About a year ago, in attempts to live simply, safely, and ethically, I decided to switch to all-natural deodorants. Aside from wanting to guard myself from potential harming chemicals like aluminium and parabens, I wanted to apply the ethical decision-making which I put into buying clothes, food, entertainment, etc. into my everyday underarm routine. Even more important to me than potential underarm chemicals is the company from which they are manufactured. Large companies like Procter & Gamble (Gillette and Old Spice) or Unilever (Dove and Degree) continue to contribute to deforestation and unfair labor through their unsustainable sourcing and investment in ingredients like palm oil. While both companies file annual accessible reports, advertising their large-scale actions to ‘reduce environmental impact by half’ or commitments to trace-ability, reporting, and supporting ‘industry standards,’ their impact on the environment and international workforce is still detrimental; their efforts are not enough. Ethical Consumer gives P&G a 3.5 out of 20 and Unilever a 1.5 out of 20 in animal testing, climate change, human rights, political activity, and product sustainability.
I realize that sometimes it can be easier and more accessible to buy the cheapest, quickest thing while buzzing around at the grocery store, but I believe that this small switch to all-natural and ethical underarm care can make a significant impact, benefiting both the climate and your health. As you’ll find below, many of these products are reasonably priced (especially considering quality) and fairly simple to purchase. While I think that every major company has its flaws, there are always alternative options that better-promote a fair and just world and way of living. After all, choosing where your money goes is one of the most powerful tools you can utilize.
At first, I thought it would be an easy change in routine, especially because I usually put deodorant on in the mornings and forget about it the rest of the day. Little did I realize that making this switch would send me on a year-long journey of trying different products and rating them. Instead of switching between multiple products, I stuck to a few for long periods of time, so I could track the patterns in how my body reacted to them. In attempts to promoting simple living and social justice through ethical decision making, I give you a summary of my deodorant quest:
Tom’s of Maine (Lavender and Unscented)
Seeing as this was the first deodorant/antiperspirant I tried, I went into it with high hopes. I have pretty sensitive skin, so I went for the unscented first. After a few months of bearing through my own smell, I realized it was definitely not the best option. I tried only using it after a shower, and then using it throughout the day. No matter what I tried, I still sweat and smelled like I put nothing on. Thinking that maybe choosing unscented is where I went wrong, I switched to the Lavender and it was even worse! I smelled like I was trying to cover up that fact that I ran a half marathon or hiked all day, instead of just simply smelling that way. Neither experience was very good.
Pros: Aluminium free; no artificial fragrances or preservatives; no animal ingredients; not tested on animals; reasonably priced.
Cons: Doesn’t perform well when you really need it; Ethical Consumer rates it 4.5 out 20. (Not so great, Tom.)
It’s exactly what it sounds like — a crystal made up of salts that you slide on after you’ve showered. Because it’s made with pure mineral salt, it blocks some of the bacteria that produces odor. I used this deodorant for many many months in the Tucson desert heat. I even used it while hiking the Grand Canyon. My review is that it worked…kinda. Instead of smelling horrible, I smelled tolerable. If you are okay with smelling like your most natural self, then go for it. This product may work best if you live in a temperate climate (not 100 degree weather). It’s also great for sensitive skin.
Pros: It’s extremely natural, safe, and earth-friendly; reasonably priced; good for sensitive skin. The specific brand I linked to isn’t ranked on Ethical Consumer, but its sister, Salt of the Earth, is ranked 13.5 out of 20, making it one of the top ethical brands listed.
Cons: At the end of the day, you still smell kinda bad.
After my Grand Canyon adventure, I thought I would put a little more money into my next choice and make the plunge into Lush. I was hesitant at first, solely based on price. However, I was extremely impressed. It soothed my sensitive skin, kept me smelling great, and reduced sweating. And it’s lasted me over an entire year! The only critique I have is that it is better worn after a shower. If you shower every day, this is a great choice. If you shower more sparsely, this is a great base deodorant but it won’t help you smell better if you’re already dirty.
Pros: Works very well; natural; earth-friendly (no packaging!); good for sensitive skin; lasts a long time.
Cons: A little costly; not the best choice if you go don’t shower every day.
Having great luck with Lush products, I decided to try their deodorant powder. Overall, this was a great purchase. It leaves you smelling fresh with reduced sweat. However, it should be applied throughout the day. I carry it with me wherever I go for this purpose, which can be a little bit of a pain, particularly because the powder gets all over your hands. Once again, it is quite pricey, but it’s versatile in that you can put it in your shoes, on your back, or anywhere else that tends to collect sweat throughout the day. Ethical Consumer gives it an 11.5 out of 20, so top of the middle rankings. One point to mention is that this is very similar to plain old baby powder. The difference is, this will last a little longer and smell a little better.
Pros: Long-lasting; smells good; works well; versatile.
Cons: More difficult application; costly; messy.
Brands worth trying:
Faith In Nature is a skincare brand based out of the UK, started by a woman who immigrated from NYC to Scotland. It is crystal-based and they have a few different scents worth trying. Ethical Consumer rates them 15.5 out of 20, the highest of the ranks. Based off of my previous experiences with crystal salts, I fear this may not be as strong as other natural deodorants. However, every person’s skin is different, so it’s definitely worth a try. In the UK, it is cheap and very accessible, but if you live elsewhere it may need to be shipped.
Alaffia. As part of the Alaffia Foundation, its ‘mission is to empower African communities through the advancement of Fair Trade, education, sustainable living and gender equality.’ Based in Washington and Togo, West Africa, this company was founded when ‘a young man from Togo, West Africa, met a young woman from rural Washington State’ (who did the Peace Corps!). Their deodorant is charcoal-based and comes in a variety of different scents.
If all of these suggestions don’t work, or you want to go completely off of the grid, you can try making your own! Here’s a recipe from OneGreen Planet:
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 2 Tablespoons corn starch
- 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 20 – 25 drops any essential oil
Mix all of these ingredients and it should last a few months. (You can also just use Milk of Magnesia)
After a year of smell (both good and bad!) and sweat, I would say my favorites are Aromaco and The Greeench. Although both of these can be on the more expensive side, they last for almost a year. While Lush isn’t an immaculate company by any means, their products do everything I feel like they need to while also being very socially and ethically aware and active. If I were to recommend any of these options, especially from experience, I would recommend Aromaco.
Since switching, I’ve loved witnessing my body go through trials of different deodorants and antiperspirants. Not only is it beautiful to watch how your body naturally responds to stuff that’s good for you, but it feels even better when you know that you’re doing what you can to support the health and well-being of Mother Earth.