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Natural Deodorant vs Conventional Antiperspirant – Striking a Balance

This post is going to be all about deodorant. Let’s face it, it’s natural to get sweaty, stinky armpits from time to time, and most of us choose to control it in some way. But are we really aware of what we are applying to our bodies?

Why do we smell?

Certain parts of our body, notably our underarms, get very hot because they are not exposed to the air very much. This means they will sweat, especially if our body temperature is high due to hot weather, physical activity or stress. We also secrete fats and proteins from apocrine glands in our underarms. Although our sweat and secretions are odourless, the hot, wet environment under our arms is ideal for bacteria to grow and thrive. The smell is caused by a chemical that the bacteria produce when they feed on our secretions and dead skin cells. How lovely!

Of course, showering and bathing is key to washing away the bacteria and smells, but using a deodorant helps us to feel and smell fresh all day.

Types of deodorant

There are two basic categories when it comes to deodorants: those that are antiperspirants and those that are not. As the name suggests, antiperspirants prevent you from perspiring (sweating). Most conventional deodorants that you buy at the chemists / drugstore fall into this category. Other deodorants (not antiperspirants) contain active ingredients which either kill the bacteria responsible for smell, slow their growth, or simply mask the smell. Some of these are made from all natural ingredients, and some contain chemicals. 

How does antiperspirant work?

Antiperspirant works by blocking the sweat glands in our armpits, so that we produce little or no sweat under our arms. The active ingredient is an aluminium-based compound which reacts with our sweat, forming a gel-like substance which temporarily plugs our sweat glands, preventing any further sweat from being released.

Without the sweat, our armpits become a hostile environment for bacteria. This means significantly less of them will grow and thrive, and therefore an odour will not be produced.

How do other types of deodorant work?

Other types of deodorant do not contain aluminium-based compounds and do not block the sweat glands. Therefore sweat is still produced as normal. However, these deodorants make the underarm environment hostile to bacteria by introducing ingredients that kill them or discourage their growth. They also often contain perfume to mask any unpleasant odours that are still produced.

These types of deodorant often contain potential irritants such as alcohol and parabens. They also sometimes contain Triclosan, a controversial ingredient found in many antibacterial products. Triclosan has been shown to affect our hormone regulation and immune systems. It has also been linked to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Triclosan has already been banned in some parts of the world.

From what I have read, these deodorants containing Triclosan or similar chemicals can do more harm than antiperspirants. So, even if you choose to avoid antiperspirants it is worth checking the ingredients of your deodorant to make sure it doesn’t contain too many controversial ingredients.

What is a ‘natural deodorant’?

Not all deodorants contain Triclosan or other potentially harmful chemicals. Some rely on the power of nature and use natural ingredients such as essential oils to inhibit the growth of bacteria, or neutralise odours.

For the purposes of this post, I am defining natural deodorants as any deodorant that is not an antiperspirant, and contains primarily natural ingredients to aid the prevention and reduction of odour.

What natural ingredients prevent odour?

Here are some of the active ingredients commonly found in ‘natural deodorants’:

  • Baking soda – absorbs moisture to help keep your armpits dry.
  • Arrowroot – also absorbs moisture.
  • Potassium Alum or Ammonium Alum – these are found in crystal deodorants. Technically these ingredients contain aluminium, but in this form they cannot block the pores. Instead, they form a layer on the surface of the skin that inhibits the growth of bacteria.
  • Coconut oil – has mild antibacterial properties.
  • Aloe vera – antibacterial, as well as soothing and cooling.
  • Witch hazel – antibacterial, and removes excess moisture and oils.
  • Tea tree – antibacterial.
  • Essential oils such as grapefruit or lavender – mask bad odours.

Myths about conventional antiperspirant

There are several myths about antiperspirant and the health risks related to it:

  • Antiperspirants prevent toxins being released from our sweat glands, so they build up in the underarm area.
  • Antiperspirants are linked to breast cancer, due to this build up of toxins.
  • The aluminium in antiperspirants can accumulate in our bodies and lead to diseases including Alzheimers and kidney disease.

