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Most people get to know the personal hygiene product known as deodorant around the time of puberty, and are expected to use them pretty much forever after.
As a ’90s kid, I got my first powder fresh solid in a goody bag from a health talk around 2004. Over a decade later, although BO is no more acceptable than before, the narrative on antiperspirants and deodorants have shifted a bit. (An antiperspirant stops you from sweating, a deodorant blocks odor with fragrance and antimicrobials, and some products combine both.)
Some people consider at least certain types of these products as potentially dangerous, toxin-releasing sticks you should avoid at all costs, particularly if you have breasts.
This type of thinking has primed the market for a new era of “natural” deodorant that doesn’t contain ingredients found in traditional deodorants. However, some of these supposedly chemical-free products may not have the health benefits you’d expect and may actually irritate your skin.
Here’s a look at the research on traditional deodorant and antiperspirant ingredients, what to know about natural deodorants, and a selection of products you may want to consider trying if you are looking for alternatives or new options.
Does deodorant cause cancer?
The short answer is no, there is no data to suggest that deodorants cause cancer, specifically breast cancer.
This bit of misinformation is mostly likely based on the presence of aluminum, the active compound in many antiperspirants, said Dr. Harold Burstein, a clinician and clinical investigator in the Breast Oncology Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Aluminum blocks sweat glands to limit wetness.
Mammogram technicians ask people to wipe off deodorant before having a breast scan because if it contains aluminum, it could cause white spots to appear on the scan that could be read as a false positive. However, that does not mean that the ingredient causes breast cancer.
“It’s one of those things that probably goes back to the ’70s if not before, that using deodorants or antiperspirants or shaving the underarms or using other skin products somehow affects the risk of breast cancer,” Burstein said. “The simple answer is that there's absolutely no epidemiologic evidence that that's the case.”
What about parabens and sulfates?
There has also been concern over ingredients like parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and triclosan.
Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor that has been removed from many personal hygiene products due to safety concerns, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.
Triclosan was banned from antibacterial soaps and hand washes by the FDA in 2017 because it was ineffective and may have encouraged antimicrobial-resistant germs. The ban doesn’t extend to deodorants, but it’s not likely that they’ll contain the ingredient, said Jamie Alan, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.
Deodorant and skin irritation
Parabens are preservatives that can mimic the effects of estrogen in our bodies, King said, which has made them one of the more controversial ingredients in personal care products. She and Alan both suggested avoiding parabens if possible due to potential for endocrine disruption, which Alan said also applies to phthalates.
However, products that are free of parabens and aluminum may raise other concerns.
A review of product disclaimers by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) found that an increase in the use of alternative preservatives (most notably methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone), which are more allergenic than parabens, may have caused an “epidemic” of allergic contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash that can be caused by jewelry, skin care products, or other irritants.
People with sensitive skin or who are prone to allergic reactions may need to look more carefully into products with paraben-free disclaimers to consider whether replacement preservatives could be a greater risk. The same could be said for aluminum-free options, according to the JAAD study authors.
Natural or antiperspirant-free deodorants (sans aluminum) may also irritate skin. Those products often contain botanicals and essential oils to mask odor, which are common triggers for allergic reactions. Allergic contact dermatitis often improves when people go back to using traditional, fragrance-free antiperspirants, according to the authors of the JAAD study.
Those with easily irritated or allergic reaction–prone skin should avoid deodorants with fragrances. Although most people will be OK with fragrance formulas, they may be a problem for those with eczema or an allergy to certain essential oils, Alan said.
Some natural deodorants use baking soda to absorb moisture and neutralize odor, but “too much baking soda can cause skin irritation in some people,” King said. While manufacturers may put “hypoallergenic” on a label, it only means that the product may exclude some common allergens, but the risk depends on what you’re allergic to, King said.
Should you use a natural deodorant?
There are many antiperspirants and deodorants on the market that are free of parabens, phthalates, or other ingredients besides aluminum that you might be looking to avoid. But for most people, any deodorant is probably going to be safe to use.
