The Guide to Non-Toxic Deodorant—Plus Our 7 Favorites
We are there: Cracking the code for a non-toxic deodorant that really, truly works wasn’t easy, but it has been cracked—not just by a single company, but by several. While the potential health problems associated with conventional antiperspirants and deodorants have been common knowledge for decades, the alternatives were less than reliable and often so weak as to not really have an effect beyond the momentary scents of a few essential oils or herbs. If you really had an important presentation or a big date, even the most health-conscious person could not be faulted for keeping a backup conventional product somewhere in the back of the closet.
Conventional antiperspirants work by reacting with sweat to create a temporary plug in your sweat glands; conventional deodorants work by killing the bacteria that live on skin (the bacteria break the fats and proteins present in sweat down into b.o., essentially) with compounds like triclosan.
Studies connecting antiperspirants and deodorants to breast cancer and Alzheimers have been inconclusive, though receive a breast cancer diagnosis at most major medical centers and you will be immediately told to stop using conventional antiperspirants and deodorants. Studies connecting antiperspirants to liver disease establish a clearer connection. Parabens from antiperspirant and deodorant formulas are found in breast cancer tumors, but because these diseases are complex, it is nearly impossible to draw definitive conclusions about causality.
That said, plugging sweat glands and depositing elements like fragrance, aluminum, and powerful synthetic antibacterial agents right where so many of the body’s lymph glands, critical to the body’s immune system, seems foolhardy to many. “I don’t want to use anything with aluminum because it mimics estrogen and I’m already estrogen dominant,” says Jena Covello, founder of Agent Nateur. “Western medicine is hesitant to say that aluminum causes breast cancer, but this toxic heavy metal is found in breast cancer tumors.”
Covello and other clean-beauty companies have developed deodorants that do none of the above—and still work. They’re pretty incredible—and have to be tried to be believed. Clean deodorants come at the problem from several different angles: Some employ botanical and clay powders to absorb wetness; others use antibacterial essential oils to kill the bacteria that causes odor; others use plant ingredients to stop the chemical reaction between the sweat and the bacteria.
“Formulas based in aluminum, propylene glycol, parabens, triclosan, silica, and more have been on the market for over a century now,” says Jamie Schmidt, founder of Portland-based Schmidt’s, who began her business after getting pregnant and undergoing a detoxifying “paradigm shift” on her household and personal care products. “But it isn’t that these ingredients are actually better performing than natural ones. By prioritizing a formula that is condensed and fast-absorbing to provide immediate results, you only need to apply a very small amount to get long-lasting protection compared to conventional deodorants.”
The deodorant formula Schmidt developed immediately started selling out at local farmer’s markets. “It was an instant hit—it works. Local markets and sales reps started asking for it in huge quantities, and before I knew it, the business took on a life of its own as word of mouth spread.” Six years later, Schmidt’s is nationally distributed and growing by leaps and bounds (the Ylang Ylang scent is a softly floral goop favorite).
LaVanila founder/former athlete Danielle Raynor found herself constantly searching for an aluminum-free formula that truly delivered on performance. “Like so many other people,” she notes. “When I ran out of options, I made my own: With so much scrutiny around aluminum and the possible long-term health implications of blocking your sweat ducts, I wanted to create an alternative…a healthy option. Plus, natural deodorant typically lowers the risk of skin allergies, delivers a closer, cleaner shave, and you can kiss those yellow shirt stains goodbye!”
Rachel Winard, the founder of Soapwalla, which makes a cream deodorant with a devoted following, says it took her some 2,000 tries to get her cream formula—beloved among goop staffers, not to mention ER nurses, professional athletes, and politicians—perfect. “It functions under high-stress conditions,” says Winard, who started Soapwalla because she “needed a natural deodorant that would last throughout the day, smell good, and not irritate my super-sensitive skin and compromised the immune system.” Because it’s a clean formula, there’s nothing gross left on your fingers after you use it: “I rub the rest into my hands or run it through my hair —it’s a great hair texturizer.”
Getting the efficacy right is the hardest, agrees Emily Doyle, founder of Ursa Major. “After that, it’s about dialing in the experience and then making it consistently. A deodorant stick is a ‘hot pour’ product and that creates a lot of challenges in terms of ingredient stability and consistency.” Finally hitting on the perfect wetness-obliterating, silky feeling, beautifully scented combination was satisfying, she says: “People love the whole experience. And they love the peace of mind from using a clean, safe product.”
Raynor notes that the switch from chemical deodorant to clean one can involve a transition period: “The body expels toxins and adjusts and it can scare people right back to their chemical deodorant. While this adjustment can be rough, it’s totally worth it in the end.”
Our Seven All Time Favorite Non-Toxic Deodorants
This will blow your mind in terms of odor and even wetness control (though it is not technically an antiperspirant). Made with plant-based powder instead of aluminum (arrowroot, baking soda) it absorbs quickly and glides on like silk (thanks to coconut oil, candellia wax, vitamin E, and shea butter). Antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal essential oils stop odors from forming in the first place, rather than trying to mask odor with fragrance; it’s completely vegan, deeply skin-soothing and wildly effective—the faint scent of ylang ylang and calendula is gorgeous.
Traces of raw organic honey, lavender, and eucalyptus inflect the subtly sexy scent of this long lasting “holi” formula made with foodgrade ingredients—organic coconut oil, beeswax, sodium bicarbonate, avocado butter, sunflower butter, castor oil, honey, and healing essential oils—to work on even the most sensitive skin.
Antioxidant compounds from goji berries and vitamin E, soothing aloe juice, powerful essential oils, and a special betaglucan technology make this fragrance-free formula incredibly effective. It feels amazing and contains no fragrance or fragrance maskers—it’s just pure and clean.
Eucalyptus, ginger, rosemary, grapefruit, chamomile, and lemon combine in this crisp, incredibly refreshing 24-hour formula that really works to deodorize, absorb excess moisture, and soothe sensitive skin. Toxin-free (including no aluminum), the formula is faintly cooling on contact, never stains, eliminates odor-causing bacteria, and works for women or men, and leaves you feeling clean and confident.
Made with food-grade ingredients—coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda, and arrowroot—and scented with sweet orange, lemon, and vanilla essential oils, this twist-up formula feels and smells amazing. It’s also totally vegan: wild-crafted candelilla wax is used in place of beeswax.
Made with superfine vegetable powders and clays plus lavender, peppermint, and tea tree essential oils to absorb moisture and inhibit bacteria, this light, vegan formula feels a little like cake frosting to the touch. It’s so clean you can use it as a moisturizer and even as a (pretty fantastic) hair texturizer, too. The highest quality organic, food-grade ingredients combine to create something wildly effective yet so gentle even the most sensitive skin can use it.