The Ultimate Guide To Natural Deodorant
What’s the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant, and what should I be using? From avoiding harmful ingredients to the best tips for keeping body odor at bay, we answer all your questions about natural deodorant and share our top 3 picks!
I’ve been slowly switching out all my beauty and skin products to natural and organic. I can’t say I’m 100% there yet. But when it comes to using natural deodorant, I converted a long time ago. When I heard rumors about health issues caused by antiperspirant, I made the switch right then and there.
My rule of thumb is simple. If a beauty or skin product is used daily, I switch it out with a natural or organic version.
Skin is our biggest organ, and most of what we put on our skin is absorbed into the bloodstream. So why take chances? Since I apply deodorant daily, usually to freshly shaven armpits, I don’t want to expose my body to any unnecessary or harmful chemicals.
I’ve tested quite a few natural deodorant brands, and I’m sharing my favorites. I’ve tried three brands that keep me odor-free and dry most of the time. But first, I’ve got an overview of body odor, what’s wrong with conventional antiperspirant and how to make the switch to natural deodorant. Are you ready?
WHAT CAUSES UNDERARM BODY ODOR?
Our bodies sweat when we exercise, to cool down from heat and when we’re nervous or stressed. But sweat alone isn’t what produces body odor. It’s the interaction of sweat and bacteria on our skin that causes body odor. You’ve probably heard about the gut microbiome. We also have a bacterial microbiome on our skin.
In the underarm area, bacteria break down sweat, and the byproducts are compounds called thioalcohols. Thioalcohols produce body odor. We all try to avoid this stinky smell by using deodorant.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANTIPERSPIRANT & DEODORANT?
Antiperspirant works by blocking sweat from leaving your body. The aluminum compounds in antiperspirant physically plug up the pores in your underarm so sweat can’t escape. Without any sweat, bacteria have nothing to break down, so there’s no odor.
Deodorant doesn’t contain aluminum, so you’ll still sweat with deodorant. It’s designed to kill the bacteria that cause odor. It may also contain fragrance to mask smell. Deodorants also contain ingredients that absorb sweat and balance underarm pH levels. Conventional, non-natural deodorants contain synthetic fragrance and other chemicals that may adversely affect your health (see ingredient list below).
This is the perfect time to start using a natural deodorant with gentle yet effective ingredients.
WHAT INGREDIENTS SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT IN CONVENTIONAL ANTIPERSPIRANT & DEODORANT?
Aluminum- Aluminum salt is the active ingredient in antiperspirant. You may see it listed as aluminum chloride, aluminum chlorohydrate, or aluminum zirconium chlorohydrate. Unsubstantiated reports have linked aluminum in antiperspirant with breast cancer. A 2003 study of 437 females with a positive breast cancer diagnosis found that underarm shaving followed by antiperspirant use may play a role in breast cancer (1).
It turns out this study was flawed due to lack of a control group, and the American Cancer Society claims that there is no conclusive evidence linking the use of antiperspirant to an increased risk of breast cancer (2). Still, I’d rather not take the risk.
Phthalates- Phthalates are used to increase the flexibility and transparency in plastics. They’re also found in beauty products, and they enhance product absorption, help products stick to your skin and keep fragrance smelling fresh. Researchers speculate that phthalates mimic hormones (3), interrupting hormone production. A 2018 review found that current human exposure to phthalates may have adverse effects on the male reproductive system (4).
Triclosan- Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent, and the FDA has classified it as a pesticide. Triclosan is found in household products like sanitizing hand soap, dish detergent, body wash, cosmetics, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant and antiperspirant. It’s meant to kill bacteria on contact. The overuse of products containing Triclosan has been blamed for bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Triclosan is a known endocrine disruptor and a suspected carcinogen. Studies show Triclosan impacts thyroid hormone concentrations and is associated with abnormal endocrine system signaling (5). Triclosan has also been linked with an increase in in vivo breast cancer cell growth (6).
Parabens- Parabens are a type of preservative used to prevent the growth of bacteria and prolong the shelf life of deodorants, lotions, and beauty products. The most commonly used are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben and butylparaben. Parabens disrupt hormone function and are linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. A 2004 study found high concentrations of parabens in breast tumor samples (7). The European Union banned the use parabens in cosmetics in 2012.
Propylene glycol- Propylene glycol is a petroleum-based ingredient used to give deodorant a slick consistency. It has been linked with central nervous system toxicity and skin irritation (8).
