Along with the rest of first-gen natural beauty products, natural deodorant has long been considered a good cause that requires sacrifice. In this case, that sacrifice was two-fold: Not only did natural deodorant not hold up as well as conventional formulas, but it also didn’t offer much in the way of a luxurious, sensorial experience. But that’s no longer the case. These days, natural deodorants are just as enjoyable and effective as their less-clean counterparts. Here, what you should know to make the transition to natural deodorant seamless.
The case for going natural
One of the driving forces behind the rise of natural deodorant was the claim that aluminum, a key ingredient in antiperspirant, is linked to increased breast cancer risk. And though there’s no definitive evidence of correlation between the two, according to the American Cancer Society, there’s still the matter of bioaccumulation, that is, the cumulative buildup of certain chemicals within the body.
“Deodorants are a leave-on product, meaning that you remain exposed to the ingredients for a lot longer than you would with a product you rinse off,” says Jean-Pierre Mastey, founder of natural deodorant brand Corpus. Besides aluminum, other troubling ingredients in antiperspirants include parabens and phthalates (things you probably don’t want near your lymph nodes of all places).
What to look for in a natural deodorant
The trick to committing to natural deodorant is to set your expectations. First: Natural deodorant (and deodorant in general, even conventional formulas) is not antiperspirant. “Antiperspirant is designed to block sweat by using aluminum to plug the sweat glands,” Mastey explains. “This inhibits the body’s natural ability to release toxins through sweat.” Deodorant, on the other hand, simply masks the odor from sweat with antibacterial ingredients, which nix odor-causing bacteria. “Without any bacteria to feast on the proteins and fats delivered through sweat, no odor is produced,” he says. Natural deodorants do often contain ingredients to tamp down sweat—but without aluminum, they can’t plug your sweat glands. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to think that any deodorant, natural or not, will keep your underarms as dry as an antiperspirant.
If sweat is a concern, certain ingredients can help—and, in some cases, not help. Try to avoid baking soda, commonly found in natural deodorants, where it’s used to absorb sweat. It’s highly alkaline and can cause irritation. And as the underarm area tends to be sensitive due to daily shaving, it’s best avoided. Coconut oil can also be problematic, as it could block the openings of your hair follicles and lead to bumps or breakouts. Instead, choose a natural deodorant that absorbs sweat with either corn starch, barley powder, or tapioca starch (used in the Corpus deodorants), all of which are gentler on skin. Best not to have one bad experience with a not-so-great natural deodorant turn you off to them entirely.
Embrace the underarm detox
Once you start on a formula you like, next up is the underarm detox phase. It’s inevitable once you stop using an antiperspirant, whether or not it’s for a conventional or natural deodorant formula. By taking aluminum out of the formula, you’re no longer stifling your body’s release of sweat, which can come with some unappealing (but temporary) effects.
This phase is necessary, for the effects of any aluminum you may have used in the past don’t just go away. Instead, you have to sweat it out. “As you move further away from the use of antiperspirants, your body slowly regains the ability to activate sweat glands,” explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in NYC. “It takes time for your sweat glands to learn to sweat fully again.” She notes that in the days and weeks following your last use of an aluminum antiperspirant, you’ll notice an increase in sweat before it slowly normalizes to baseline levels.
The good news: Summer just might be the ideal time to do it. If you’re sweating more often, you’re incidentally getting a jumpstart on this normalization process, which may shorten this adjustment period. After that, though, you’re in the clear—and might be surprised by just how well it works. And even if you do experience a little extra sweat, it’s a worthy trade-off for the peace of mind a natural deodorant can offer.
Ready for a clean sweep?
Enjoy a limited-edition Corpus x True Botanicals natural deodorant with any purchase over $100, now through the end of August. (Supply is limited, so start shopping.)