I hadn’t heard of the third myth before, but I’d accepted the first two ever since I heard about them. It was only when researching for this blog post that I found out there seem to be more studies disproving these myths than there are supporting them. Therefore it looks as though antiperspirants are probably safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good for you.

My solution

Despite evidence that antiperspirants are safe to use, I personally choose not to use them every day. Whether or not it is dangerous to my health, I don’t like the idea of my pores being blocked. Sweating is a natural process, and happens for a reason – the main reason being to cool us down, but there may be other less obvious purposes. I don’t like the idea of my sweat being blocked in my skin.

I am also suspicious of synthetic ingredients in general and I try to use products that are as natural as possible in all areas of my life. Because of this, I also avoid deodorants that contain Triclosan or other controversial chemicals, and incorporate natural deodorants into my daily hygiene routine.

However, from my experience I have found that antiperspirants are the most effective at preventing odours. Therefore I have come up with the following system:

My ‘deodorant routine’

  • On days when I am going to be in close proximity to people, and potentially getting hot, sweaty, nervous or engaging in a lot of physical activity, I wear antiperspirant.
  • On days when I will be around people a moderate amount, but am not expecting to get very hot and sweaty, I wear a natural deodorant that does contain a few synthetic ingredients to help make it more effective.
  • On days where I will only be around people a little bit and I don’t expect to get hot and sweaty but just want to give a bit of protection, I use a completely natural deodorant.
  • On days when I am at home in my own company, I don’t use deodorant at all! I let my armpits breathe and embrace any odours because I just don’t care! (My armpits don’t tend to get that smelly anyway though to be honest!)

In this way, I can strike a balance between staying odour free when necessary, and allowing my armpits to breathe (and my sweat glands to ‘unplug’) between applications of any unnatural or potentially harmful ingredients.

Questioning my ‘deodorant routine’

In writing this blog post, I have begun to question whether my solution is ideal or not. It begs the following questions:

  • By using antiperspirant on some days, do my armpits release a build up of secretions in the following days, thus making me smell more? Would it therefore be more effective to use natural deodorant all the time?
  • How long do the effects of antiperspirant really last? Even if I only apply it once a week, are some of my sweat glands still blocked after several days or a week?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would be interested to know your thoughts on them. Let me know in the comments!

Which type of deodorant is the most sustainable?

From an environmental point of view, it makes sense that a deodorant made of natural ingredients rather than synthetic chemicals is better. But there are other factors to consider:

What is the packaging made of?

Roll-on deodorants usually come in a plastic container, which is not ideal for the environment. However you can find some brands that come in glass, for example, Nivea and Close to Nature. Spray deodorants come in aerosols which can usually be recycled. You can find natural deodorants that come in tins or glass jars.

What form does your deodorant come in?

Aerosols used to contain CFCs which caused damage to the ozone layer, but this problem has now been resolved. However, by spraying aerosols, not all of your deodorant will end up on your skin. Some will be released into your surroundings, which could cause problems for you and the environment, as well as being an inefficient way to apply deodorant. Roll-on, stick or cream deodorants are better options.

Are the ingredients local, organic, and/or fairly traded?

Even if a deodorant contains all natural ingredients, it doesn’t necessarily make it good for the environment if the ingredients were sourced from controversial practices and / or shipped all over the world.

Is the deodorant vegan and cruelty-free?

It is much easier to find natural deodorants that are vegan and cruelty-free than it is to find conventional antiperspirants, so that may be another good reason to switch to natural deodorants.

How long does your deodorant last?

A larger container, or a deodorant that lasts a long time, is a better option for the environment because it saves on packaging in the long run.

Brands of deodorant I have tried:

Antiperspirants:

I use Nivea roll-ons because they are the only antiperspirant I’ve found that comes in a glass container rather than a plastic one. However, Nivea is not a cruelty-free company because it sells its products in China where animal testing is mandatory. Therefore it is not an ideal option. If you know of an antiperspirant that is cruelty-free and comes in a glass container, let me know in the comments!