Synthetic fragrance- Beauty products can list fragrance as one ingredient and don’t have to disclose the fact that these formulations may contain hundreds of ingredients. Synthetic Fragrance may contain carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, allergens, respiratory irritants and neurotoxic chemicals (9). Synthetic musks like galaxolide and tonalide, are linked to hormone disruption (10). Fragrance formulations also contain phthalates (see above).
HOW DOES NATURAL DEODORANT WORK?
Instead of plugging up your pores, natural deodorant works to kill the bacteria present in your armpits. In a natural deodorant, look for:
Antibacterial ingredients: baking soda, coconut oil, hops extract and essential oils with antibacterial qualities (tea tree oil, lemongrass and rosemary are a few)
Sweat-absorbing ingredients: baking soda, arrowroot powder, cornstarch, kaolin clay and activated charcoal
Natural fragrance (essential oil blends): jasmine, bergamot, sandalwood, lavender, lemon, mint and rosemary are some examples.
pH altering ingredients: baking soda and cornstarch make the environment more hostile to bacterial growth.
Binder ingredients (common in stick deodorants): vegetable glycerin and natural waxes (like beeswax and candelilla wax)
Natural preservative ingredients: Vitamin E (tocopherol)
HOW I TESTED
- I used unscented deodorant whenever possible (although some brands were scented)—it’s just easier to discern whether a deodorant is working or not without wondering if a perfume-y scent is masking smells.
- I went the long haul and used each deodorant for at least a 2 months. I felt it was only fair to let my body adjust to a new deodorant and really give it a chance. I paid close attention to my scent and body odor. That meant a lot of sticking my nose straight into my pits and giving a good whiff. I sleep sweaty (lots of heavy blankets), so in general morning is the worst for me underarm smell-wise.
- How did I choose which deodorants to test? I followed recommendations from some well-known bloggers, had a few impulse buys, and chose one brand that won a beauty product award (not my top pick).
- There are SO many new natural deodorants on the market now. I took other people’s reviews into consideration when deciding whether to try a new deodorant brand. One of my favorite brands has almost 10,000 amazing reviews. I didn’t think it was worth it to buy any brands with mediocre reviews. Why waste time and money?
- I only used and tested stick deodorants. Call me lazy, but that extra step of washing my hands after coating my armpits is one step I just didn’t want to deal with.
- I did not get any compensation or free samples from any of the deodorants reviewed. All deodorant sticks were purchased by me.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
THE BRANDS I TESTED
Native Deodorant (unscented)
This ties for my favorite natural deodorant. It gets 4.7/5 stars with 9897 reviews on the Native website, and 3.7/5 stars with 300 reviews on Amazon. I used this deodorant for about 7 months, and had no issues with body odor. It passes my smell tests, and I only get a very faint hint of odor on some mornings after waking up or under stressful situations. It does not stop perspiration, but most of the time I stay dry (except when heavily exercising or at a doctor’s appointment). I love it, and my two teenager girls love the Native Lime & Coconut Deodorant scent.
Environmental Working Group score: 1. This is the lowest rating for toxicity.
Meow Meow Tweet Baking Soda Free Grapefruit Deodorant Stick
I almost didn’t try this deodorant since I love the Native brand so much, but I’m glad I did. I’m currently using this deodorant, and it’s tough competition for the Native brand. I love that all the ingredients are organic, and even though it’s scented, the scent is so subtle that it doesn’t bother me and doesn’t feel like it’s covering up any body odor. It reminds me of a lemon cookie. I had one morning when I noticed a minor body odor smell after sleeping heavily, but otherwise I’ve exercised outside in hot weather and have been sticking my nose right in my pits every day for weeks and there is absolutely zero smell. I’m a huge fan of the design concept for this brand, and love that the tube is a sturdy cardboard, so no plastic piles up in a landfill. For these reasons, this will probably be the deodorant I use from now on.
Environmental Working Group score: not rated
Primally Pure Unscented
This deodorant comes in right behind the first two (Native and Meow Meow Tweet). It is NOT vegan or vegetarian (it contains beef tallow from grass-fed cows), but for those of us that are not vegan, it works surprisingly well. And NO, you won’t smell like a cow! All the ingredients in this deodorant are organic. This was recommended by one of my favorite food bloggers. It worked beautifully for me for about 4 months, then it stopped working for me during a very stressful and hormonal time. I’ve done some research, and yes, this can happen anytime with any deodorant. I’ve since used it again and it works just fine, so I’ll blame it on hormones and stress. This deodorant is also known for being gentle on sensitive skin.
