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Growing concerns about plastic pollution, along with a desire for a natural approach to skincare, means natural and eco-friendly deodorants are increasingly in the spotlight.
But do they really work, and are conventional antiperspirant deodorants all that bad?
We look into the health, effectiveness and sustainability claims with the help of cosmetic chemist Dr Barbara Olioso, of The Green Chemist, to help you decide what’s right for you.
We’ve also rounded up some of the main eco deodorant brands and compared prices, active ingredients and eco credentials.
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Natural deodorants tend to focus on naturally derived ingredients and the fact they they don’t ‘block’ your pores and prevent sweating. Some are also claimed to have sustainable, eco-friendly or easily recyclable packaging (usually plastic-free), such as glass jars, tins or cardboard tubes.
They are also overwhelmingly aluminium-free, so work differently from conventional deodorants, which are mostly antiperspirants.
Antiperpirants both control odour and keep you dry, and are available as roll-on liquids, creams or sticks, and as sprays. They use an aluminium salt compound to plug sweat ducts and prevent sweating.
They also typically include antibacterial ingredients to absorb and prevent odours. Many also contain perfume, and ingredients to make for easy application or moisturisation of the skin.
How are natural and eco deodorants different?
Natural and eco deodorants tend to work by neutralising odours and absorbing moisture, rather than preventing sweating. While plenty have moisture-absorbing ingredients, none are true antiperspirants.
Natural moisture absorbers, such as tapioca starch, arrowroot and kaolin clay, are typical ingredients used in these products, along with antibacterial ingredients such as baking soda, citric acid and ammonium alum, which prevent odours.
Moisturising agents tend to be naturally derived options such as cacao or shea butter, coconut and almond oil.
They come in a range of formats, including creams, pastes, crystals, roll-ons and pump-action spray formulas.
What are the benefits of eco or natural deodorants?
Natural deodorants are claimed to be kinder to skin by using largely naturally derived ingredients.
Many also include claims around being sustainable, ethical or eco-friendly, with plastic-free or reusable/recyclable packaging, and organic or vegan-friendly/cruelty-free ingredients.
Most conventional deodorants use plastic packaging or aerosol sprays. Usually these can technically be recycled, but often the plastics vary from one product to the next. This means some might not be accepted under local recycling schemes, and it can be hard to know for sure.
Aluminium spray cans often have some plastic parts, such as nozzles and lids, that are harder to recycle, while aerosol sprays have their own environmental implications.
Packaging isn’t the only plastic issue, either. Some conventional antiperspirant deodorants also contain microplastics, such as those used as viscosity regulators (to help the product to flow), emulsifiers and liquid absorbents.
Cons of natural eco deodorants
Eco and natural deodorants are generally pricier than conventional antiperspirants.
Some are applied using the fingers, which isn’t always practical, and they can be sensitive to temperature – some paste formulas will naturally harden with the cold and get mushier in warm weather, and some sticks might need a spell in the fridge if it gets too hot.
None are true antiperspirants, so you will have to make your peace with a certain level of wetness.
It’s worth remembering that natural ingredients can still cause skin reactions. For example, bicarbonate of soda can irritate the skin and cause itchiness, especially if used after shaving, and some essential oils that are commonly found in natural deodorants might also cause skin irritation.
There are sensitive formulas available, though.
Are concerns about conventional antiperspirant deodorants justified?
The rise in popularity of eco deodorants has several catalysts, but for some it’s been prompted by concerns about ingredients in conventional products, particularly aluminium.
A key fear is around aluminium in deodorants potentially causing cancer. The theory is that aluminium compounds such as aluminium chlorohydrate or aluminium zirconium, used to stop sweating, can be absorbed through the underarms and cause breast cancer.
Claims also suggest that this plugging of sweat ducts with certain aluminium compounds prevents the body ridding itself of potentially carcinogenic substances absorbed during antiperspirant use.
However, Cancer Research UK says there is ‘no good evidence’ to suggest a link between aluminium in antiperspirants and cancer.
It told us: ‘Some people have questioned whether aluminium in some deodorants and antiperspirants can affect cancer risk. But the scientific evidence doesn’t currently support a link, so we don’t want people to worry.’
There are also fears that aluminium found in everyday items such as aluminium cans, antacids and antiperspirants could cause Alzheimer’s. But the Alzheimer’s Society says: ‘No convincing relationship between amount of exposure or aluminium in the body and the development of Alzheimer’s disease has been established.’
Some people might still prefer to opt for aluminium-free products, and if you’re keen on plastic-free deodorant you might not have any choice, as most are aluminium-free.