“You'd be amazed at the amount of insults your body receives every day from the environment,” Alan said. “A deodorant is a very small bit of this, and generally your traditional deodorants are very safe. If it’s going to ease your mind or if you like [natural deodorants], go for it, but I wouldn’t worry.”
This list has a little bit of everything to meet your needs, whether you want to go fully natural, traditional, or somewhere in between.
I’ll be honest — before starting my research for this article, I assumed that it was better to switch to a natural deodorant. After trying many natural options and ultimately deciding that I’d take any potential toxins over feeling wet and smelly all day, I returned to my tried-and-true Dove until I randomly saw a mini sample of this Native deo and decided to grab it for my travel bag.
It’s genuinely the only natural deodorant I’ve tried that felt like it worked just as well as traditional ones (for odor prevention, not sweat reduction). It’s made without aluminum, parabens, phthalates, and talc if those are things you’re worried about, and I’m fairly obsessed with the coconut & vanilla smell. My boyfriend said that my armpit smelled like a candle hours after I had applied it and been active, which I believe to be enormous praise as someone who loves candles. Native also promises that its fragrances are both natural and sustainable.
Promising review: ”I’ve tried at least a half a dozen natural deodorants. I have never found one that actually controls perspiration and odor to this degree. Beyond happy & will definitely purchase again.” —M. Leslie Head
What else to consider: It’s important to note that no natural or aluminum-free deodorant is going to act as an antiperspirant, so it’s highly possible that you will still sweat while wearing this. However, if odor control is your priority, it’s a great option. It also contains baking soda, which King did identify as a potential irritant.
Best for: smelly pits on an owner who wants something natural and paraben-free with an amazing, candle-like scent.
You can buy Native Deodorant Coconut & Vanilla from Amazon for around $13.
My mom has been using this deodorant for as long as I can remember, and I can tell you that I’ve never smelled any odor or seen any sweat marks on her in my life. Sure, she may just be blessed, but I’ve always found the effectiveness impressive for an unscented gel deodorant. After having bad reactions to others, her dermatologist told her she needed something hypoallergenic. This Almay option fit the bill, promising to be safe on sensitive skin without any scents or irritating additives, and she never looked back. Plus, it’s super affordable and gets rave reviews.
Promising review: “I have very sensitive skin. Most deodorants and antiperspirants give me rashes. This is the first product I can use on my skin, and it works! In fact, I only have to apply this every other day and my pits stay nice and dry. This is the best antiperspirant I’ve ever used and will not want another.” —AbsolutelyNutts
What else to consider: Per usual, the active ingredient that makes this an antiperspirant is an aluminum compound. But after looking at the ingredients in many deodorants, there do seem to be fewer ingredients I’ve never heard of listed on this one. It’s also a gel, so if you’ve never used this type before, it will feel wet at first and take a few minutes to dry out.
Best for: keeping things fresh and dry for super sensitive skin that can’t tolerate any fragrance.
You can buy Almay Sensitive Skin Clear Gel on Amazon for around $3.
Schmidt’s is a natural deodorant brand that people seem to love. It uses gentle, plant-based ingredients like arrowroot powder and essential oils while avoiding any aluminum, phthalates, parabens, or artificial fragrance. There’s also no baking soda if that’s on your list of irritants. They promise 24-hour odor protection with just a few swipes and offer several lovely, natural scents.
Promising review: “I have tried dozens and dozens of deodorants over the years. From the name brands to the upstarts. Got irritated with those containing aluminum, got disappointed with the natural ones that provided no long lasting effects. I actually even tried different versions of this brand. Fascinatingly enough, this particular flavor was the godsend that provided all day protection for me. Don’t know why or how, but going on three months, this is now the only deodorant I purchase.” —R. Joe
What else to consider: This natural deodorant does use essential oils for scent, which have been shown to cause allergic reactions for people with sensitive skin, so make sure you pay attention to the ingredients and patch test if that applies to you.
Best for: those without super-sensitive skin (prone to allergic contact dermatitis) who want a reliable, natural deodorant.
You can buy Schmidt's Aluminum Free Natural Deodorant from Amazon for around $9.
