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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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Natural DeodorantThe following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.

Powder fresh, lavender fields, shower fresh, baby powder soft, orchard blossom, soothing chamomile, spring rain…

Today, we’re talking about deodorants, one of the most commonly used toiletries next to soap and toothpaste.  We’re going to look at the science behind body odor, the different kinds of natural deodorants available, and some of the health concerns people are voicing about our deodorants.

So, what causes body odor?

In one word: bacteria.

You have sweat glands all over your body and most of them will secrete liquid (water and salt) to help your body cool down when it gets too warm. However, the sweat glands in “hairy regions” (scalp, underarms, etc.) are different. They have a special type of sweat on reserve, a “fatty” sweat loaded with proteins and pheromones. When this stuff is secreted, the bacteria on your skin (which are evidently just hanging out, waiting for something exciting to happen) begin breaking down the sweat protein-rich sweat, releasing odor as a byproduct. Sweat + Bacteria = Odor

Simple, right? Not so much. If it was that simple, everyone would sweat the same and smell the same. Other factors can affect odor. For one thing, diet. What you put into your body changes what comes out of it. Some people are sensitive (not allergic) to different foods that, when eaten, can affect their personal body odor. Another factor? Your genes. A study earlier this year showed that body odor is linked to a gene. If you have a specific expression of the ABCC11 gene, you don’t smell. Yet, 80% of these non-smelly people still used deodorant out of habit or social convention.

How do deodorants stop odor?

First, some basic terminology:

  • Deodorant – a product that prevents or conceals odor

  • Anti-perspirant – a product that prevents sweating

  • Anti-perspirant & Deodorant – a product that prevents sweating and removes odors

Deodorants have been part of civilization since 3500 B.C. when the Sumerians first mentioned it in writing. Egyptians would used spices and citrus to mask odor. No doubt, we like a pleasant scent. Modern day deodorants work by killing the odor-causing bacteria. You will still sweat, but the bacteria will be gone, so you won’t smell.

Antiperspirants, on the other hand, have only been commonplace for the last 80 years or so. The active ingredient in antiperspirants (what the majority of people use) is some kind of aluminum ion (aluminum chloride, for example). The aluminum ions are drawn into the cells around your sweat gland, taking water with them. The water physically swells the cells, closing the sweat gland openings in the process. Over time, the water seeps back out, reopening the sweat glands. The FDA classifies antiperspirants as drugs, because they alter the natural function of the body.

The first anti-perspirant? Mum in 1888. However, antiperspirants didn’t catch on to mass public appeal until some “clever” marketing ads in the 1920’s, kindly deceiving informing women that men all gossip behind their backs about how bad they smell (see above). Lovely, huh? Ads didn’t target men until the 1950’s. Today, body odor is taboo and deodorants and antiperspirants are an $18 billion worldwide industry. [Photo credit- For more details about the history of this industry (and more vintage ads) check out the Smithsonian’s informational article.]

Are there health concerns?

If you Google “deodorant”, “can cause cancer” quickly pops up next to it. In 2003, a study showed that women who shaved their underarms regularly and used antiperspirants (not deodorants) developed breast cancer 22 years earlier than women who didn’t. A 2005 study added supporting clinical evidence, showing that breast cancer originated in the same place that these aluminum ions were applied, stating that aluminum (like the active ingredient in antiperspirant) is known to alter DNA and has epigenetic effects. (Have you read about epigenetics? Basically, it’s all about how stuff like environmental factors can physically change our DNA. Fascinating.) Another scientist points out that parabens (chemicals also found in deodorants and antiperspirants) are proving to be oestrogenic in lab tests (meaning they act like human estrogen). The big deal?

“Increased concentrations of circulating oestrogens have been found to be strongly associated with increased risk for breast cancer in postmenopausal women” [from a 2003 study].

In fact, there are dozens of chemicals in our antiperspirants that are oestrogenic (a detailed list can be found here). Notice something? All this research is very new, about 10 years old. Some research has also drawn a correlation between aluminums and Alzheimer’s disease. The link is not confirmed, but in my opinion, there’s enough to make me leery of using aluminums or parabens. More than anything, I hope research continues so we can get some definitive answers and work towards increased prevention of these diseases. [Want more details about current research and data? I’d point you towards this one research article that summarizes a lot of the concerns between underarm deodorant use and breast cancer.]

