No matter what the alarmists say, the jury is still out as to whether your deodorant is causing cancer, changing your hormone levels, or even, as some argue, leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Even the Environmental Working Group (EWG), whose SkinSense program is the gold standard for consumer chemical watchdogs, vacillates a bit on the category. “We don’t know whether there is a relationship between antiperspirants and cancer or Alzheimer’s,” says Paul Pestano, a research analyst at EWG. “Additional research is required.” Still, EWG will be the first to point out that there are chemicals in many standard deodorants that can build up in the body over time and irritate the skin right away. They include aluminum, parabens, and phthalates, and some of the chemicals found in the fragrances themselves. If you have sensitive skin or just want to reduce the amount of chemicals to which you’re exposed, you have plenty of less-toxic alternatives to choose from that actually work. To note: None of the natural deodorants we tried contain aluminum (the most effective antiperspirant out today) and therefore are far less effective at stopping sweat than your standard deodorants, but they were all surprisingly effective at fighting the stench.
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Malin + Goetz Eucalyptus
This clear roller has the best application of the bunch with its transparent, wet roller. It smells a bit like a spa – pleasant, but not for everyone – and does the least for sweat stoppage, given the thin substance. Still, we loved our gook-free underarms, and it kept us smelling fresh for a full day. [$22; malinandgoetz.com]
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Jasön Fragrance-Free Deodorant Stick
This stick deodorant is free of fragrance for those who want absolutely no scent whatsoever. Despite the lack of smell, it did a solid job of keeping any stenches at bay. This is made for the most sensitive skin. The label brags that it has no aluminum, parabens, phthalates, or propylene gycol (a skin irritant). [$5.22; jason-personalcare.com]
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Sam's Natural Deodorant
Using only the might of pumpkin seed, baking soda, and tea tree oil, Sam's Natural Deodorant recently got us B.O.-free through a weeklong expedition to and through the southern stretches of Patagonia. There were no unsolicited wafts of "sandwich" to interfere with the crisp, clean air on the trail, which included at least one 12-mile-long, 1,000-foot incline and an afternoon of bundled-up cramping on a glacier. Nor were there any strange oniony smells to betray us on the near 24-hour journey just to get down there. The formula, which also includes pumpkin seed oil and aloe vera to soothe, is set in a solid stick with the consistency of a firm wax and swipes on completely dry and clean. Once back and forth, once a day, and we were good to go. Another benefit we noticed: Sweating was tempered (not stopped), consistent with the product not being billed as an antiperspirant.
So why the all-natural thing when it comes to deodorant? There are numerous reasons. Primarily, the chemicals many drugstore deodorants and antiperspirants use can cause rashes on sensitive skin, something that can be intensely irritating what with all the motion on hikes and in sports. The heavy metals in antiperspirants, the main culprit being aluminum, have been controversially linked to Alzheimer's and cancer. On a more superficial level, aluminum is the reason you have crusty yellow circles on the underarms of your favorite shirts.
Sam's Natural Deodorant Unscented skews woody, but there's also your choice of all-natural, subtle, and guy-appropriate scents like Tobacco, Cedar, and Leather. [$9.95 for 2.65 oz; amazon.com]
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Nature's Gate Tea Tree & Blue Cypress Deodorant Stick
The tea tree and blue cypress in this stick deodorant give a bit of a pine woods smell that we found pleasurable. If you're a recovering lumberjack, though, you might want to find a stick with a more neutral smell. This is the deodorant for those who want to bring the forest with them wherever they go. [$4.99; vitacost.com]
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For Pit's Sake Lime & Clover
While the stick is a bit dry and crumbly, the scent is the best of the bunch – a strong, manly clove aroma that mingles with a light, sweet lime scent. It's like a crunchy Old Spice – it won't last more than a day, but it's also entirely aluminum-, paraben-, and propylene glycol-free. [$8.99; gbproudfoots.com]