Environmental Working Group score: not rated
I’ve updated this post to include Agent Nateur N5 Unisex Deodorant, and I’m glad I tested it. Although, my first day testing did not go as well as I wanted it to. I was smack-dab in the middle of my period and I tested right after a long hike (I showered before hiking). I definitely got a whiff of body odor when I really got my nose in my armpit. That was the only smell issue I had. I’ve had zero smell since then, and I’ve been using this deodorant for weeks. Even after a particularly sweaty gym session, I had no smell. It’s basically the same experience I had with Primally Pure- about 99% of the time the deodorant worked SO well, no smell whatsoever. The other 1% I’m chalking up to hormones. Since this deodorant doesn’t have an unscented version, I went with the unisex scent. I prefer a musky scent over a floral, and this scent hits all the right notes for me—not overpowering, yet addictively alluring and sexy. The price point for this deodorant is almost double the cost of some of my other top picks.
Environmental Working Group Score: 1
I’ve updated this post to include Ursa Major Hoppin’ Fresh Deodorant. A popular women’s magazine rated this their top pick, so I just had to try it. Unfortunately it did not live up to expectations. It stung going on my skin, and I did not like the scent at all. At the end of the day, it came down to whether this product worked to keep me body odor free. It did not work at all for me. I used this for a month and stunk the entire time I wore it. I couldn’t wait to switch to a deodorant that actually worked.
Environmental Working Group score: 2.
Lavanila The Healthy Deodorant Sport Luxe
Unfortunately this deodorant did not really work for me. It got the Allure Best of Beauty and Reader’s Choice awards in 2015 and 2016, which is how I got so curious to try it. However, it simply did not work for me. That does not mean it won’t work for you.
Environmental Working Group score: 4. This score is for the old formula and they don’t have data for the newest formulation yet.
Rinse deOdor Stick
This natural deodorant came highly recommended by one of my favorite DIY bloggers, but sadly it did not work for me. The deodorant was scented, and the scent mixed with my body odor to create one potent mix, and it was just not good.
Environmental Working Group score: not rated
Schmidt’s Bergamot + Lime Deodorant Stick
I was lured in by the idea of a lime and bergamot scent, and the smell of this deodorant was wonderful when not under my arms. However, the deodorant just didn’t work—it was not effective at all. My body odor came right through the lime and bergamot. I know Schmidt’s is a popular brand and it must work for other people, but it did not work with my body chemistry.
Environmental Working Group score: 1. This is the lowest rating for toxicity.
Tom’s of Maine Wild Lavender Long Lasting Deodorant
Tom’s of Maine is a well-known and trusted brand, so I grabbed this while shopping at Target. It just didn’t work that well for me. Again, what doesn’t work for me may very well work for you. It’s a matter of giving it a try if you’re curious.
Environmental Working Group score: 4. I’d rather use a deodorant with a lower toxicity rating.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT NATURAL DEODORANT
IS THERE A DETOX PHASE?
I’ve been wearing natural deodorant for so long that I don’t remember a detox phase, but from everything I’ve researched, it takes between 2-4 weeks to transition from an antiperspirant to a natural deodorant. Why? Aluminum compounds in antiperspirant act as plugs in each of the pores in your armpit. This gel-like plug literally stops you from sweating by blocking your pores.
Once you stop using antiperspirant, you’ll start to sweat again, maybe even more than usual. Don’t worry—this is just a phase and it won’t last forever! Our bodies are designed to sweat as a means of cooling down and detoxing, and sweating is a necessary bodily function! Your system will balance out after a few weeks.
During the detox phase, there are many products that claim to detox the armpit, draw aluminum out of the pores, and remove bad bacteria. These products usually contain absorbent clay or charcoal. I’ve never tried a detox mask under my arm, but if you’re experiencing intense body odor during the detox phase, it wouldn’t hurt to try it.
You may also need to refresh with deodorant wipes throughout the day if you notice odor. Reapply deodorant after using a wipe.
IF you’ve been using a non-natural deodorant (not antiperspirant), the switch to a more natural brand is easier.
WILL MY SHIRTS TURN YELLOW UNDER THE ARMS FROM NATURAL DEODORANT?
Most likely no. I have NEVER experienced the yellowing of fabric in all my years of using natural and organic deodorants. One reason that fabric in the underarm area can yellow is from the reaction of antiperspirant, underarm sweat and skin bacteria.
Yellowing of fabric can occur from stress sweat too. Stress sweat produces a potent, milky kind of sweat that may cause yellow stains on certain fabric (yuck).
Wash shirts with sweat stains right away! DON’T leave sweaty shirts at the bottom of your hamper. Make sure to launder as soon as possible and the stains should come out.
DOES NATURAL DEODORANT RUB OFF ON CLOTHING?
