It’s public knowledge that researchers have long suspected a link between the aluminum in traditional deodorants and cancer, which is a huge bummer for anyone who’s ever worn it or plans to in the future. This leaves one part of the population rubbing potentially cancer-causing chemicals into their armpits every day and another either skipping deodorant entirely, which is frowned upon, or relying on natural deodorants to kill the stink, which by all accounts don’t always work as desired. It’s the opposite of a win-win.
For my part, I have a few reasons for not loving regular drugstore deodorants. Cancer has something to do with it, but so, too, does the fact that I hate the chemical-laced, sharp, unnatural way they smell. I guess smelling like a plastic cucumber that’s melting in the sun is better than smelling like B.O., which is fucked up but true.
And so, while I’ve tried a lot of natural deodorants, I’ve only ever found one that truly works, and that one eventually caused me to develop a flaky, itchy skin condition so disruptive to my quality of life that I required a topical prescription cream to address it. Turns out that baking soda, which appears as the key ingredient in most natural deodorants, will do that to ya if you have sensitive skin. Back to the drawing board!
In the never-ending pursuit of a formula that works, that does not cause me pain, that actually nixes odor entirely, I’ve come up mostly empty, but not for lack of trying—I’ve tried them all … and now I’ve tried five more. The good news is that this story has a happy ending.
I wanted so badly for this one to work. It's cheap and almost as easy to track down as your standard drugstore deodorant—health food stores stock it in abundance—and seems like something a cool, down-to-earth girl who doesn't wear makeup and loves camping with the boys would use. But this formula, which touts a blend of organic lavender, aloe vera, and tea tree oil as its soothing, odor-eliminating secret weapon, didn't do much for me scent-wise. It is much gentler on my sensitive skin than a few others I tried, which is nice, but that obviously isn't enough to make me continue using it. Also I still hate camping.
Desert Essence Natural Roll-On Deodorant, $5.75; at Desert Essence
For the sake of transparency, I'm not sure if these wipes work on their own: I've used them to "refresh" in the morning and at the end of the day, but the fact that they're just wet wipes makes it difficult for me to trust them on principle. I'm sorry! They definitely do something, though, which is make the armpits smell good, like coconut and vanilla. It's just that I'm simply not one of those people with very little natural scent, so I need real, reliable support, but I won't hesitate to throw these in a gym bag or keep them around as backup. Perfect for a fallout shelter, which is something I actually think about when considering which beauty products to hold on to.
Pacifica Underarm Deodorant Wipes, $9; at Pacifica
This is probably the only deodorant with packaging I actually don't mind leaving out on my dresser, so high marks for that. As for what's inside, there's sage and witch hazel as astringents, zinc and sodium bicarbonate to balance pH and reduce perspiration and odor, and essential oils for the extremely inoffensive botanical scent. There is no doubt in my mind that this very nice, non-irritating formula works for someone—well, let me rephrase that. It definitely works, just not quite well enough for me; at the end of the day I wasn't totally scent-free, but I was in markedly better shape than I would have been had I not applied any deodorant in the first place, which cannot be said of all natural varieties.
Fig + Yarrow Underarm Lotion, $22; at Fig + Yarrow
I found this one very, very effective at absorbing odor throughout the day, which, after all, is the purpose of deodorant. The other, significantly less pleasant thing I "found" was a tendency for the baking soda-based formula to make my armpits fucking burn. The sad part about this is that the brand warns on their website that this is a possibility if you have sensitive skin, but I did not listen. That said, it would be excellent for anyone whose skin doesn't turn red and flaky if it's not coddled.
Oyin Funk Butter, $5.49; at Oyin Handmade
With packaging like a push-up pop, a pleasing lavender scent, and almost unbearably cute branding (is that a cat? A seahorse? I have no idea what's going on but I like it), this deodorant, the updated stick version of a beloved potted formula, has a lot going for it on smell and sight alone; it is also the only one I tried that does everything I need it to. It goes on smooth and moisturizing and the very minimal amount of baking soda doesn't make my armpits red and/or itchy, and I can't find a single trace of feral human smell even after a long day or a brief but sweaty bike ride. 10/10, would recommend, will continue to use.
Meow Meow Tweet Deodorant Stick, $18; at Meow Meow Tweet