Natural Deodorants: The Active Ingredients & How They Work

Natural Deodorants: The Active Ingredients & How They Work

In my last post, I introduced you guys to the idea of switching from antiperspirant to natural deodorant.

Today, I’m going to break down the most common active ingredients that you’ll find in natural deodorants. Not all natural deos are created equal, and, much like skin care and hairstyles, what works for one person might not work for another.

When I fall down a research rabbit hole, I’m basically like Alice in Wonderland lost forever. This means that I’ve tried a TON of different natural deodorants, which will hopefully save you from having to try quite that many.

Not all natural deos are created equal, and, much like skin care and hairstyles, what works for one person might not work for another.

 

A Quick Recap

If you missed my last post or need a refresher:

  • Antiperspirant and deodorant are not the same. Antiperspirants use aluminum salts to plug your sweat glands and prevent sweating. Deodorants don’t prevent sweating, but they do help to keep you smelling fresh.
  • Overuse or incorrect use of antiperspirant can actually make you sweat more, and it can also make your sweat smell worse. (Yikes!)
  • Switching to natural deodorant can help to normalize your sweat production, and it can also help the good, non-smelly armpit bacteria to flourish (aka you’ll smell better even if you’re sweaty!).

 

natural deodorant

 

Natural Deodorants in a Nutshell

The typical natural deodorant formula usually looks something like this:

  • Essential oil blend for fragrance
  • Sweat-absorbing ingredients (e.g., arrowroot, talc, witch hazel, or cornstarch)
  • Base ingredients like beeswax or coconut oil for a spreadable texture
  • Antibacterial ingredients like tea tree, baking soda, hops, or activated charcoal to fight odor

The fragrance bit is optional, and a lot of natural deodorants combine multiple sweat-absorbing and odor-fighting ingredients to make a more effective product. The trick is to figure out which of these main actives will work best with your body chemistry.

Switching to natural deodorant can help to normalize your sweat production, and it can also help the good, non-smelly armpit bacteria to flourish.

Which brings us to the part you’ve been waiting for: It’s time to talk about actives.

 

Active Ingredients to Look For in Your Natural Deo

1. Moisture Absorbers

Whether your deodorant comes as a stick, a cream, or a waxy lotion, it’s going to have some kind of wetness-absorbing ingredient. Like I said before, this won’t eliminate sweat, but it will help to keep you somewhat dry.

Common moisture-absorbing ingredients to look for are:

– Baking soda

– Activated charcoal

– Arrowroot powder

– Cornstarch

– Kaolin or bentonite clay

 

natural deodorant

 

While I know that plenty of people have had success with baking soda-based deodorants, I also know that just as many people (myself included!) have suffered from mega irritation, redness, and sensitivity when using deodorants with baking soda in them. So be sure to patch test carefully and start with a low baking soda percentage if you decide to try these out!

(Seriously, I can’t stress patch-testing new deodorants enough. I didn’t, and I could barely put my arms down without burning pain for weeks! Don’t be like me.)

If you have sensitive skin or don’t sweat a ton, I recommend skipping deodorants with clay in them too. They can be quite drying, and this can lead to skin irritation.

I personally like formulas that have arrowroot and/or activated charcoal because I sweat easily, and these are the best for moisture absorption for me.

2. Odor Fighters

In my opinion, this is the most important part of your deodorant. Most natural deodorants focus on just one or two of these ingredients and build the rest of the formula around them.

This is the most important part of your deodorant. Most natural deodorants focus on just one or two of these ingredients and build the rest of the formula around them.

Common ones are:

– Saccharomyces ferment

– Hops (yes, like the kind used to make beer!)

– Tea tree oil

– Eucalyptus oil

– Alpha hydroxy acid (e.g., glycolic or mandelic)

– Witch hazel

– Magnesium hydroxide

– Zinc oxide

These ingredients all function in slightly different ways to achieve their odor-fighting goals.

 

 

Ferments

Saccharomyces, hops, and ferment-based ingredients are meant as a kind of “probiotic” deodorant. This basically means that they’re meant to help good bacteria flourish and curb the “bad” (aka smelly) bacteria.

These don’t work well for me personally, but everyone’s body chemistry is different, so they’re well worth trying! Lavanila and Love, Beauty & Planet are both in this category.

Essential Oils

Tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil are both known for their antibacterial properties. This means that they’re intended to work by reducing the overall amount of bacteria in your pits. (Less bacteria means less smell.)

Organic grocery stores and herbal shops typically carry these types of deodorant. Schmidt’s and Jason’s also make tea tree varieties of their natural deodorants.

Chemical Exfoliants (aka Acids)

Deodorants like Type A and Drunk Elephant Sweet Pitti Cream work by making your pits more acidic. I know this sounds like a bad thing, but lowering the natural pH of your pits makes it hard for the smelly bacteria to survive (this is why I swear by swiping acid on my pits daily!).

You can grab one of these low-pH deos, or you can swipe an acid like The Ordinary’s glycolic acid toner or Stridex onto your pits underneath your natural deodorant of choice.

Lowering the natural pH of your pits makes it hard for the smelly bacteria to survive (this is why I swear by swiping acid on my pits daily!).

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is usually best used alongside another form of deodorant. Unless you’re just not a very sweaty person, witch hazel alone probably won’t keep you fresh. However, it’s great for constricting your pit pores and absorbing natural oils, so it can definitely help boost your natural deodorant’s powers.

Magnesium and Zinc

Magnesium hydroxide is a popular alternative to the harshness of baking soda. It has an amazing ability to neutralize body odor, and it tends to work well for anyone with sensitive skin.

This is my preferred odor-fighting ingredient, and I exclusively use Little Seed Farm’s natural deo because it has the magical combination of magnesium hydroxide and arrowroot powder that works perfectly with my body chemistry. They’re an amazing small business, and I’m totally obsessed with the Rosemary Patchouli and Activated Charcoal formulas.

(I swear they’re not paying me to say nice things about them; I’m just head over heels!)

 

 

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If you’re not big on scents, Pretty Frank makes an ultra-gentle, unscented magnesium hydroxide deodorant too.

Zinc oxide is similar to magnesium hydroxide in that it’s gentle and antimicrobial. You’re probably used to seeing it in your sunscreens, but it’s a good odor-banishing alternative to try if other formulas have let you down. Pretty Frank makes a great zinc oxide-based formula that comes in lots of scents.

 

No Antiperspirant? No Problem!

I hope that this post helped you feel a little less overwhelmed by the sheer number of natural deodorant options out there. Remember that it might take a few tries to find a formula that works with your body chemistry (think of it like finding that perfect signature scent). Lots of natural deodorant brands sell samples or trial sizes of their products, and I highly recommend just collecting as many as possible to see what works!

Do you have questions I didn’t answer? Recommendations I didn’t make? Maybe you want to share your own natural deodorant journey? Let’s chat in the comments!

 

2 Comments
  1. I bought a bunch of natural deodorants a few months ago but went back to antiperspirants because they just didn’t work well enough for me. Now I’m wondering if I gave them long enough to work (i.e., adjust my pit microbiome). I’m looking forward to trying again!

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