This is part of our weekly series Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, and explore new techniques IRL.
My exploration of clean beauty began with my cancer journey in 2013. I was 26 years old, and this life-changing experience inspired me to switch careers from insurance to the beauty industry. While undergoing chemotherapy, I experienced some devastating changes in my hair, skin, and body chemistry. I was suddenly sensitive to almost all of my favorite beauty and hygiene go-to products. I started rethinking my entire routine, including my regular antiperspirant, which inspired me to try natural deodorants.
What’s the difference between the two? “Natural deodorants work to mask your normal body odor and/or decrease the activity of normal skin bacteria. Musk and odor are caused by the reaction that occurs when normal skin bacteria contact sweat. They do not prevent sweating,” says New York City dermatologist Elyse Love, M.D. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, prevent sweating using aluminum salts. They also have ingredients to control odor, which is why they are called antiperspirant deodorants.
Natural or clean deodorants are a huge trend these days, so it might seem like they are the better choice over antiperspirants, but I think it’s a personal choice. As a cancer survivor, I am comfortable using both types of formulas. According to Michelle Wong, Ph.D., Science Educator at Lab Muffin, “Clean beauty suggests that cosmetics contain dangerous substances, but the amounts in our cosmetics are safe according to the current scientific evidence, as long as you’re buying products from reputable brands.”
One thing to keep in mind when using clean deodorants is that they have the potential to irritate your skin. “From a dermatologic perspective, antiperspirants are better. Sweat is irritating to the skin, so increased sweat can cause acne breakouts, overgrowth of skin fungus and yeast, eczema breakouts, and/or hyperpigmentation. I have seen a significant rise in these conditions over the past year. I find that most people who switch to deodorants don’t know exactly why they have switched, but they’ve been told that natural deodorants are better for them,” Love says.
“Clean deodorants often use essential oils, which people perceive as ‘safer’ because they’re natural. In reality, they’re quite irritating, and many people are allergic to them, especially since deodorants use such high concentrations. There’s also the fact that a lot of them use baking soda, which changes the pH of the armpit, so odor-causing bacteria die down, but this can also lead to irritation,” Wong says.
Her expertise certainly put to rest personal conflicts I have had as a cancer survivor about clean versus traditional formulas of deodorants. However, my exploration had begun so long ago, and now there are some clean deodorants I have absolutely fallen in love with that last through the summer heat.
Drunk Elephant Natural Deodorant
The active ingredients to block odor are mandelic acid derived from almonds and arrowroot powder to absorb sweat. With just a few turns of the spindle, I immediately smell the light scent of sweet almonds. When I apply this deodorant, it feels like a soothing, lightweight lotion and absorbs invisibly into my skin. I have found that when I sweat, I can smell the sweet almond even more! I also love pairing this deodorant with a sweet fragrance like My Way by Giorgio Armani or Perfect by Marc Jacobs to elevate the flirty vibes.
Arm & Hammer Natural Deodorant
Arm & Hammer’s Essentials Deodorant is formulated with natural plant extracts and, of course, baking soda. It’s a solid stick deodorant that applies clear and dries almost instantly when applied. From personal experience, even if I sweat, I do not smell, and there is no white residue on my clothes by the end of the day. I use the Juniper Berry scent, which is one of five different scents they offer. Because I like pairing my deodorants with fragrances, I would wear this with Floral Street’s Arizona Bloom Eau de Parfum to enhance floral notes.
Humble Natural Deodorant
What I love about this brand is the plethora of scents available! I have used both their Original and Vegan & Sensitive Formulas. It’s a solid white deodorant that has a soothing and creamy feel. Keep in mind that some of us experience sensitivity when baking soda is the driving performance ingredient in deodorants. I had a chance to speak with Humble’s director of research and development, Audra Rodgers, who shared a key difference between the two formulas. Although baking soda is one of the main ingredients of the Original Formula, the Vegan & Sensitive Formula has magnesium hydroxide because there is “a slightly lower pH than baking soda,” Audra shared. “Magnesium hydroxide has its own unique properties that make it ideal for a product formulated for sensitive skin.” I highly recommend trying at least two so you can alternate between the energy you feel. Hands down, Mountain Lavender and Morrocan Rose are my favorites!