Natural deodorant

Deodorant is a tough subject. Many people I have spoken to have said that they want to use a natural deodorant, free from nasty chemicals, but that they just can’t find one that does the job adequately. And, let’s face it, nobody wants to compromise in this area.

The problem with regular deodorants is the they tend to contain things you don’t really want on your very absorbent skin (e.g. parabens, propylene glycol and articifical fragrances). Anti-perspirants are even worse. They work on the principle of disabling your sweat glands (as opposed to just covering up the odour), so less sweat actually reaches the surface. Usually this is achieved using aluminum zirconium compounds.

If you feel more comfortable having aluminum in your garage than on your skin, you are right. It has been associated with all sorts of nasty effects. And, in any case, disabling sweat, when we do actually sweat for a purpose, seems like a bad idea.

So let’s assume we can live with sweat….but do not want to become malodorous. What then?

Your natural deodorant team (that is me and my friend Laurie Thomson whom I have consulted at length on this topic) are right on it, though we acknowledge that deodorant is a very personal choice (try a small version first, if you can).

Laurie is a serial deodorant experimenter. She lives in Toronto and shops at the Big Carrot, which, fittingly, has a big selection.

Her hands-down favourite is Alba Botanica Clear Enzyme deodorant stick, in lavender. It also comes in tea tree and aloe unscented. She tells me (and I quote) “It keeps me dry all day, even those days when I’m particularly nervous about having to give a presentation and I inadvertently wear a shirt containing synthetic fibres.” Yes, this happens.

The Skin Deep database gives this deodorant a 1, which is excellent. Alba Botanica is part of a large eco products holding company that brings you brands such as Earth’s Best, Imagine and Jason. Alba is based in Colorado, but the packaging claims that the deodorant itself is made in Canada. Perhaps a new area of comparative advantage for our economy??

Laurie also recommends Honeybee Gardens deodorant powder. She applies this deodorant when she has finished a yoga class and is in too much of a hurry to shower. It is also good when you want to mop up a bit of that summer sweat. It is phenomenally absorbent and smells nice too. The EWG rating is 0.

The powder is made from baking soda, corn starch, arrowroot and essential oils. Nothing more. So simple, you could make it yourself. But why bother, since it only costs $6.99 for 4 oz, which seems to last forever. As an added bonus, a portion of sales goes to breast cancer research. The company is also unusual in that it ships to Canada from its Pennsylvania base at the same prices as to the US (and they do mini samples of their lipstick and eyeshadow colours for only 50c each: what a great idea).

As for me, for the last several years I have been using a deodorant that sells at our local farmers’ market, under the Morrison Manor mark. It is lovely and fresh-smelling and works for me (though I have to say that I do not sweat much). But this is not much of a recommendation unless you live in Ottawa. And I do regret the non-refillable roll-on containers.

More recently I have been using a crystal deodorant. I have always been deeply sceptical of these, but I was sent one by Green Virgin Products (a small Florida-based company that sells soap nuts and other non-toxic items…and ships to Canada). I thought I should try it since it is the off-season for the farmers’ market.

To my surprise, it has worked really well. I did a very strenuous 2.5 hour cross country ski yesterday and, really, my shirt was rosebud-fresh at the end of it. Perhaps I should also experiment with using this to combat foot odor, as one reviewer suggests on the informative Green Virgin website.

From an eco and also a cost-saving perspective these crystal deodorants are certainly the best bet as they appear to last forever (thereby limiting packaging, etc.). I have been using mine for 2 months and see no dent in it. And they are cheap to start with at $5.99.

I don’t like the application (wetting it, drips down my armpit and no fragrance boost to kick-start my morning), but that is the only bad thing I have to say about it right now (I AM AFRAID THAT THIS IS NO LONGER TRUE. SEE MY COMMENT BELOW: MOST CRYSTAL DEODORANTS ARE MADE FROM AN ALUMINIUM COMPOUND). Some crystal deodorants also come in roll-on or spray-on form, though that seems to be missing the point a bit.

Last word, though, to Laurie, the natural deodorant queen: she tells me that both she and her sister used crystal deodorant in the past and that they worked well for a while but that after about 6 months they ceased to do so.

I guess I’ll be back to you in 6 months.

