Au Naturel

A Year Long Struggle to Fall in Love with Natural Deodorants

7 January 2021

I'll come clean right now. My favorite deodorant to date has been Ralph Lauren's Romance Antiperspirant/Deodorant. Yes, designer. Yes, I'm a bougie bitch with expensive tastes, but above all is a ruthless practicality passed down from my mother which will have me watering down the last of my hand soap and dish soap until the day I die, regardless of my income bracket. Which means, even if I prefer it, $25 a pop for a fancy label and the subtly floral scent is too much for a daily use product. Plus, I'm a Cali girl at heart. There's some wee-woo shit in me I can't shake which informs me that clogging up my pores with aluminum and parabens has to be bad for me. It's not natural.

And so, with natural deodorants now widely available on the market and not the kind of outrageous, Themyscira-crafted item they seemed to be when the one (unfortunately smelly) vegan girl was using it back in 7th grade, I decided I would give the product its fair shot. I was convinced it would be better for me. It would make me a more responsible consumer. The Target I go to has helpful color-coded stickers and shelves to show where the "natural" or vegan or non-paraben or non-sulfate or non-microplastic or plant-derived bath products are perched. They boast tantalizing flavors that reminds me of high quality teas and vegan cookies and have labels with only a handful of pronounceable ingredients.

I was ready to fall in love. I was ready for the new me to be someone who embraces my natural state with just a tiny hint of enhancement. I wanted to be convinced and to be free of ruining white shirts with yellow pit stains. Because of my cheapness, I was committed to a long haul experiment as I refuse to waste products and thus, used them up until they were gone and besides, every natural deodorant blog warned that it would take at least two weeks for our bodies to adjust to the new formula anyway. I did this for a year and tried four products and this is what I found in the year of our lord, 2020.

This was the first one I tried, picking one up at random from Target while visiting family on the holidays in the last gasps of 2019, as my travel size deodorant wouldn't cover the extended stay or the fact California was having, as ever, an unfairly warm winter. I picked this brand because I liked this flavor the best, despite there being one or two other natural deodorant choices which were featured on all the other blog lists as must try's.

What I didn't realize then which I realize now is that not all natural deodorants are created equal and it doesn't have anything to do with brand prestige so much as ingredients. The biggest advantage to switching to natural ingredients is that those ingredients actually matter. It isn't the same exact product in Mad Men competing packaging. What differentiates deodorants and, especially, natural deodorants from antiperspirants is the absence of aluminum. The aluminum basically melts into your pores, blocks you from sweating and also eats the bacteria that creates bad smells. Natural deodorants can achieve a similar effect typically through use of Magnesium Hydroxide or baking soda (though I have read a lot of reviews that found the baking soda formulas to irritate their skin over time). Magnesium Hydroxide does not absorb through the skin, is a naturally occurring compound, and has some antibacterial properties. [*Note: Here's a breakdown of all the commercially available antiperspirant alternatives and how they chemically react with your body.]

Apparently my body found the Magnesium Hydroxide in Schmidt's formula pretty groovy. Like all the other bloggers warn, it took my body a couple days to get used to the natural deodorant and for my sensibilities to adjust to the product. It seemed to work just like I would expect from a normal deodorant just...less effective. Despite the lack of aluminum, I wasn't noticing that I was super sweaty even with the unseasonably hot weather or being indoors with appropriately cute sweaters for Christmas photos. After a while I would work up a bit of a sweat which with a normal deodorant wouldn't really happen unless weather and exertion bore down against it. However, it was nothing my clothes couldn't lightly wick off for me.

The second thing I noticed was the scent was very light. A lighter scent isn't necessarily an automatic disqualification for me. I can't buy Secret because its scent is so powerful it becomes nauseating, but I will buy performance sport deodorants specifically because the scent will power back up when I do inevitably begin sweating. The Schmidt's Jasmine tea I could feel expiring, like an anxiety inducing freshness timer. And this would just be in the normal course of a day lounging around the house or running errands. The product description says all day protection with just 1-2 swipes but the bullshit not in the ingredients list shows up in this piece of advertising. I would say this lasts 5-6 hours at best before you needed to reapply and freshen up. Not used to carrying a full sized product in my purse or even needing to preemptively ward off my stank, I would come back from a full day out and notice I smelled without even lifting my arm for a whiff.