While King opts for the more traditional Dove deodorants, she also likes these aluminum-free anti-odorant pads that use alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) to alter the pH in your armpits so that bacteria won’t be happy living there. As she explained, most natural deodorants block odor by using ingredients that absorb moisture and/or slow down bacterial growth. Surface Deep pads contain AHAs, which are fruit-based glycolic acids, for that purpose, and they’re infused with probiotics derived from coconut fermentation, aloe leaf juice to cleanse and calm the skin, and some essential oils. One swipe should keep you odor-free all day, and the pads are 100% biodegradable.
Promising review: “I have struggled my entire adulthood with finding a deodorant suitable for me. I even tried clinical strength formulas but they didn’t do the job either. Well, one day I was browsing the Internet and stumbled upon the Surface Deep site. I tried the Anti-Odorant pads and they held me all day and night!!! No sweating at all!!! Even during the hot summer months. Where have these been all my life?!?!?! I couldn’t believe it. I hope they never go out of business because from here on out, this is the only deodorant I’ll ever use.” —Kenyatta B. via Surface Deep
What else to consider: King did note that AHAs can be drying, so these may not be best to use during the cold winter months, especially if your skin tends to run on the dryer side. Salicylic acid, another ingredient that can cause dryness or irritation for some people, is also on the ingredient list.
Best for: those looking to avoid the residue and white marks from classic deo sticks plus any aluminum, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, or alcohols.
You can buy Surface Deep Anti-Odorant Pads from Verishop for around $20.
Another natural option that King mentioned is this Hoppin’ Fresh product from Ursa Major, formulated with actual hops, which apparently help your pits stay fresh. There’s also peppermint and eucalyptus to keep things cool, aloe vera to soothe, and kaolin clay to absorb moisture. It promises to eliminate odor-causing bacteria and offer long-lasting protection with a smooth texture and glide. If you aim to buy from brands that value sustainability, Ursa Major also identifies as plastic-negative, meaning that they remove two plastic bottles from nature for every bottle they produce.
Promising review: “I’m really, really impressed with this deodorant. I am a naturally sweaty person, especially after I’ve had some caffeine. Not only did this deodorant help significantly with odor but I didn’t have my usual humiliating pit stains.” —Kris
What else to consider: The manufacturer recommends giving this natural deodorant a full three-week trial period before evaluating the effectiveness, since it says it can take some time to adjust when switching from a traditional deodorant.
Best for: anyone seeking a crisp and clean natural deodorant that won’t stain their clothes.
You can buy Ursa Major Natural Deodorant from Amazon for around $18.
If you’re looking for a more traditional antiperspirant stick that’s unscented, Ban’s invisible solid is a great choice. It not only promises 24 hours of protection with no white residue, but also to continuously eliminate odors with ingredients like Kihada extract, a Japanese yellow bark believed to have antimicrobial effects. Reviewers say that there’s actually no smell or mess and that it does in fact keep them fresh and dry all day, which is really all you can ask for in an unscented antiperspirant deodorant.
Promising review: “No mess! No smell! Easy to apply!” —Edie Brewer
What else to consider: Ban has been around for a long time and yet gets overlooked for some reason as a mainstream antiperspirant deodorant brand. It’s affordable (this price is for a pack of three) and seems to have many die-hard fans.
Best for: deodorant traditionalists looking for an unscented solid stick that actually works.
You can buy a three-pack of Ban Antiperspirant Deodorant Invisible Solid from Amazon for around $13.
Another AHA-based natural deodorant, this fast-drying clear gel from cult-favorite brand Nécessaire has 5% AHA to help prevent odor, brighten discoloration, and exfoliate to smooth skin. The brand promises that all of the ingredients would be just as safe to apply to your face, including witch hazel water for soothing irritation, and niacinamide, which King said is great for strengthening the skin’s moisture barrier. It’s also free of pretty much anything known to cause irritation or suspected of posing a health risk, from sulfates, phthalates, parabens, petrochemicals, mineral oil, silicone, and talc to synthetic fragrances, aluminum, and baking soda.