We could spend a lot of time discussing the woes of antiperspirants, but let’s focus on some good options to keep odor away and not use any aluminum or parabens in the process. And no…you don’t have to smell like Matthew McConaughey.

My Story

About one year ago, I decided to try some alternatives. Up until then, I used a normal antiperspirant & deodorant combo with good success. No odor, no excessive sweating. I switched to the only “natural deodorant” brand I found at my local Target, “Tom’s of Maine Long Lasting” deodorant. It boasted 24 hour odor protection on the label and had a nice, all natural lavender scent. I tried it the next day and…hated it. I felt damp and icky (but I didn’t smell). I put it back on my shelf and went back to my normal stuff.

A few months later, I was inspired to give it a second chance. I began alternating- one day Toms, one day normal. On the Tom’s days, I also added a body powder that I had on hand. After a week, I decided to go cold turkey and switched to Tom’s. Two weeks later, my body had normalized, and I no longer felt damp! In fact, I wasn’t sweating much at all. I’m not sure why, but I felt dry again. Anyone else have a similar (or different) experience?

What about exercising? Friends, I practice hot yoga. 105º F in 40% humidity for 60-90 minutes. I sweat. A lot. Since bacteria, not sweat, produce odor, you don’t smell when you sweat, only if it hangs around long enough to feed bacteria, which the deodorant kills off. No bacteria, no odor. I haven’t felt the need for an antiperspirant (just deodorant).

Shopping for Alternatives

Disclaimer: When you go shopping, you’ll see different options for “natural deodorants.” Remember to always check the labels, because the “natural” label can be deceiving, and sometimes it’s no more than deceptive marketing. Some deodorants also contain triclosan (an antibacterial bad guy), so keep an cautious eye out for those.

I’m taking a conservative approach and choosing to avoid any oestrogenic chemicals. To sum up, that’s: aluminums, triclosan, parabens, fragrances, and phthalates. What’s on your “avoid” list, if anything? Decide what’s on your personal list and start reading labels! Here are a few options you’ll probably find in the store:

Toms of Maine: I see this one almost everywhere- Publix, Target, Whole Foods, Amazon…it’s easy to find and a pretty safe choice to make. The other a few different scents (all natural) or unscented varieties. About $5.

NutriBiotic: is more commonly seen in healthfood stores, but it’s ingredient list is clean and it works well too. It also adds grapefruit seed extract and aloe vera for additional benefits.Two scents available plus unscented. About $5.50.

EO Organic Deodorant: I haven’t tried this one yet, but it’s next on my list. The ingredient list is certified organic, free of propylene glycol, and squeaky clean. It’s an alcohol-based spray-on product, so don’t use it directly after shaving! I haven’t looked for it in stores, but I’ve seen the brand at Whole Foods before. Available in three scents. About $4-6.

Kiss My Face All Natural Active Life: this brand meets all my requirements, though I haven’t seen it in person at stores. Five different scents available. About $6.

Note: several brands offer a deodorant “crystal”. I haven’t tried these myself, but I read that the crystal is usually potassium alum- an aluminum salt. They say that the crystal’s molecules are too big to be absorbed by the skin, but I’m leaving it off the list.

Homemade: since all you have to do is get rid of bacteria to prevent odor, there are some great homemade options you can explore. I haven’t tried these recipes, but feel free to add your own tips in the comments below!

  • Spray-on Deodorant – take any empty bottle, add ethyl alcohol, add an essential oil, enjoy!

  • Coconut Oil – with its natural antibacterial properties and luxurious skin benefits, many are recommending coconut oil as a deodorant, or as the base for a homemade recipe. I haven’t tried this myself. Have you? I wonder if you can get oil marks on your clothing from it?

  • Deodorant Powder – great for preventing or combating wetness. To get a good essential oil fragrance in my powder, I just put 5-10 drops in a plastic storage container filled with the powder. Shake a few times a day. After a couple of days, the oil has worked its way through the powder with no clumping.

Tips: if you decide to ditch the conventional antiperspirants, you’ll likely experience a 1-3 week adjustment period as your sweat glands get back to normal. I get it. I’ve been there. It passes. The deodorant powder helps SO much during the transitional phase; I insist that you try it! If you’ve already made the switch, what advice would you pass on to others?

