Natural deodorant is one of the few beauty trends I hopped on before it gained mainstream popularity, and I will never let anyone forget it. I started wearing it my junior year of college, when I was pressured into making the switch by the gorgeous group of environmentalists I studied abroad with — though I’ll admit, it is easier to make that transition when you are smelly among friends. Figuring out a product that worked for my body chemistry was a stinky process of trial and error, but over the years, I have found several that work. Last year, I even tested 8 natural deodorants that I had never tried before and walked away with a few new favorites.
Natural deodorants have risen in popularity over the last few years as consumers gravitate towards natural, sustainable beauty products. Natural deodorants generally do not contain parabens, which preserve the shelf-life of the products and prevent mold, but also leach into aquatic ecosystems and may disrupt human hormone function.
Natural deodorants also do not contain aluminum, an antiperspirant that has stoked health concerns. Though scientific research generally does not support claims that link the antiperspirant to diseases like Alzheimer’s and breast cancer, a 2016 study also showed that people who use antiperspirants have fewer pathogen-fighting bacteria in their armpits. Besides, sweating is a normal body function that is essential for regulating temperature and ridding the body of toxins.
Then again, natural deodorant is not perfect, either. A 2006 study showed that allergens present in botanical ingredients used in personal care products cause significant and often under-reported cases of contact dermatitis, an itchy red rash caused by contact with an allergen. I myself have experienced this once or twice over the course of my own experimentation, and let me tell you: aside from being immensely uncomfortable, constantly itching your armpits throughout the day is a bad, if vaguely-simian, look.
From my years of experimentation, I now have numerous natural deodorants in my household that I rotate through. When they run out, though, I’m not only worried about the plastic waste that will cause, but also the cost. Some of those natural deodorants — especially, of course, the ones that smell delightful and actually work well — are very expensive, costing over $20 for a single stick.
The natural — sorry — response to reduce waste and cut costs is to make my own deodorant. The real question, though, is whether I could find a homemade natural deodorant recipe that would work for me.
Learning to try
I found a homemade natural deodorant recipe from the blog Get Inspired Everyday that used only a few ingredients, all of which I already had: coconut oil, beeswax, already grated into pastilles, lest I forget the pain of my DIY beeswax food wraps, baking soda, cornstarch and essential oil.
I chose the recipe in part for its simplicity. If I was actually going to integrate this homemade natural deodorant recipe into my regular deodorant recipe into my regular beauty routine, after all, it needed to be easy to make and cost-effective. Still, I felt trepidation about the same simplicity that attracted me to the formula in the first place.
“Is simpler stinkier?” I worried. I’d just have to see.
Similar to when I made homemade face wash, I was careful to choose an essential oil that is safe for skin. I picked lavender, because I already had it from my face wash experiment and knew my skin would not react adversely to its application. Besides, if anything was going to help mask my free-wheeling body odor, aromatic, balmy lavender seemed like as good of a bet as anything.
A trying experience
To prepare my homemade natural deodorant, I mixed and melted the ingredients together over a stove top and poured them into containers. Once again, I underestimated how much the recipe would produce — I lack spatial awareness, it seems. Luckily, I have learned from my past mistakes and had an empty pill bottle on standby for the leftovers.
The deodorant took a really long time to set. I kept checking it every hour for about four hours, but every time I did, it was an unchanged, filmy fluid. I decided it would be better to let it set overnight and check again in the morning.
My instinct was right. In the morning, my homemade natural deodorant had finally dried into a waxy paste. I was unsure how to apply it, and was wary of using my fingers, so I found a popsicle stick to scrape the stuff out of its container and slather it all over my unsuspecting armpits.
I balked initially at the oily texture. It felt wet, and took a few minutes to sink into my armpits. In my discomfort, I flapped my arms and blew underneath them in an attempt to make it dry faster. Turns out, patience was the key — and, luckily, it didn’t leave behind any residue on my shirts. I was more than a little skeptical as to whether it would work at all, but, with advance warning to my officemates, decided to see it through.
To my surprise, though, my homemade deodorant worked fantastically. I don’t have a strenuous job, but even still: I did not smell and sweated minimally throughout the work day. I almost forgot about the experiment altogether. When I told my boyfriend, who has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of my natural deodorant testing, about the experiment, he took a tentative sniff.
“It definitely smells better than what you were using before,” he happily announced. Thanks, babe.
I decided to push the limits of my homemade natural deodorant with a strenuous cardio workout. Normally, I am among the stinkiest, sweatiest gym-goers at the neighborhood Planet Fitness. That day, I could blend in with the malodorous crowd.
Then came the final test: my well-loved — read: old — sweater made of an unknown blend of sweat-inducing synthetic fabrics that inevitably makes me smell awful over the course of the day if I don’t wear an undershirt — and I never do, what am I, a forty-year-old businessman? No, I’m an incredibly stinky millennial woman, thank you very much. The sweater, which I sincerely believe could coax sweat from a stone, was a little smelly at the end of the day, but nothing as dramatic as it had been in the past. I was stunned.
Also, I was hooked. Over the course of the week, I ditched the popsicle stick and started to just use my fingers. Honestly, the dry skin on my hands appreciated the moisturizing benefits of coconut oil. The one day I reflexively applied my own deodorant instead of my homemade concoction, I noticed mere hours later the mistake that I had made. Let’s just say that particular product is now out of my regular rotation.
I have long experimented with natural and DIY beauty products, and I have to admit: I have never had my expectations so thoroughly rocked.
My tried-and-true takeaways
Homemade natural deodorant — at least, this homemade natural deodorant recipe — works remarkably well. The consistency takes some getting used to, and I plan to save old deodorant containers going forward to ease the application, but the simple combination of baking soda, coconut oil, cornstarch, beeswax and essential oil is effective at keeping sweat and smell at bay. As an added bonus, there are no unsightly white streaks or half-moon armpit stains if you allow the mixture a few minutes to sink into your skin. Plus, it is much cheaper than store-bought alternatives.
A few caveats: it is possible this particular recipe just works with my specific body chemistry at this time of year. I did not test this recipe during a sweaty summer week, which could net different results. Regardless, I think this is worth a shot for anyone looking for a more natural beauty routine, to reduce waste or to save money without compromising on body odor.