.com
Free from baking soda and aluminum, this contains a bunch of ingredients with long, odd-sounding names. We tried it and loved it initially — until we didn’t. After a few weeks of using it, we experienced a weird sensation: It literally melted down our arms onto our belly, and it stank in a not-good way. The only reason why it’s on this list is because everyone else and their mother swears by Lumē. Are we the only ones who can’t use it? Anything’s possible. $30 for two at Lumedeodorant.com.