I put on a tight fitting black t-shirt right after applying a few swipes of Native unscented stick deodorant. The stick is a solid white color, and my black shirt was not covered in white smears. At most all I could see was a very faint, small white smudge on the side of the shirt. I actually had to look for it.
I dampened a washcloth, making sure to squeeze out most of the moisture, and dabbed at the white smudge. That was enough to remove it.
CAN PEOPLE WITH SENSITIVE SKIN USE NATURAL DEODORANT?
I have the most sensitive skin on my face, so I was worried that I’d have a bad reaction to natural deodorant. But for me, I’ve personally had no problems with natural deodorant. Baking soda is a big culprit in causing skin rashes, irritation and redness on sensitive underarm skin.
Essential oils are also a common culprit in causing allergic reactions on underarm skin. Either choose an unscented deodorant or try chamomile or calendula essential oils, which are safer for sensitive skin types.
Native Deodorant has a line of deodorant for sensitive skin. Meow Meow Tweet has a stick deodorant for sensitive skin with arrowroot powder- it’s what I’m using now and I’m loving it!
DOES NATURAL DEODORANT EVER STOP WORKING?
Yes, and this has happened to me with the Primally Pure deodorant. I had ZERO odor for 4 months, and then I noticed that I was starting to smell. Not horribly, but enough that my own body odor was occasionally wafting by my nose. So I did some research to find out why this was happening. I had just gotten my period and was also going through a really stressful time.
Here’s what I learned: hormonal fluctuations caused by your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, and stress can change your body odor. The sweat caused by stress creates a stinkier sweat than exercise sweat.
Stress sweat, as well as sweat produced by hormonal changes, is excreted by the apocrine glands, which are located near hair follicles found in the armpits and groin area. The sweat excreted from the apocrine glands contains proteins and fat. When this sweat reacts with the bacteria that naturally lives on the skin, the byproduct really smells.
Medication has been known to change your body odor. If you are on antibiotics, certain allergy medications, antidepressants and even Tylenol, this can cause your body odor to change.
Change in diet can also affect body odor. Are you eating more highly processed foods, red meat, or drinking more alcohol?
What did I do about it? I switched brands. You can try to switch back and see if the original brand works again after giving it some time.
OTHER TIPS FOR KEEPING BODY ODOR AT BAY
- Start with an unscented natural deodorant. You’ll get a better idea of what brands work and don’t work on you without masking underlying odor with essential oils.
- Bathe on a regular basis. Washing regulates the bacterial count on your skin and helps keep unpleasant smells in check.
- Worried about smell on-the-go? Stash a pack of EO Lavender Deodorant Wipes and a travel size Native deodorant in your bag before heading out. If you start to notice body odor, head into a bathroom and wipe your underarms with deodorant wipes, then apply travel sized deodorant to keep odor under control.
- If you have sensitive skin, shave at night and apply deodorant in the morning. Make sure the deodorant is warm to prevent friction and dab instead of swipe if your skin is super sensitive. Switch to a sensitive formula without baking soda if a rash persists.
- Diet-induced body odor is a real thing. Alcohol, red meat, fish, highly processed foods, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, onions & garlic and spices like curry can increase your body odor. Eat plenty of leafy greens!
- Different people have different bacteria making a home on their skin—your body odor is unique to you. Managing body odor is equally individualized, so what works for one person may not work for another.
DOES NATURAL DEODORANT DRY CLEAR?
It’s dries more like a translucent white. I swipe with an up and down stroke and I’m done (no need to apply a ton). When I wear a tank top, my underarms never have a white cast from deodorant. You can always use your fingers to rub the deodorant in if you’re concerned.
WHY I STOPPED MAKING MY OWN HOMEMADE DEODORANT
There was a time when I made my own deodorant. I loved how effective it was. BUT, after many years I switched from making my own to buying store-bought natural deodorant. Although I NEVER experienced any body odor when using my homemade deodorant formula, I decided to give it up. Why?
My drawers and closet started smelling like an old, stale, greasy bakery. This DOES NOT happen with ANY of the store bought natural brands I have tried. My theory is that I don’t normally wash my clothes after every wear, and it was making all my drawers and closet smell stale. I have not had this problem with the commercial brands of natural deodorants. Another reason I stopped using homemade is that I prefer using a stick deodorant so I don’t have to rub it on with my fingers.
MORE CLEAN BEAUTY INSPIRATION
Ingredient lists for the deodorants I tested
Ingredients: Caprylic/capric triglyceride (fractionated coconut oil), arrowroot powder, stearyl alcohol, baking soda, shea butter, coconut oil, hydrogenated castor oil, polyglycerol-3 beeswax (cera bellina wax), jojoba esters, tocopherol (Vitamin E), L. acidophilus (natural bacteria found in your body already), maltodextrin, glyceryl caprylate, glyceryl undecylenate.
