As natural products have proliferated in recent years, you might have noticed a booming number of deodorant brands offering up natural and all-natural products, online and at your local pharmacies and general stores. One reason for the pivot might be people’s desire to abandon antiperspirants all together and go with deodorants to protect their health and well-being.
One of the defining differences between deodorants and antiperspirants is that deodorant attempts to mask odor while antiperspirant promises to eliminate it. In practice, the difference is a bit more stark: Virtually every antiperspirant on the market contains aluminum. It’s designed to clog pores in the armpit to help stop you from sweating altogether. Seems like a novel approach to keep fresh and smelling nice on dates and in offices, but the effort carries significant health risks. We consulted dermatologists to figure out exactly what it is about aluminum in antiperspirants that’s bad for us, how to look for the right natural deodorants as replacements, and which are some of the best options around.
Antiperspirant and its health risks
David Friedman, a naturopathic physician and author of “Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction” argues “sweating is how our body regulates temperature and releases toxins.”
“When we restrict perspiration,” he says of the main drive behind all of these products, “we don’t allow the body to detoxify.” Proper detoxification is only one of many concerns arising from the use of antiperspirants. The aluminum in them, Friedman added, increases “the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.” And that’s just the beginning.
Cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, notes that aluminum — “a metal and neurotoxin” — has been linked in studies to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, bone disorders, autism and breast cancer. And Jessie Cheung, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, highlighted the proximity of the armpit to the breast should be a source of concern. “The area of the breast closest to the armpit is the most common spot for breast cancer and breast cysts,” she explained.
“Aluminum is capable of causing DNA changes and can interfere with the function of estrogen receptors and gene expression in breast cancer cells,” Cheung elaborated, adding that it can also increase migration and invasion of breast cancer cells. Other chemical compounds in antiperspirants, like parabens and phthalates, might be “harmful or toxic” to your body, Cheung added.
Is natural deodorant right for you?
Switching to deodorant can help you avoid aluminum, and choosing a natural deodorant often has the added benefits of avoiding the aforementioned phthalates and parabens, which dermatologists seem to eschew. According to cosmetic dermatologist Karen Soika, MD, avoiding parabens is also good practice because of its relation to estrogen.
“Parabens are often used as a preservative in skincare and cosmetic products,” Soika explained. “Parabens can increase release and activity of estrogen, which has a direct correlation to breast cancer.”
How to shop for natural deodorants
In a perfect world, says board-certified dermatologist Zain Husain, MD, we’d all be working to restore the armpit’s microbiome, which can get off kilter from prolonged antiperspirant use. Even natural deodorants can cause issues since their antimicrobial properties could be killing off the good bacteria on the skin. If you’re not ready to abandon deodorants altogether, you’re in good company (with most other people). When choosing a deodorant, Friedman advises you “look for naturally-derived ingredients.” Not all natural deodorants answer to all of the tips below, of course, but you can use them as guidance as you choose the one best for you.
- Avoid deodorants that have “unhealthy synthetic chemicals” and, of course, “choose aluminum-free deodorants,” he said.
- When it comes to ingredients that neutralize odors, look for ingredients like kaolin clay, eucalyptus, charcoal, arrowroot, essential oils or hops.
- Try to avoid baking soda (when possible), a common ingredient in deodorants that might “irritate people with sensitive skin.”
- Look for ingredients that nourish, soothe and heal the skin like aloe and shea butter. “This will help keep your underarms soft, smooth and irritation-free,” Friedman explained.
Best natural deodorants to shop in 2020
To help guide your natural deodorant shopping, we put together some of the leading options you might come across at your local pharmacy or online with guidance and advice from the dermatologists we spoke to.
1. Tom’s of Maine Unscented Deodorant
Tom’s of Maine deodorants are widely available in a variety of aluminum-free fragrances to choose from, some claiming to provide up to 48-hour protection. Husein advises these claims are often “just marketing because even 24-hour deodorants don’t last that long when people sweat.” It’ll come down to how active you are and how much you sweat each day.
