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Natural deodorants used to be strictly hippie territory — more of a rebellious statement against societal grooming norms than an actual effective product. Take it from someone who has tried ’em all over the years. But, despite having major misgivings about the idea of plugging up my sweat ducts with aluminum (which is how antiperspirants work), I always wound up going back to a traditional deodorant/antiperspirant (hello, Secret), because nothing else, it seemed, could stop my stink.
But in recent years, companies have been truly heeding the call for more natural alternatives, by those of us who have been scared off antiperspirants for good. For me, that change of heart came after a bout with breast cancer, despite the lack of scientific evidence regarding a connection.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “Some research suggests that aluminum-containing underarm antiperspirants, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast, may be absorbed by the skin and have estrogen-like effects.” And, because estrogen promotes the growth of some breast cancer cells, researchers have suggested the aluminum in antiperspirants may add to the development of such cancers. Also, the NICI notes, “it has been suggested that aluminum may have direct activity in breast tissue.” Still, there has been no clear evidence to confirm the adverse effects of aluminum-based antiperspirants.
That said, many of us remain skeptical and are uncomfortable with the theory of purposely blocking sweat ducts. Luckily, a recent round of natural deodorants has been flooding the market, and I’ve found nine that actually work — even according to my family members, who acted as reluctant smell testers!
First, here’s a quick primer on how these products function.
Cosmetic chemist and beauty industry expert Erica Douglas, a.k.a. Sister Scientist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Unlike antiperspirants, natural deodorants work to absorb the moisture we know as sweat, and cover up the stench that we associate with it, rather than trying to stop the act of sweating under your pits all together.”
Contrary to popular belief, she adds, sweat is good for the body because it helps to naturally cool down the body when it overheats. “The stinky B.O. that you experience,” Douglas notes, “is actually the smell of bacteria from your skin when it is mixed with the moisture from your sweat glands.”
Natural deodorants rely on a range of Ingredients — such as baking soda, charcoal, arrowroot powder and cornstarch — which naturally absorb moisture and odors. “The power of these sponge-like powders,” she explains, “are then enhanced by incorporating known antibacterial agents, such as tea tree oil, zinc oxide and coconut oil, to directly fight the bacterial source of your B.O.”
Plus, Douglas says, most natural deodorants will use essential oils like lavender, bergamot or lemon “to leave behind a more pleasant smell than the ones it takes away. Together, these ingredients act as your own personal Avengers squad to fight off bad B.O. and pit stains.”
And now, for the list of winning products, all of which I personally tested for two to three days in a row, through a combination of going to work, working out and running around doing weekend errands. Some worked better than others, but none caused a complete stink out.
These little beauties, from a woman-owned green beauty company, are perfectly packaged solids, which come in a range of scent formulations. I tested the Uni(sex) No. 5, because I loved its matte black container, but wound up loving its woodsy scent and staying power, too. Coconut oil, baking soda and avocado butter are among its almost-good-enough-to-eat ingredients. Free shipping is a plus.
Beautifully packaged in cool seafoam green, these solids glide on easily and smell amazing, too. I tried the Santalum formula — a blend of sandalwood, cedarwood and amber — and loved how it went on with no muss or fuss. And though I was emitting more of an odor than I would’ve hoped to by 5 PM, I would try it again on a less sweaty day because of its other perks.
This was the sleeper hit — a heavy sphere-shaped chunk of potassium alum, which is a natural mineral salt, and literally nothing else. It was first introduced back in the 1980s, after the company founder learned, in France, of a mineral salt product used to purify water, which also forms a skin barrier against bacteria (which, if you’ll remember, is what causes odor). When I first heard about this product, back in college, I scoffed — certain, without ever trying it, that it would be no match for my odorous powers. Boy, was I wrong. This little rock — which has no scent, and which you must moisten slightly before applying, is nothing short of a miracle. Hands-down favorite.
I tried the roll-on version of Freedom, which had a wonderful coconut scent and good staying power (leaving me with just a hint of mild BO by the end of a very long day), thanks to ingredients such as witch hazel, magnesium chloride and avocado oil. But the best part is the company’s mission: “Founder Ira Green made it her mission to help everyone Find Their Freedom after her three friends were diagnosed with breast cancer all within the same year. When doctors put an emphasis on using all-natural products, Ira began looking at her three daughters and contemplating how to change their routine.”
Cutely named and containing arrowroot powder, magnesium, coconut oil and avocado butter, the refreshing lavender-rose version I tried was made for sensitive skin (the other scents contain baking soda instead of magnesium). It needs to heat up a bit, simply by holding it in your pit, before it slides on. Plus, there’s this: For every SmartyPits purchased, the company donates a portion to oncology centers, breast cancer support groups and nonprofits.
This is the original natural deodorant, in my mind — at least it was the first one I ever heard of or tried back in college (when I was foolishly laughing at the Crystal). I know it didn’t work back then — either because I didn’t give it enough of a chance or, just as likely, because the formulation has vastly improved. This Natural Strength Deodorant in Fresh Coconut promises “48 hours of odor protection,” and while I can’t vouch for that, since I tend to shower daily, I can say that it glides on really well, smells amazing and left me with only a vaguely detectable odor by the end of my long day.
Native won points before I even opened it, because of its sleek, minimalist design. A fan of charcoal, I tried the Charcoal version, which also relies on shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut oil, baking soda and the natural bacteria acidophilus to work so well.
The Base Layer version is supposedly unscented, but I definitely detected a soothing, cake-like smell that I loved. It goes on easy and is non-staining, and specially formulated for sensitive skin (like mine), with hops, aloe, a probiotic enzyme, chamomile, shea butter and kaolin clay. I found it worked amazingly well.
Also powered by magnesium, this product (I tried the coconut) is in the old-school need-to-soften-under-your-arm-before-applying camp. But once you do, it goes on and stays on well, and smells so good. Other pure-enough-to-eat ingredients include arrowroot powder, baking soda and coconut oil.
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.
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