In part one of Sweat I looked at what causes body odour (BO) and how to manage it. In part two I put three natural deodorants to the test.
Do natural deodorants work?
The most used products to combat BO are antiperspirants and deodorants. While antiperspirants are very effective, by clogging the pores to prevent sweating, remember that sweat is not “bad”. Fresh sweat usually smells good and it cools us down. It’s the bacteria lingering under our arms that greats the unpleasant aroma.
“Natural” products tend to rely on essential oils to neutralise the bacteria and other fragrances to mask unpleasant smells. They’re available in a variety of forms sticks, pastes, aerosols and roll-ons. Rocks have been excluded in my review, as explained in part one, due to alum (natural or otherwise) blocking the pores.
The sniff test
Being sensitive to fragrances means I choose unscented body products where possible. When it comes to deodorants, while some conventional antiperspirants are unscented, generally the “natural” ones are fragranced.
With a heightened sense of smell, some rather benign scents seem too strong to me, or I can just dislike them. Accordingly, I’ve only included products that pass a highly subjective “sniff test” – ones that have a fragrance I like, can wear all day or don’t make me feel ill after smelling them.
The next stage of the sniff test is about how the product smells on my body. Remember our unique body chemistry can alter the aroma once it reacts with the skin.
The ultimate sniff test is of course, after a long day of activity, how did my armpits smell?
Review: Putting three “natural” deodorants to the test
All the products trialled are vegan and not tested on animals, and purchased at my own expense, over the counter in Sydney. As it can take a few days for conventional aluminium-based antiperspirants to stop having an effect, I used the natural deodorants daily for at least a week to assess their effectiveness.
L’Occitane Verveine Agrumes cooling deodorant
Application: Medium-sized stick, needs a few applications to cover the pit.
Sniff test: I have a fondness for citrusy aromas, and was happy to wear it all day without ill effect.
A bit more: no listed organic ingredients.
Ingredients: A long list of ingredients including “parfum/fragrance” (see note below). This suggests it’s likely that the delicious fragrance may be synthetic, despite smaller quantities of a number of essential oils. Water is the is the ingredient in the highest quantity.
Ultimate sniff test: Unfortunately, by the third day, there was break through body odour.
I do love the smell of verbena on my skin and am happy to wear it after a shower later in the day. But this is not the deodorant to get me through an active day or in hot weather.
Dr Organic Rose Otto deodorant
Cost: $8.95 – $12.95 for 50ml.
Application: Large roll-on head that is easy to use.
Sniff test: This deodorant has a pleasant rose fragrance without being too flowery or overwhelming
A bit more: Rose otto is probably the most most expensive essential oil, due to the extraction process relying partially on laying the petals out on wax, rather than solely a distillation. At this price, you can tell very little genuine rose otto in the product, creates the overall scent.
While “organic” is in the company title, the organic ingredients aren’t individually disclosed. The company states they “always strive to use organically grown ingredients. Where an organic ingredient can’t be used we always try to source sustainable natural alternatives”.
Ingredients: While there are many recognisable, natural ingredients, it still contains a few chemical compounds including the ubiquitous “parfum”.
The ingredient in the greatest quantity is aloe vera.
Ultimate sniff test: As much as I loved the aroma, my natural odour broke through on the second day of use. So, this falls into the later in the day shower, category of deodorants for me.
Black Chicken Axilla deodorant paste
Application: A paste that you “gently rub a pea sized amount into each armpit”. I found ease of application depended on ambient temperature – the warmer, the easier to apply. Some of the product remains on your hands after use, so I felt the need to wash my hands after applying.
Sniff test: This had the mildest fragrance of all three products, with rose geranium being the most discernible aroma for me, despite other essential oils being in greater amounts. I really liked how Axilla smells, both on and off my body.
A bit more: Black Chicken is an independent Sydney company, gaining increasing popularity for doing all the right things. Though the product is not marketed as organic, the small print denotes those ingredients that are certified organic.
Ingredients: This has the fewest ingredients and all were recognisably natural. Shea butter and coconut oil were in the greatest quantity.
Ultimate sniff test: This worked perfectly for a week in humid Malaysia, on hairless underarms, with absolutely no breakthrough odour. But back in wintery Sydney with a bit of regrowth hair-wise, there was a small degree of break through odour. This is a great summer-time/nude pit deodorant, that falls slightly short when au naturale.
Bonus: as a paste, this product doesn’t use your liquids and gels allowance when flying overseas with only carry on luggage. It comes in a mini (15g) travel size as well.
What is parfum or fragrance as a listed ingredient?
According to a cosmetic chemical database, manufacturers of cosmetics and body product can use the term “fragrance” or “parfum” without listing the exact components. The term is defined as an “undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate.”
Perhaps this is to protect a patented scent but it tends to imply that the concoction is synthesised in the lab and not necessarily “natural” in the generally understood meaning of the term.
A few last words on bodies and odour
Our culture has become increasingly obsessed with cleanliness, sometimes confusing hygiene with being odourless. Many people have delicious, even sexy, natural aromas.
Don’t be afraid of dialling back on the scented products and be more selective about the products you use. If nothing else, a third of the people around you will thank you for it.
Though highly subjective these reviews are independent and the author has received no sponsorship, gifts or payments.