2. Piper Wai Natural Deodorant
Piper Wai is certified vegan and cruelty-free. “Charcoal is a popular ingredient because of its unique porous properties,” Husain says. “It can absorb toxins and bacteria that produce odor.” Soika added that “charcoal can absorb 1,000 times its weight in moisture and 100 – 200 times its weight in toxins.”
3. Lume Natural Deodorant
“It’s not our sweat that stinks but the bacteria that causes odor,” Friedman notes. Lume is an OBGYN-created aluminum- and baking soda-free deodorant that works anywhere on the body, including your private parts and feet. It’s designed to prevent those odor-causing bacteria from eating your sweat in the first place. Lume claims its deodorant will last for up to 3 days without reapplying it, depending on your body chemistry. For me, Lume lasts a day or two — through sweating and going to the gym.
4. Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant
Schmidt’s products are widely available online and in stores. Their products are natural and come in a wide range of fragrances to choose from — they also make body wash, toothpaste and other products.
5. Hawthorne Natural Deodorant
This direct-to-consumer deodorant for men asks you to take a short quiz before ordering so the product is actually tailored to your needs. This sort of customization is fairly unique in the deodorant space.
6. Bravo Sierra Aluminum-Free and Baking Sofa-Free Deodorant
The recently launched Bravo Sierra brand promises natural deodorants that don’t stain or contain aluminum and baking soda. Their deodorant is formulated with a powder extract of Brazil’s cassava plants. A brand close to and appealing to U.S. military servicemembers, Bravo Sierra donates five percent of all revenue to Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs in the Army and Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.
7. Every Man Jack Natural Deodorant
Another men’s deodorant, this brand one comes in both roll-on and spray formats in a slew of blends including sandalwood, charcoal and volcanic clay. The plant-based enzymes in the deodorant are designed to eliminate odor.
8. Freedom Natural Deodorant
Freedom deodorant was developed after three of the founder’s friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, according to Freedom. This line comes in many fragrances in roll on, spray, travel minis and special formulations for sensitive skin.
9. Milk + Honey Natural Deodorant
This is another completely natural and organic brand designed without additives. It contains coconut oil, leaving your skin hydrated and the brand offers a baking-soda free option for extra sensitive skin.
10. Etta + Billie Natural Deodorant
This brand is all-natural, 100-percent organic, woman-owned and comes in biodegradable paper packaging. From my experience, it is rare to find a product that is this natural, with no additives at all in their formulation.
11. Each & Every All Natural Aluminum Free Deodorant
Another recently launched brand, Each & Every promises its deodorants are made with five base ingredients and is free of aluminum, baking soda and parabens. It’s designed with dead sea minerals to control odor, tapioca starch to absorb wetness and an antioxidant salt to fight off odor-causing bacteria.
12. Native Natural Deodorant
Native is also popular both online and in stores, available in many scents and styles — from eucalyptus to aloe. It’s aluminum-free, paraben-free and promises to keep you fresh through a workout or for 16 hours otherwise.
13. kai Natural Deodorant
kai’s elevated natural deodorant is free of aluminum, parabens and sulfates and shows up in recyclable packaging. Its formulation brings together vitamin E, chamomile and plant extracts.
14. Ursa Hoppin’ Fresh Deodorant
Ursa’s aluminum-free, paraben-free and curelty-free. Its deodorant brings together peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary for its scent and includes hops, kaolin, aloe and other ingredients. The brand also sports other skin care products, from face washes to conditioners.
15. Art of Sport Aluminum-Free Deodorant
While Art of Sport sells antiperspirant, its deodorant is aluminum-free, baking soda-free, and paraben-free, made with botanicals for scent like eucalyptus and citrus, as well as matcha for an energizing bent and arrowroot for moisture wicking.