What aluminium-free really means
If you’re choosing to avoid aluminium out of personal choice, bear in mind that some natural deodorants that use ‘natural mineral salts’ still technically contain it.
For example, crystal products such as Salt Of The Earth contain potassium alum, and PitRok is made from ammonium alum – both aluminium salts.
However, these particular salts only have a deodorising effect, and sit on the skin, whereas aluminium chlorohydrate and aluminium zirconium are antiperspirant ingredients that plug pores to prevent sweating.
Some people opt for deodorant over antiperspirant because they like the fact that it tackles odour but still allows their sweat to come out.
But it’s worth knowing that this is not necessary for letting out toxins, as some brands claim. Your body already has sophisticated detoxing processes in the form of your liver and kidneys. Sweating is more about effective temperature regulation than detoxing.
Eco deodorant brands compared
You won’t currently find most of these products in high street stores (aside from Holland and Barrett, which has a good range), so it can take a bit of time and research to figure out what’s out there and what’s best for you.
We’ve rounded up the key players, costs, eco and ethical claims, and some insights from users to help you decide.
All are unisex and most have a range of scents to choose from, including unscented options.
Cost: £25 for a Discovery pack (one case plus three different scent refills), or £12 for a Starter pack (one case and one 43g refill) if you subscribe, followed by a three-pack refill every two to three months for £15
How long it lasts: Wild says one refill lasts 4-6 weeks
Packaging: Anodised aluminium and recycled plastic reusable case (post-consumer recycled plastics). Refill casings are made from 100% biodegradable bamboo pulp
Wild – available as a one-off or on subscription – demonstrates that being eco-friendly doesn’t mean forfeiting style.
It consists of a sleek reusable case and refill cream-stick deodorant cartridges. There are five scents currently available including mint and eucalyptus, coconut dreams and bergamot rituals.
The base ingredients in Wild deodorant includes tapioca starch to absorb moisture, and sodium bicarbonate to control odour. Extracts of essential oils provide the fragrances.
Subscription deodorant might seem a bit unusual, but you can pause, edit or cancel the subscription at any time, and adjust deliveries or swap scents to suit you.
One user told us the deodorant had done a ‘decent’ job but that it sometimes needed to be reapplied during the day.
Available from Wild
Other similar options:
- Proverb Natural deodorant stick – £17 for starter kit (case and one 70g refill), range of refillable sticks on subscription, reusable plastic case. Available from Proverb.
The Natural Deodorant Co
Cost: £12.50 for 45g jar or £4 for a mini trial size of 10g (or £10 for a pack of three trial size from the core ranges)
How long it lasts: Two months
Packaging: Glass jar with metal lid (reusable and recyclable), minis in metal tins
There are three formulations to choose from with this creamy paste-based deodorant: ‘Clean’ – for daily use/all skin types, ‘Gentle’ – for sensitive skin, and ‘Active’ – for more demanding days.
Key ingredients include magnesium oxide and bicarbonate of soda (except in the Gentle range) to help prevent odours, as well as arrowroot for the sweat and shea butter to moisturise.
The deodorant is applied using your fingers, although you can also buy a small bamboo spatula (50p) to get it out of the jar.
The company says its products are 100% natural, free from preservatives, alcohol, artificial fragrance and palm oil, and are registered with The Vegan Society.
A 45g jar lasts two months, so it’s reasonable value for money, plus the availability of mini sizes is useful so you can try it before committing to a bigger size.
Some might react to the bicarbonate of soda. One user told us: ‘My girlfriend said it was really good, but it irritated her skin after a few months due to the bicarbonate of soda in the ingredients.’ Another user told us they found it effective, and that the initial itchiness from the bicarb settled down after a few months. So you might need to give it a trial to see if it works for you.
Dr Olioso says: ‘It contains good active ingredients, so should be effective, but be aware that arrowroot – the most abundant ingredient – might leave white marks.’
Other similar options:
- Earth Conscious deo tin – £7 for 60g, range of scents. Available from Earth Conscious and Holland and Barrett
- Native Unearthed deo jar – £6.99 for 60ml, range of scents. Available from Native Unearthed, Holland and Barrett and Planet Organic
- We Love the Planet deo tin – £8.99 for 48g, range of scents. Available from Holland and Barrett and Ocado
- Awake Organics deo tin – £12 for 60g, probiotics and arrowroot, unscented and bicarb-free options. Available from Awake Organics and Peace with the Wild
- Earth Conscious Bare Bar – £9 for 90g – solid bar deodorant, range of scents, similar key ingredients (arrowroot, sodium bicarb). Available from Earth Conscious
- Zero Waste Path deo tin – £5.50 for 60g, range of scents. Available from Peace with the Wild
Cost: Starter pack of 15ml £12.95, or value pack £25 for 40ml (2 x 20ml tubes)
How long it lasts: Six to seven weeks (15ml pack), 19-20 weeks (40ml pack)
Packaging: Sugarcane bioplastic tube (recyclable) with a plastic lid
This fragrance-free vegan deodorant (or ‘anti-odorant’ as it calls itself) comes in the form of a tube of cream that you apply to the underarms by hand.