While somewhat unpleasant, it wasn't something I could not work around and while I overall liked this product and it served to confirm confidence in natural deodorants, I didn't love Schmidt's enough to commit to it for life when so many other choices abounded.

After being pleasantly surprised by Schmidt's, I think most people would go on to try the established and well-reviewed Native brand of deodorants. But as with the hype of designer makeups, there is always a search for a cheaper dupe that achieves the same thing. Hey, generic drugs are perfectly fine. Bagged, off-brand cereal is just as eatable, if not more so because there is much more of it. So I went to the commonest of generic products and grabbed Walmart's Equate label natural deodorant that advertises itself as a comparative product to Native RIGHT ON THE PACKAGING. I admire a braggadocios boast on generic labels. Don't waste your money on brands, it says. It will be just as good and for half the price, it promises, luring you in.

Let me tell you now, this is an entirely false claim. I chose cucumber mint over cocoa butter because I could recognize that it was a scent that sort of went along with my natural smell. I don't have a soft smell that can be covered by powdery scents. I have something of a savory smell. Multiple people have told me throughout my life that I always smell faintly of food. Cucumber mint had a sharp freshness that could both complement and combat my odor. It was also stronger than the jasmine tea scent I tried before, so I thought it would have better odor masking abilities.

It did not.

Having used up my Schmidt's deodorant during the indoor winter months, I arrived at a quarantine spring and Covid summer with the Equate natural deodorant. I figured I was still mostly at home and even while being out and active during the summer, it's not like I was meeting up with friends or even near people, as everyone kept a lax six foot social distance from me. If my deodorant wasn't performing at tip top shape, who cares? You know who I learned really cared? I cared. I was burning through my deodorant within two hours and when temperatures climbed and humidity turned homes into sweat boxes unless they had central air (a rarity in Upstate New York), it was burnt out within the hour. I could smell myself perspiring in the car. I could feel myself perspiring in the house doing laundry. I could smell myself perspiring walking down the street. Because of the scent, I could smell the exact moment my BO overwhelmed it, when my smell ticked from mint to stink.

Not only that but the whole point of trying to get away from aluminum was so I could stop destroying my white t-shirts. This one managed to destroy seemingly all of my thin summer wear. With my sweat going at more or less full tilt, my pits were soaking the fabric and then rubbing against itself, which wore down the thinner or delicate fabrics of my summer ho outfits. Instead of being yellow stained, the underarm patches or the bottom loop of tank tops just looked dirty and run down.

Checking back on the ingredients, I see that there wasn't a specific antiperspirant ingredient other than maybe the product's shoddy construction itself which was really thick and you more or less mashed it into your pit and dragged it along your skin until dry chunks of it was left behind to presumably absorb your sweat. Lots of natural deodorants warn it won't have that silky smooth glide your old deodorants did and that usually you have to warm a product against your skin before applying. THIS IS NOT THAT. It's just a hunk of aloe chalk or something and when I got towards the end of the stick, the last half inch of it just fell out of the tube holder completely whole. I was blessedly relieved that it did so I could move on.

TLDR: This product belongs right in the garbage. Do NOT purchase.

I could not in good conscience recommend this product to any living being. The "effectiveness" for lots of beauty and bath products are pretty subjective. It's often a personal preference and with some products it just comes down to different body chemistry. Some face washes won't work for some types of skin. Some deodorants won't work with some bodies. I struggle to imagine what body this product would work for.