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14 comments

  1. Marci says:

    Great article. I’d like to recommend another all-natural and deliciously sweet-smelling deodorant option. It’s called Scent of Samadhi – samadhi being a state of deep meditation and oneness with the Divine. A lot to ask from a deodorant, I know, but it was developed by south Indian yogis meditating in their caves and wanting to smell as good as they felt. It is made of a variety of plants, many regularly used for incense or tea such as tulsi and sandalwood, dried and ground to a powder. A tiny bit applied in the morning lasts all day, and the more you sweat, the better you smell. Available online.

    • LIsa Spencer says:

      I tried Scent of Samadhi and it turned my sweat into something awful … I liked the way IT smelled on its own, but it just didn’t work to prevent odor. The crystal deodorants do work but I heard they are simply a natural form of aluminum (alum). I am excited to try the Alba Botanica … thanks for the article!

  2. Diana says:

    It turns out that I should have done a bit more research on the crystal deodorants. They are, indeed, made from potassium alum, which is `the potassium double sulphate of aluminium’ (for all you scientists out there). So, yes, it contains aluminium. Apparently the molecules in potassium alum are too big to pass through into your skin (unlike other aluminium-based deodorants), but they are still there, lurking. Further research shows that the crystals that are translucent, with clear veins, are naturally occurring potassium alum. But most crystal deodorants sticks are opaque white and regular in texture…which means they are synthetically made as well.
    So, I guess I had better try again. Sorry!

  3. meagan says:

    hi Diane just wanted to say that I love your reviews they are great. As far as crystals go. I believe that the himalayan salt crystals contain no alum. They are the pink ones. A little more difficult to find but worth it.

  4. Shirley Li says:

    I like the Daisy Deodorant from Scentimental Creations from Vancouver. I dont really like patchouli but it really works for the deodorant and keeps me fresh. I also got the essential oil mix of the Daisy Deodorant so I can add it to my crystal spray.

  5. Diana says:

    It is really tough to find the Alba deodorant in Canada. A good source is iHerb.com which ships here at great rates (and has discounted products).

  6. Jennifer says:

    One of the best natural deodorants (if not the best), is a wedge of fresh lime. It is highly effective. We cut a lime into several wedges and leave it in the fridge and grab a wedge daily.

  7. Jessica says:

    I would love to see a post on the best natural deodorant that is baking soda free. It seems I am a little sensitive. Also, is there such a thing as a natural antiperspirant?

  8. Jess M says:

    Hi,
    I have been doing extensive research on natural deodorants and have even made my own. Unfortunatly, I am sensitive to baking soda. However, I have found out that magnesium oil or milk of magnesia is a non baking soda alternative that works seemingly well according to the reviews on forums. If anyone does opt to try the milk of magnesia, please buy one with only water and magnesium hydroxide. Some brands contain a small amount of bleach. I’ve also read that the m. o. m. also leaves a slight white mark if applied too heavily, but if you brush the excess off with your finger once it is dried, you should not be able to see it on your skin. There is a brand of deodorant called deodomom that some people swear by that is exactly m. o. m. with some added ingredients such as aloe vera, vegetable glycerin, cocoa butter, coconut oil, lavender, etc. Why pay $14 for a roll-on of deodomom when you can try mixing small batches of your own for probably much cheaper… Also, on the topic of crystal deodorants, Himalayan pink salt is indeed the best. This stuff has a different structure than regular sea salt and is great for also using on food and in baths (especially for detoxes) when you buy the coarse or fine crushed sort.

    Cheers :)

  9. Shirley says:

    I love the LUSH Coconut powder deodorant. It’s quite effective at keeping me dry for a long period. It has no baking soda in it but does have fragrance.

  10. Shirley says:

    I love the LUSH Coconut powder deodorant. It’s quite effective at keeping me dry for a long period. It has no baking soda in it but does have fragrance.

  11. Pam says:

    A Toronto-based all-natural brand called “Crawford Street Skin Care” has a lemon deordorant cream I would rate as effective. The smell is pleasant, not strong, and gender neutral, and [on me] it lasts all day. The person behind this line is very interesting in that she creates the products out of her kitchen, and starting doing so as a result of her own sensitivities. I order the products online: http://www.crawfordskincare.com

  12. d @ Tinder says:

    Just landed on this post as we head into summer 2013. Very informative article and comments too, helpful indeed. Have just finished up Dr Hauschka’s deo, quite nice but expensive. So I’m happy to discover and to try ordering the Alba deo, sounds perfect. Would love to try the Himalayan salt crystal if I can find it. Also of note, just posted by a French food blooger called Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini, she has experimented w/a homemade cream deo, which looks very simple & apparently effective, here: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/.

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