Full disclosure: I’m not one of those people who “glows” when I work out. I sweat. And I swear by antiperspirant to keep me dry and B.O.-free. But lately I’ve been intrigued by the influx of natural deodorants on the market — could they actually hold up to a sweaty gym sesh as well as my trusty, traditional antiperspirant?
In recent years, there’s been a growing push to use fewer chemicals in our health and beauty products — and that includes switching from antiperspirants to natural deodorants.
Traditional antiperspirants typically rely on aluminum to block sweat glands from releasing perspiration, thereby keeping you dry at the gym or during a big presentation at the office. But aluminum’s gotten a bad reputation lately, thanks in part to speculation that the aluminum in antiperspirants could be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. There’s no scientific evidence to support this, but it’s still inspired some consumers to start looking for more natural alternatives to the products they put on their skin every day.
Natural deodorants skip the aluminum — along with industrial chemicals like parabens, sulfates, and synthetic fragrances — and rely instead on ingredients like coconut oil, baking soda, charcoal, and essential oils to absorb moisture and keep you smelling fresh. But do they work? I decided to put them to the test.
Making the Switch to Natural Deodorant
If you’re thinking about trying natural deodorant, there are two important things to keep in mind:
- Deodorant won’t keep you from sweating. One of the hardest things to get used to when switching from antiperspirant to deodorant is…well…perspiring. Your pits will get wet — but that doesn’t mean they have to stink.
- There can be a transition period. “Using a traditional aluminum-based, sweat-blocking antiperspirant actually decreases the amount of staphylococcal bacteria on the skin,” explains Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles. If you stop using antiperspirant, she adds, you may experience some B.O. while the bacteria concentrations rebalance. So give it a few days before you decide whether a new deodorant is a fit for your pits.
For the sake of testing, I applied each deodorant by 6 a.m. and wore it through a full day, including a workout that was strenuous enough to get sweaty. I didn’t reapply, and I did über-scientific data analysis — a.k.a. pit-sniffing — throughout the day.
Here’s how the top drugstore-brand natural deodorants performed.
Native Deodorant (Target)
This was my first foray into natural deodorants, and I was impressed from the beginning. Native offers nine scents to choose from, including Coconut & Vanilla, Yuzu & Orange Blossom, and even a custom scent that’s created after you answer a few quiz questions. Plus the simple, modern packaging makes you feel like you could leave this deodorant out on the counter and it would improve the look of your bathroom.
I opted for the Cucumber & Mint, which smelled fresh and clean — not overpowering or fake. The deodorant went on smoothly and didn’t leave a white residue. Repeated sniff tests throughout the day left me pleasantly surprised — not even a hint of stink, even after a 25-minute HIIT class and 20 minutes of weights.
Yes To Charcoal Deodorant (Target)
Charcoal has been making the beauty rounds in everything from toothpaste to face masks to shampoo. And because charcoal is highly absorbent and a natural detoxifier, it’s a no-brainer to add to deodorants.
While many charcoal-containing products are indeed charcoal-colored, I was relieved when I unscrewed the cap to find that I wouldn’t be wiping a black paste under my pits. The Lavender Charcoal Deodorant has a pleasant, mild scent and a super smooth application — and it kept me smelling fresh through an hour of cardio and an agonizingly long DMV appointment.
Secret Aluminum Free Deodorant (Amazon)
Secret is a familiar brand in the antiperspirant aisle, and now they’re branching out into the natural deodorant market. The aluminum-free formula comes in three scents — Rosewater, Honeydew, and Daylily — and contains no aluminum, parabens, or dyes.
I tried the Daylily scent, and right from the start, it smelled a bit odd. Admittedly, I’m not completely sure what a daylily should smell like — but it wasn’t as pleasant as I had envisioned. The product did go on smoothly, and since it’s clear, it didn’t leave any residue on my black tank. But at the end of a 90-minute hill walk, my pits were sweaty and I definitely had some B.O. And by the end of the day, I was eager for a shower.
Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant (Amazon)
With three different formulas (regular, sensitive skin, and an eco-friendly glass jar version) and a whopping 18 different scents, Schmidt’s makes it easy to find a version you can love. Schmidt’s deodorants are free of aluminum, propylene glycol, parabens, phthalates, and artificial fragrances and colorants.
The formula works best when you hold the stick in your pit for a moment to soften the product and then swipe a few times to apply. If you skip the pit-hold, the product can get a little crumbly when you apply. I opted for Schmidt’s Jasmine Tea Sensitive Skin deodorant, and even after playing tennis with my kids and sweating through a 45-minute workout, there was only the faintest hint of B.O.
Crystal Body Deodorant Roll-On (Amazon)
Just like high-waisted jeans and hair scrunchies, the Crystal deodorant you remember from the 80s is making a big comeback. Made from mineral salts, Crystal deodorant works by helping to slow the growth of bacteria that can lead to armpit odor. While Crystal products don’t contain parabens, phthalates, or synthetic aluminum chloride or aluminum chlorohydrate, the product line does still have naturally-occurring aluminum in the mineral salts (which may be a dealbreaker for some looking to avoid aluminum altogether).
While the original Crystal rock is still available, you can also get Crystal in a twist-up stick, spray, and roll-on. I tried the unscented roll-on version, and while it definitely didn’t leave any residue or stickiness, it is a liquid — which means my pits felt damp immediately after applying. And by 10 a.m., I already felt like I needed to reapply — and I hadn’t even been to the gym yet! Maybe a scented version would have helped, but it didn’t feel like it was providing enough odor protection for me.
PiperWai Natural Deodorant Stick (Amazon)
PiperWai sells just one deodorant, available in both a stick and a jar application. The key ingredients are activated charcoal (which absorbs moisture) and 11 different essential oils.
The scent — which PiperWai describes as “kinda minty and kinda citrusy” — is definitely potent, and may be too earthy for some people. The deodorant also has a thicker consistency than others I tested, and felt almost sticky in the pit when applied. That said, it was the only deodorant of the bunch that actually kept me dry (not just stink-free) during my workout.
Dove 0% Aluminum Deodorant (Target)
Dove is another mainstream brand branching out into the natural deodorant market. Dove’s new aluminum-free deodorants are available in four fun scent combos — including Pomegranate & Lemon Verbena and Blue Fig & Orange Blossom.
The deodorant was uber-smooth to apply, likely because of its non-irritating, alcohol-free formula and moisturizing ingredients like aloe and shea butter. And the scents were pleasant and modern — appealing for those who don’t necessarily want to smell like herbs and flowers. Best of all, it kept me smelling fresh even after a sweaty hour of hot yoga.
Green Goo Deodorant (Amazon)
You’ll be glad to know that Green Goo is neither green nor gooey. Packaged as a traditional stick deodorant, Green Goo is a standout option for those with sensitive skin — it’s free from baking soda, aluminum, phthalates, and petroleum. What their deodorants do include is calendula, which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Green Goo deodorants also come in a wide range of fresh scents, like Lemongrass & Sage and Lavender & Thyme. I opted for a sweet rose scent. By the end of the day, the rose smell had worn off — but I also didn’t smell any B.O., making it a win.
Tom’s of Maine Long Lasting Deodorant (Amazon)
Tom’s of Maine is known for their natural toothpaste, so I was excited to give their aluminum-free deodorant a try. The deodorant stick uses hops for odor protection, and it contains no artificial fragrances or preservatives.
With more than 20 different scents to choose from, I decided to take the Wild Lavender scent for a spin during a 30-minute HIIT workout. But after a half-hour of burpees, push-ups, and squats, I was definitely past my personal B.O. comfort level — and it was only morning.