Courtesy of Patricia Fox, Humble Brands and Drunk Elephant
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This is part of our weekly series Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, and explore new techniques IRL.
Natural deodorant is one of the buzziest clean beauty trends, and I'm here for it, but not because I think it's safer or better than antiperspirant. For the record, I use both. But let me back up for a second. My exploration of clean beauty began with my cancer journey in 2013. While undergoing chemotherapy, I experienced some devastating changes in my hair, skin, and body chemistry. As I became sensitive to many of my favorite beauty and hygiene go-to products, I started rethinking my entire routine and exploring the clean products in the beauty aisle, including natural deodorant.
What exactly is the difference between the two? "Natural deodorants work to mask your normal body odor and/or decrease the activity of normal skin bacteria. Musk and odor are caused by the reaction that occurs when normal skin bacteria come in contact with sweat. They do not prevent sweating," says New York City dermatologist Elyse Love, M.D. Antiperspirants block sweat, along with providing odor protection. They typically contain aluminum compounds that plug up the ducts of sweat glands and prevent sweat from reaching the surface of the skin, explains Michelle Wong, Ph.D. and science educator at Lab Muffin.
Although aluminum is considered a controversial ingredient in the "clean" beauty universe, there's no conclusive link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use. Natural deodorants aren't necessarily gentler either, as they contain ingredients that have the potential to cause irritation. "Clean deodorants often use essential oils, which people perceive as "safer" because they're natural. In reality, they're quite irritating, and a lot of people are allergic to them, especially since deodorants use such high concentrations. There's also the fact that a lot of them use baking soda, which changes the pH of the armpit, so odor-causing bacteria die down, but this can also lead to irritation," says Wong. Excess sweat also contributes to irritation, adds Love, which antiperspirant helps control. "Sweat is irritating to the skin, so increased sweat can cause acne breakouts, overgrowth of skin fungus and yeast, eczema breakouts, and/or hyperpigmentation," says Love.
As a cancer survivor, I am comfortable using both types of formulas and can tolerate both. What I love best about natural deodorants is how they add fragrance to my routine. I love to pair and layer them with other scents as a part of my fragrance story (similar to how Bath & Body Works offers different textures and purposes to enhance the longevity of a scent). For instance, I will wear Moroccan Rose by Humble with Chloe Eau de Parfum with floral deodorants to enhance that smell. When I choose my deodorant for the day, the scent of the deodorant is a part of my fragrance story.
Drunk Elephant Natural Deodorant
The active ingredients to block odor are mandelic acid derived from almonds and arrowroot powder to absorb sweat. With just a few turns of the spindle, I immediately smell the light scent of sweet almonds. When I apply this deodorant, it feels like a soothing, lightweight lotion and absorbs invisibly into my skin. I have found that when I sweat, I can smell the sweet almond even more! I also love pairing this deodorant with a sweet fragrance like My Way by Giorgio Armani or Perfect by Marc Jacobs to elevate the flirty vibes.
Arm & Hammer Natural Deodorant
Arm & Hammer's Essentials Deodorant is formulated with natural plant extracts and, of course, baking soda. It's a solid stick deodorant that applies clear and dries almost instantly when applied. From personal experience, even if I sweat, I do not smell, and there is no white residue on my clothes by the end of the day. I use the Juniper Berry scent, which is one of five different scents they offer. Because I like pairing my deodorants with fragrances, I would wear this with Floral Street's Arizona Bloom Eau de Parfum to enhance floral notes.
Humble Natural Deodorant
What I love about this brand is the plethora of scents available! I have used both their Original and Vegan & Sensitive Formulas. It's a solid white deodorant that has a soothing and creamy feel. Keep in mind that some of us experience sensitivity when baking soda is the driving performance ingredient in deodorants. I had a chance to speak with Humble's director of research and development, Audra Rodgers, who shared a key difference between the two formulas. Although baking soda is one of the main ingredients of the Original Formula, the Vegan & Sensitive Formula has magnesium hydroxide because there is "a slightly lower pH than baking soda," Audra shared. "Magnesium hydroxide has its own unique properties that make it ideal for a product formulated for sensitive skin." I highly recommend trying at least two so you can alternate between the energy you feel. Hands down, Mountain Lavender and Morrocan Rose are my favorites!