Making the switch to natural deodorant can result in a lot of smelly experimentation. “I used the Schmidt’s vanilla rose deodorant and loved the smell, but after a couple weeks, my armpits started to smell like rotten corn chips,” says Bellen Drake, a photography instructor.
Sanura Weathers, a Brooklyn-based food blogger says she makes the choice to use natural products in all other aspects of her life but draws the line at deodorant. She says the movement toward natural deodorant — typically brands without ingredients like aluminum or preservatives — seems to be causing “the level of underarm funk on the subway” to rise.
U.S. sales of natural deodorants are growing, with market research showing that one-fifth of deodorant and antiperspirant users consider aluminum-free formulas to be important. In 2017, consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble purchased the natural deodorant company Native, and Unilever acquired Schmidt’s Naturals, suggesting the brands were becoming mainstream.
Why is it so hard to find a natural deodorant that actually works, much less one that doesn’t irritate skin or stain clothing? And does “natural” even matter? Here’s a guide to understanding the appeal and challenge of natural deodorant.
Why go natural?
Deodorants attempt to neutralize odor-causing bacteria and then mask or replace with fragrance. They do this with various helpful ingredients. Talc and charcoal, for example, absorb some moisture and odor. Baking soda breaks down odor-causing molecules. Some essential oils have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
When people talk about natural deodorant, they’re usually referring to underarm odor protection made without parabens or aluminum. Parabens are synthetic compounds commonly used as preservatives. They are also a known endocrine disruptor, meaning they interfere with hormones, and some people worry that too much exposure to these compounds could interfere with reproductive health. The aluminum chlorohydrate used in most antiperspirants works by combining with the water in sweat to temporary plug sweat ducts. Underarm sweat gets…