Next week…we’re talking about body lotions! What’s in them, why we use them, and what organic or natural options are available. Any specific questions? Leave a comment. We love reading what everyone has to say about these topics. Thanks for being such an awesome community!

    • Kim Reed Edmunds

      I have only tried the crystal that you wet and rub under your arm. I used that during several of the years I owned a gym, taught classes and wore workout clothes all the time. The crystal was great to prevent odor since, in my situation, I had that lovely sweating and drying and sweating again issue. It was not intended to keep me dry and it seemed a little ridiculous that with regular antiperspirants, the only part of me that was dry after class was my armpits.

      • Emily

        Kim, I’ve been using the rock for years – this is honestly the first article I’ve ever come across that made me wonder if it’s a good thing? But after reading up a bit, it seems like alum and aluminum are two different things, and the rocks are typically made of potassium alum. I’m too lazy to make my own coconut oil deodorant, and too cheap for Toms, so just gonna stick with what’s been working thus far and hope I’m not giving myself a nasty case of early onset Alzheimers, right?

    • Michelle

      A few weeks ago I starting using the coconut oil with baking soda and cornstarch and I couldn’t believe the difference. NO odors at all and wetness hasn’t been an issue for me either. I haven’t noticed any residue on my clothing either. It’s way better than store bought!!! I convinced my hubby to try a dry version using just the baking soda and cornstarch, and he’s a believer after just 2 days. It’s amazing. I don’t mind applying the oil version, but maybe the powder would be easier for guys. Also, one note, it you rub the oil version on freshly shaved skin, it can cause irritation. I found that if I just pat it on gently it will prevent the baking soda from being abrasive on my skin.

      • Mariana

        Ok. I’ll have to give the coconut oil recipe a try! I also found a recipe on Wellness Mama’s site that sounded good. She even pours it into an empty deodorant stick to use like traditional deodorant!

        • Guest

          I love Wellness Mama-She has “recipes” for all sorts of natural products like baby wipes, oil and powder. Also check out Bonzai Aphrodite for Natural living

    • dc

      I’ve always the way deodorant felt on my skin and honestly I never really use it. I wash under my arms every shower with baking soda either mixed with Dr bronners or just water and I have no issues with smell.

    • me

      I used to use antiperspirants years ago up until all of the underarms of my clothes were bright yellow. I was told by a doctor to stop using antiperspirants because it was interferring with my hormones. I now use Tom’s and I haven’t had any issues since.

    • Sharon

      Hi Mariana, would you please focus on children’s immunizations in a near future column. I have a good feeling you have done great study on this issue. Thanks for sharing your knowledge in a way that is “understandable”!

      • Mariana

        Sharon – I’ve read a good bit about immunizations, but I’m still formulating my own stance on them. It’s kinda the big elephant in the room for me, actually! I definitely have a lot more to learn about them, but you can count on a post in the future!

      • Kella

        As a doctor, I am very frustrated by the vaccine debate. The man who came out with the study that vaccines are linked to autism is now in jail for fraud. In the last 3 years I have personally seen 8 people die from vaccine preventible diseases, and it is getting worse as people choose not to vaccinate because of something they read on the internet. Please please please vaccinate your children.

    • Christen Sparks

      Thanks for all your research, it’s so helpful to me! I wanted to know if you could discuss baby diapers and wipes in an upcoming post. After all the body care posts, I’ve noticed that some of the ingredients you’ve mentioned to stay away from are found in some wipes.

      • Jenni P.

        ^^^Agree! Please cover this!

      • Ksaid

        Yes please!!!!

    • deedee

      For some weird reason I get the worse allergies to organic/natural deodorants :(

    • anna marie

      I use to get lumps under my arms and they hurt. I would go to the doctor and he would drain it and say if that don’t work I would have to have surgery to remove it. After I moved to ALABAMA I went to American Care in Madison,Al about my lump under my arm and the doctor told me to stop using deodorant and to use DAIL SOAP only (the gold bar) , that was in 2005 or 2006. I haven’t use deodorant since then and I haven’t had a lump under my arm since then. I just use the gold DAIL bar soap. Before 2005 or 2006 I use to gets lumps under my arm all the time and I tried all kinds of deodorant & antiperspirant, organic and natural ones and none of them would work, only the gold DAIL soap worked. I’ll be using it the rest of my life.

    • Jenni P.

      Thanks for this! I’ve been trying to convince my husband to switch from traditional to something without aluminum/parabens in it. This should help!