After a couple months of feeling stinky unless I vigorously reapplied on the hour, I felt like my best bet would be to return to the tried and true classic brand, Dove, and try their alternative offering to their normal line. Lots of people buy Dove deodorants, not because they love it, but because it works and it's always available. My family of four women would just do a semi-annual buy of the big cucumber and pomegranate multipack from Costco because it was super easy and there was really nothing to complain about. When I was a self conscious teenager, I briefly bought their prescription grade antiperspirant because I was at school eight or nine hours a day, including an after school sport, and around judgmental peers all the time who notice that kind of shit. It worked great. I wouldn't smell like anything.

This one SMELLS. It covers up your smell with its overwhelming scent of synthetic pink. Like, it does not really smell of coconuts or flowers. It's that nebulous sweet, sort of tropical female scent that when I picked it up in store, smelt fine, but when soaking through your clothes became utterly nauseating. This one too, after eliminating 100% of the aluminum, did not choose to put in an alternative antiperspirant ingredient. I'll give it this, because of the aloe and shea butter formula, this product smoothly glides onto your skin, which was a nice change from previous two stiffer, more solid products. But that's it, that's all the complements I've got for this one. The problem is Dove brags that this is made of "1/4 moisturizers for soft and smooth underarms" and boy does it make you moist. Not only is it missing an antiperspirant, but the moisturizing properties means it goes on wet. Forget about putting it on after you get out of the shower. You won't get any product on because it slips off your slick skin. And it dries sticky. Like whether you try to keep your arms lifted or immediately drop them, it felt like touching a snail trail from a glue stick.

It also couldn't seem to stay on. When I started sweating it would melt the product off onto my clothes, leaving them reeking, forcing me to abandon my shirts to the hamper because I couldn't bear to wear them again. Which is a problem during still-basically-quarantine where you aren't doing much of anything and therefore can't justify a ton of laundry. By the time I adopted this product it was early fall, which is plagued by bouts of cold snaps and Indian summer. Sometimes it's hot, sometimes it's cold. I would change to a warmer blanket thinking it was getting colder and then the humidity would return and I would wake up in a puddle of sweat. And oh, did I hate waking up soaked and smelling of girly pink flowers on top of my angry, unregulated sweaty stink.

My cheapness not withstanding, I just could not keep using this one. Avoid at all costs.

I admit it. After a couple months of being constantly damp and two duds in a row, I was traumatized enough to go back to the lovingly dry embrace of aluminum. But maybe there could be a middle ground here? Perhaps it is possible to compromise on more natural ingredients, while keeping the MVP antiperspirant properties of aluminum, which, despite the hippy-dippiest of alarmists, does not actually increase your risk for breast cancer. While paraben and dye free, Secret with Essential Oils does have unpronounceable ingredients listed, as well as alcohol in it. The fragrances are indeed aromatherapy approved, however.

Bottom line: It smells like gin.

But you know what, after the first couple of times you pop the cap and the peculiar sensation of opening a bottle of Bombay Sapphire wears off, you begin to appreciate it for that botanical undertone. Some people may not like this particular scent as it has a light musk to it from the cedarwood that codes male. For me the citrus brightens it up and gives it a pleasant unisex vibe. The other reason why some people may not like this is that lemon essential oils don't smell like lemonade so much as the bitter rinds where the zest and oils reside, which I've found out with other organic products like Avalon's lemon body lotion. Personally, I thought this was definitely a better product than the lotion.

I said earlier that I don't buy Secret, but No. 29 definitely gives the impression that this is their attempt at a more artisanal or luxury product. Look at this box and packaging! It looks sophisticated and has shiny foil like a holographic Pokemon card. No. 29 is a perfume, not a stink repellant! Plus it's three times as expensive as their standard deodorants, so it must be better quality!

Honestly it was just a relief to be using a fully working deodorant again, even if I went full circle back to a more traditional synthetic antiperspirant. It doesn't meant that I have lost faith in natural deodorants. I definitely want to try more and keep searching, but with so little personal experience and so many choices from Indiegogo startups like Fussy to Amazon favorites like CRYSTAL or designer ones from Aesop, I'm not sure where to start. But it's yet another new year and I have no doubt I can find a new, more natural me.