Meow Meow Tweet Baking Soda Free Grapefruit Deodorant Stick–
Ingredients: *helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, *maranta esculenta (arrowroot) powder, magnesium hydroxide, *+theobroma cacao (cocoa) seed butter, *+butyrospermum parkii (shea) fruit butter, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed wax, *cymbopogon martini (palmarosa) oil, pelargonium graveolens (rose geranium) oil *certified organic / +fair trade
Primally Pure Unscented–
Ingredients: Arrowroot Powder, Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (fair trade), Tallow from Grass-Fed Cows, Organic Beeswax, Baking Soda, Non-nano Zinc Oxide, White Kaolin Clay
Agent Nateur N5 Unisex Deodorant–
Ingredients: organic cocos nucifera, (coconut oil) cera alba, (beeswax) sodium bicarbonate, (baking soda) persea gratissima, (avocado butter) helianthus annuus, (sunflower butter) ricinus communis, (castor oil) a proprietary blend of essential oils, love
Ursa Major Hoppin’ Fresh Deodorant–
Ingredients: Aloe vera (aloe barbadensis) leaf juice*, propanediol, sodium Stearate, tapioca Starch, silica, microcrystalline cellulose, cellulose gum, shea (butyrosperum parkii) butter (community trade), sodium bicarbonate, kaolin (clay), tocopheryl acetate, glyceryl caprylate, glyceryl undecylenate, glycerin, royal jelly extract, hops (humulus lupulus) extract, lemon (citrus medica limonum) peel extract, ginseng (panax quinquefolium) root extract, calendula officinalis flower extract, matricaria (chamomilla recutita) flower extract, saccharomyces ferment, rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) leaf oil, peppermint (mentha piperita) oil, grapefruit (citrus grandis) peel oil, eucalyptus (eucalyptus globulus) leaf oil. Ingredients with * denotes that they are organic.
Lavanila The Healthy Deodorant Sport Luxe–
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Propanediol (Corn derived), Sodium stearate (Coconut derived), Zea mays (Corn) starch, Silica, Glycerin (Vegetable derived), Glyceryl laurate (Coconut and palm kernel oil derived), Aloe barbadensis leaf juice, Citrus medica limonum (Lemon peel oil), Inulin (Artichoke derived), Alpha-Glucan oligosaccharide (sugar derived), Yeast beta glucan, Camellia sinensis (Japanese green tea) extract, Salvia officinalis (Sage) leaf extract, Lonicera caprifolium (Honeysuckle) flower extract, Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal) extract, Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea tree) oil, Lycium barbarum fruit (Goji berry) extract, Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) extract, Tocopheryl acetate (Vitamin E), Sodium phytate (Rice derived), Sodium bicarbonate (Baking soda), Botanical fragrance blend.
Rinse deOdor Stick Rugged Scent-
Ingredients: Cocoa Butter, Coconut Oil, Shea Butter, Beeswax, Arrowroot Powder, Baking Soda, Probiotic & Fragrance oil blend (from essential oils)
Schmidt’s Bergamot + Lime Deodorant Stick–
Ingredients: Maranta Arundinacea (arrowroot) Powder, Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda), Cocos Nucifera (coconut) Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (fractionated coconut oil), Euphorbia Cerifera (candelilla) Wax, Simmondsia Chinensis (jojoba) Seed Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (bergamot) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantifolia (lime) Oil, Tocopherol (vitamin E; sunflower-derived)
Tom’s of Maine Wild Lavender Long Lasting Deodorant–
Ingredients: propylene glycol (vegetable derived), water, sodium stearate, organic Aloe barbadensis leaf juice, glyceryl laurate, natural fragrance, Humulus lupulus (hops) cone extract, organic Helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, ascorbic acid, organic Cymbopogon flexuosus oil.
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- Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk. American Cancer Society.
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- Radke, E.G. et al. Phthalate exposure and male reproductive outcomes: A systematic review of the human epidemiological evidence. Environ Int. 2018 Dec;121(Pt 1):764-793.
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- Lee, H. et al. Octylphenol and triclosan induced proliferation of human breast cancer cells via an estrogen receptor-mediated signaling in vitro. Endocrine Abstracts (2012) 29 P749.
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- Nudelman, J. and Engel, C. Right To Know. Exposing toxic fragrance chemicals in beauty, personal care and cleaning products. Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and Campaign For Safe Cosmetics. Sept. 2018.
- Synthetic Musks. Campaign For Safe Cosmetics. A Project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.