Promising review: “I am shocked at how much I love this. I have been on the quest for a “cleaner” deodorant that keeps me from smelling and doesn’t turn my pits into red and itchy messes. This is a huge winner. I got the fragrance free and there is truly no smell. It goes on in a liquidy gel that dries almost instantly into feeling like nothing at all. no residue or anything. I smelled just as good at the end of the day as when I started. I am sold on this!” —sash522 via Nordstrom
What else to consider: Similar to the Almay option, this is a gel formula, so it may feel wet upon initial application but should dry quickly. It does contain eucalyptus oil, which contributes to the scent, so if you know your skin can’t handle any essential oils, this is not the way to go.
Best for: minimalist, gel-seeking natural deodorant aficionados who want to avoid literally anything that has been scrutinized for adverse health effects.
You can buy Nécessaire The Deodorant Gel from Nordstrom for around $15.
Megababe’s plant-powered natural deodorant uses enzymes to break down odor and fight wetness. It’s free of aluminum, baking soda, phthalates, and parabens, yet it still claims to swipe on clear and keep you smelling fresh and rosy all day long. Willow bark, oatmeal, and amino acids come together to restore, soothe, and hydrate your underarms in this clean product that does indeed have garden-on-a-spring-day vibes.
Promising review: “My favorite natural deodorant of ALL time (and I’ve tried them ALL). This deodorant not only smells amazing, but it lasts ALL day even when I’m doing a lot of working out. I’m a college student and I am constantly walking and moving around, and I always smell good. Doesn’t leave any bad coloring on my clothes either. I will never switch to another.” —Jyn via Target
What else to consider: It’s branded as being safe for sensitive or dry skin, though it does contain botanical ingredients that have been known to cause allergic contact dermatitis for some people. That being said, it may be best to patch test first if you’re prone to allergic reactions.
Best for: trendy natural deodorant users who want to smell like roses.
You can buy Megababe Rosy Pits Daily Deodorant from Target for around $17.
The combination of clinical strength and safety for super sensitive skin in an antiperspirant deodorant is hard to find, but Vanicream somehow manages to do it and do it well. It’s a brand that’s been around for decades, focusing on creating products free of common chemical irritants. There are no dyes, fragrances, or parabens in this formula that provides 24-hour effective protection without any potentially irritating preservatives or botanical extracts. Reviewers swear by this antiperspirant to keep them fresh and dry without any adverse skin reactions.
Promising review: “I had a lot of trouble figuring out if this was a gel or a solid.... it is indeed a solid stick, which is what I was looking for. I have a new allergy and Vanicream was one of the few deodorants I am able to use. It glides on nicely with no wetness. I am very pleased with it so far....it works great and I will purchase again!” —HMHS
What else to consider: As with any antiperspirant, this product does contain aluminum, which, to reiterate once more, is not linked to breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or other risks.
Best for: sensitive armpits that want to stay dry without any scent whatsoever.
You can buy Vanicream Antiperspirant Deodorant Clinical Strength from Amazon for around $10.
King is a huge fan of all Dove deodorants. She highly recommends the brand’s sensitive skin formula if that’s your concern, and the Even Tone line if you’re dealing with discoloration. However, the new Ultimate water-based formula is her top pick at the moment for normal skin.
“It contains ingredients that help hydrate and support the skin barrier, so it’s just a really nice texture,” she said. The gentle ingredients should help soothe any standard irritation from razor burn, and the base of water with an infusion of glycerin makes it feel fresh and super hydrating. It promises 48-hour odor protection and comes in a variety of scents, but this cucumber water and mint option in particular reminded me of relaxing at a spa. Who doesn’t want a spa experience for their pits?
Promising review: “Loved the smell, feel and protection it gave me. I have sensitive skin and did not break out. I am definitely going to get more.” —chaonyx via Influenster
What else to consider: This is a traditional antiperspirant deodorant that does contain aluminum, so it won’t be suitable for those looking to avoid any aluminum compounds. It also lists a proprietary “fragrance” in the ingredient list without disclosing the specifics, which may not be ideal for those with particularly sensitive skin that’s prone to allergies.
Best for: dry or sweaty pits belonging to those who aren’t too worried about aluminum or fragrance causing an adverse skin reaction.
You can buy Dove Ultimate Water-Based Antiperspirant & Deodorant from Target for around $12.