Nuud says one application is effective for between three and seven days. The active ingredients include antibacterial microsilver, which neutralises bacteria.
It also contains clay, zinc oxide and a range of natural oils and waxes.
It’s worth noting that while sugarcane packaging is recyclable, it isn’t biodegradable – its sustainability is in the manufacturing process, so although its starting point is sugarcane, this doesn’t mean it’s compostable.
Also, the lid is made out of regular plastic – the company says that when it tried to design a sugarcane lid, it crumbled.
It’s fairly pricey compared with some of the others we looked at, although the company says you’ll still need 15 times less of it than a regular deodorant. This means 15 times less production, packaging and transportation (although it doesn’t seem to last longer than rivals based on claimed average-use time).
It contains almond oil, so speak to your doctor before using it if you have nut allergies.
Akt Deodorant Balm
Cost: £18 per 50ml tube (£15.30 on subscription)
How long it lasts: Six to eight weeks
Packaging: Recyclable aluminium tube and cap.
The brand claims Akt, developed by two West End dancers, has been tested on more than 1,000 professional dancers and athletes. It’s claimed to be plastic, aluminium and cruelty-free and to absorb both wetness and odours (although it stops short of classing itself as an antiperspirant).
It does this with a combination of natural plant and mineral powders to deodorise and absorb perspiration, including magnesium oxide and diatomaceous earth (a fossilised algae). It also contains sodium bicarbonate.
As for its eco credentials, Akt has a stylish recyclable aluminium tube and cap, and comes in cardboard boxes.
There are currently three unisex scents available, and the subscription option is easy to change online.
If you’re not keen on getting the paste on your hands, you can also buy an aesthetically pleasing brass applicator to help massage it into your skin, although at £26 it’s a pricey addition. There’s also a metal key gadget to squeeze every last drop from the tube (£9).
One tube is said to last six to eight weeks, so it’s the most costly eco deodorant we looked at.
Available from Akt
Salt of the Earth Crystal Deodorant
Cost: From £3.29
How long it lasts: Six months or more (travel crystal or classic crystal)
Packaging: Cardboard box
This product is a crystal made from potassium alum – a natural mineral salt – and sits on the surface of the skin in a microscopic layer, where it kills bacteria. Ammonium alum is another one you’ll commonly find in this type of product.
You can buy the crystal on its own, or the company also sells one encased in a plastic base. In both cases, you wet the product slightly before use or rub it on to damp skin.
There are no added extras here – just crystal in a box. So if you’re after a no-frills eco deodorant product that will last for six plus months (if you look after it) for not much outlay, this could be the one for you.
One user said: ‘I’ve used this one and found it very capable of handling odours across everyday and more strenuous activities, like running, hiking and holidays in the sun, and it lasts for an absolute age.’
If you like the active ingredient but prefer a different formulation, Salt of the Earth also has a spray, which also comes with the added benefit of being refillable. One user told us: ‘The refills will last me about a year.’
Salt of the Earth says a 1-litre spray refill uses 70% less plastic than buying 10 individual 100ml sprays.
There is also a stick version in plastic casing, and the brand also makes a deodorant balm in a glass jar.
Other similar options:
- Biork – £12.99 for 120g – potassium alum crystal in a refillable natural cork case. Available from Holland and Barrett and Peace with the Wild
Cost: One-time purchase from £8.99, or 15% off if you subscribe
How long it lasts: 4-6 weeks (used once a day as required)
Packaging: This ‘plant-powered’ vegan and cruelty-free deodorant comes in a paper tube with no plastic parts, and the deodorant is pushed up from the bottom of the container.
The base ingredients include tapioca starch for moisture absorption and sodium bicarbonate for odour control. It also contains a range of natural fragrances including patchouli oil. There are several scents to choose from.
There is no waste with this product – the entire tube is compostable.
As with Wild and Akt, you can control how often you receive a new deodorant if you subscribe, and pick and mix scents.
One user told us: ‘This one kept me drier than other alternative deodorants I’ve tried. I like the fact that I can chuck the empty packaging in my compost bin, rather than having to think about sorting it for recycling and wondering if it will get recycled properly.