    • me

      what make me laugh is these people that now are so worried over this, in the next weeks or so they are going to be fighting each other because somebody clear the shelf at cvs. if any of those deodorants come free or money makers…. please give me a break

    • madetheswitch

      After my first child I had the worst underarm odor. I tried every deodorant/antiperspirant available. Nothing worked. I always had a heavy scented deodorant & BO smell even just after showering, I couldn’t scrub enough to get rid of that odor. About a year ago I decided to try the homemade coconut oil/ baking soda/ cornstarch recipe. It is wonderful for me. It works so incredibly well. I never worry about smelling at all! It was a complete transformation for me versus wearing over the counter deodorants. I will never go back!

    • Lori

      I have just recently switched from using antiperspirants to a more natural deodorant. At my local health food store I noticed that one of the ingredients in Tom’s of Maine is propylene glycol, as well as many of the other more natural brands that the store carried. When it came down to it, there were only two choices that were free of the nasty chemicals…meaning no aluminum, parabens, phthalates or propylene glycol. Jason – ‘unscented Naturally Fresh for Women’ (there actually is a very mild scent to it). So far it has worked wonderfully and I have no complaints. The other one I have not purchased yet but will try next to see which brand I prefer. I should say that there were many choices within the Jason brand, but this was the only one that was free of propylene glycol at the store I visited.

    • Lori

      Hi Mariana,
      I love these posts and eagerly await each Thursday to read about a new topic that I can begin to research. There are so many product types I would love to see reviewed. Among these are toothpastes, mouth wash, those lovely wet wipes we use for our bottoms, paper towels, napkins, paper plates, tissues and what about all of the fancy BPA free water bottles? I can not imagine that BPA is the only nasty chemical in them. My list goes on and on…. So much to do.

    • tori729

      My hubby has always gotten on me for using an anti-perspirant which he doesn’t do. I may have to change over!!

    • Leah

      I use Primal Pit Paste and it’s amazing. It has no aluminum and no parabens…just arrowroot powder, coconut oil, shea butter, non-aluminum baking soda and essential lavender oil. Works better than my Dove anti-perspirant ever did. I live in Florida, so I need something that really works and it does.

    • Sarah

      Bubble and Bee organic deodorant is awesome. They have creams, sticks and sprays. Check them out here:
      http://www.bubbleandbee.com/servlet/the-Organic-Deodorants/Categories

    • June

      I have tried tons of natural deodorant and its really hard to find a good one that actually works and doesn’t irritate skin. I found that Jungleman All-Natural Deodorant works wonders for me. It’s non aluminum and odorless. I live in Texas where it’s super hot and it keeps me completely stink free. Check them out http://www.junglemannaturals.com

    • Jackie

      Try Lavilin – it’s a wonderful all-natural deodorant. I think most people use the cream but I prefer the roll-on since it’s easier to use and less messy. Highly recommended!

    • Tayler

      I have been using homemade deodorant and l will never switch back!
      I used to use Secret and/or Dove antiperspirant/deodorant. I tried Tom’s and had similar issues, also I would smell even worse 4 hours later which was not usual for me. So I went back to the chemical ridden stuff for a while but couldn’t continue knowing how bad it was. I found a recipe that uses 5Tbs coconut oil, 2-3Tbs cornstarch, 2-3 Tbs arrowroot powder (or just sub for cornstarch), 1/4 cup baking soda (if you have sensitive underarms like me, use half and sub with cornstarch then increase a little next batch), and essential oil (I use eucalyptus for it’s antibacterial properties and lavender because it smells fantastic). I had a de-stinking phase for 3 days and eek was it bad but after the “hump” this stuff works wonders. I used to have severe underarm irritation from shaving but because of the coconut oil my underarms look smooth and bump free. It is also EXTREMELY inexpensive to make (maybe $0.75 per batch) and it will last me about 4-6 months depending if it’s summer or winter. It leaves no oil stains and doesn’t turn my white shirts yellow or colored shirts crusty like the other stuff. I still sweat but it’s getting less and less over time. My body works well with this recipe but there are plenty of other’s out there that could work well with yours.

    • Taylor

      I use a brand called Lavilin (website: http://www.lavilin.com). My husband got it for me a year ago and I absolutely fell in love with their underarm cream. I actually ended up getting the foot cream for my husband as well :-)