Natural deodorants:

  • Close to Nature Natural Roll-On Deodorant – Pomegranate – this comes in a glass container, however it does contain some artificial ingredients. I use this on ‘moderate activity’ days.
  • Faith in Nature Chamomile & Aloe Vera Natural Deodorant – I reviewed this in my June empties post.
  • Faith in Nature Fragrance Free Crystal Stick Deodorant – I find this is an effort to use because you have to wet the stick first, and a sink is not always nearby without walking naked across the house!
  • Earth Conscious Pure Natural Deodorant – this is a cream deodorant that comes in a tin and is easily applied with the fingers. It is vegan, cruelty-free, organic and made in the UK, and I find it to be quite effective. 
  • Pitrok Deodorant Wipes – these wipes come in a plastic pack. They could be handy for camping, but I don’t find them to be very effective, and they are not a very sustainable option.

In the past I have also used LUSH solid deodorants, with varying success.

I also own the following natural deodorants but I haven’t tried them yet:

  • Native Unearthed Grapefruit and Tea Tree Natural Deodorant Balm
  • B&S Natural Deodorant Creme

Both of these are vegan and cruelty-free. If you have tried either of these deodorants, I would love to know what they are like. Let me know in the comments!

So far, my favourite natural deodorant is the Earth Conscious Pure Natural Deodorant, because it seems quite effective and it glides easily onto the skin. It is also an ethical brand, and it comes in a metal tin so it is plastic free. I would highly recommend this deodorant because it keeps me odour-free whilst being kind to my body AND to the environment.

A tin of Earth Conscious Pure Natural Deodorant
Earth Conscious Pure Natural Deodorant

What deodorant do you use?

Do you use a mixture of antiperspirants and natural deodorants, or do you stick to one type? What is your favourite brand of deodorant, and why? Let me know in the comments!

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Natural Deodorant vs. Conventional Antiperspirant: Striking a Balance

10 Comments

  1. I gave up using deodorants at all a while ago. I used to use Sure Antiperspirant aerosols but I’d have to hold my breath while applying – any roll ons brought me out in a rash, and this was the only spray that was effective – I sweat a lot.
    But I kinda realised that I didn’t smell (at least not immediately) and that the sweat patches were just a societal shame of something that’s inherently natural. So I kinda just got over it – people think I’m weird anyway, so I kinda decided I was wasting my money and to give up using the sprays.
    Perfumes give me a headache so I didn’t switch to them either.

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      I think it’s great that you have stopped using deodorants, and embraced the sweat patches without caring about what people think. At the end of the day, that’s the healthiest option for us! And like you say, it saves money too.

  2. Loved this explanation of which is which. Might try some of the natural alternatives – I’ve done it before with the crystals but wondered about the aluminium.
    Might try the coconut oil.

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      I’ve tried the crystals but found them less easy to use! Not sure if coconut oil would work on its own but most of the natural deodorants seem to contain it.

  3. This was a really informative post and actually made me think a lot about the products I was using. I’d never questioned the deodorants I was using but now I think I’ll definitely try a natural one!

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      I’m glad I’ve inspired you to try a natural one! It’s very hard to find evidence either way about whether the less natural ones are harmful to us, but I just don’t like the long lists of chemicals in the ingredients!

  4. Thank you for sharing all this information. I haven’t ever used a natural deodorant before. But I think I might give one from lush a go x

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      You’re welcome! Years ago I tried Aromaco solid deodorant from Lush which I remember being quite good! x

  5. Millie says:

    Thank you for sharing Sophie! I found this post really interesting and I also use the Earth Conscious product!! I also like how you included the part on debunking myths cause I didn’t know that those were actually not true!!

    1. Sophie Harriet says:

      You’re welcome, I’m glad you found it interesting, and that’s so cool that you use the Earth Conscious product too. I didn’t think it was very well known! I also didn’t know that those myths weren’t true until I was researching for this post! I’m still a bit suspicious of antiperspirants though.

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