Available from Wavy Deo
Other similar options:
- Earth Conscious Sticks – £7 for 60g, arrowroot and sodium bicarb, several scents. Available from Earth Conscious and Holland and Barrett
- We Love The Planet – £8.99 for 65g, several scents. Available from Holland and Barrett, Ocado and Planet Organic
- Scence – £12 for 75g, several scents. Available from Peace with the Wild and The Plastic Free Shop
- Ku.tis – £6.50 for 50g, several scents. Available from Kutis and Peace with the Wild
- Your Nature – £7.95 for 70g, several scents. Available from Your Nature and Peace with the Wild
Fit Pit Sensitive
Cost: £4 for mini 25ml glass jar, £10 for 100ml
How long it lasts: Three months (100ml jar)
Packaging: Glass jar with a metal lid (both reusable and recyclable)
This deodorant cream is rubbed in with your fingertips, and it melts on contact with warm skin.
Similar to the Natural Deo Co offering, it contains bicarbonate of soda and arrowroot to help prevent odours by altering the skin’s natural pH.
There’s a range of unisex scents available, largely based on essential oils such as peppermint, citrus, rosemary and bergamot, as well as gender-specific options.
It’s 100% organic (minus water and minerals), 100% natural origin and plastic-free. To encourage recycling, The Green Woman, which manufactures the product, will give 30p for every empty 100ml jar and 10p for every 25ml jar returned to the company either directly or via a stockist.
Users of Fit Pit in the office had mixed opinions on it. Some told us it was ‘effective and long lasting’ but ‘can be a bit messy to apply’.
Others reported that it left greasy marks on their clothing if they dressed as soon as it was applied, so they preferred to let it settle a bit first.
Are big brands making natural deodorants?
Although the eco deodorant marketplace is dominated by smaller companies, bigger ones are starting to get in on the action.
Unilever and P&G have both recently launched refillable or plastic-packaging-free deodorants in the US (including brands Dove and Sure).
These initiatives haven’t reached UK shores yet, except for P&G’s Old Spice Clean Waters deo stick (£6.66 for 70ml at Boots), which has a 90% recycled paper case and uses plant-based, mineral and natural ingredients, including tapioca starch for moisture absorption.
There are a few aluminium-free deodorants from the big brands and specialists. These include Bionsen, Weleda and Dove 0%.
Sanex and Mitchum both have deodorant-only options which use bamboo powder and tapioca starch for wetness absorption, but these are all still in standard plastic packaging or spray cans.
Tips for making the switch to eco or natural deodorant
Stick with it
Be prepared for a transition period in which your armpits get used to the switch from antiperspirant to natural deodorant – and don’t give up in the first few weeks of use.
Some people find that they go through a ‘detox’ period of a few weeks as their pores gradually get rid of antiperspirant build-up, and this can temporarily lead to additional sweating and odour.
Dr Olioso says: ‘I suspect this is more a case of people becoming more aware of and getting used to their own smell and how much they sweat – things they may have become dissociated from because of many years of using conventional products.’
Making the switch at a time when you don’t have lots of high-stress work, activities or social events will take the pressure off.
Mix and match
Try different brands until you find one that suits you. Opt for mini bundles if you want to try out a few scents or different options to find the best fit for you. Several brands offer this option.
Keep an eye out for offers
Many brands offer an introductory discount via their own websites, and retailers such as Holland and Barrett have regular sales events, which might mean you can save on the cost of eco deodorants. It’s worth shopping around and keeping an eye out for deals.
Adapt to your lifestyle
You might still want the reassurance of an antiperspirant for important events or busy days – so don’t feel you have to commit to one or the other for good.
Take care with sensitive skin
Be cautious with products containing bicarbonate of soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate or baking powder) or essential oils if you have sensitive skin or if you tend to shave your underarm hair, as it might cause irritation.
There are sensitive formulas available. You might also wish to experiment with alternative hair-removal methods such as epilation or waxing, which might cause less irritation as they are longer lasting.
Know your reasons for switching and what to look for
Not all natural or aluminium-free deodorants are also focused on sustainable packaging and production, so it pays to do your research.
If organic credentials are important to you, look for a Soil Association certified brand – either a COSMOS Organic logo or COSMOS Natural logo (where products contain lots of ingredients which cannot be organic, such as water, salt or clay, but might contain organic ingredients, too).
Decide if you’re happy being hands-on
Decide if you are happy applying a product with your hands.
As your hands should be clean, this might not be so practical with a deodorant you want to take on the go.
Opt for a stick style in this case, or use a tool to apply the paste.