Natural deodorants are popular for two reasons. First, some users feel that blocking underarm sweat glands with antiperspirants isn't healthy, although most experts agree that the rest of the body releases more than enough sweat to compensate (and that the body doesn't absorb enough aluminum from antiperspirants to be harmful). Second, some users want to avoid the yellow underarm stains that can ruin white shirts that can occur when aluminum residue reacts with sweat.
Either way, going 100 percent natural means living with sweat. Natural deodorants don't contain any aluminum-based compounds and, therefore, won't stop sweat (at least, not effectively as antiperspirants). Still, the best natural deodorants contain ingredients that can effectively neutralize odors.
Our research indicates that Soapwalla Deodorant Cream (Est. $14), made with cornstarch and baking soda is the best natural deodorant. It not only wins Byrdie.com's six-natural deodorant test during a sweltering New York summer (although the tester is admittedly "not a heavy sweater and ... not particularly active"), but also Lululemon.com's intense workout test. "I knew I had a winner when I stopped feeling the need to apologize in advance to everyone around me," Lululemon.com's tester says. "This would be my go to recommendation for anyone serious about going natural."
Soapwalla even gets a thumbs-up from NYMag.com's Kat Stoeffel, who is only willing to put up with "hippie deodorants" if they'll stop the dreaded yellow antiperspirant pit stains. "It smells like peppermint and it worked past midnight, on a day when I hadn't even showered," Stoeffel says. (There's also a citrus version.)
The drawbacks? Well, you'll probably have to order it online (we found it at Amazon.com, and SoapwallaKitchen.com). Amazon.com users give it more than 4 out of 5 stars overall, but some say it gave them a rash. Also, it's a cream that comes in a jar -- you spread it on with your fingers, which testers weren't crazy about. "Okay, let's get this out of the way: Cream deodorant is a pain," Stoeffel says. "You can't get it under your arm with that same hand, so you end up digging both hands into tiny pots of gunk (good luck closing it afterward), getting pungent essential oils under your nails and assuming a very unsexy, Mary Katherine Gallagher pose."
Runner-up Schmidt's Natural Deodorant (Est. $9) comes in both jar and a new stick form, although we only found reviews for the jarred cream (it comes with a little spatula). Like Soapwalla, Schmidt's wins not only a test by a not-overly-active user in a scorching New York City summer ("I don't sweat excessively, and my most strenuous workout is when I walk my Chihuahuas around the block," InStyle.com's Jennifer Velez says), but also impresses Well + Good testers during "intense workout sessions and crowded subway rides."
"This deodorant is what you call a game-changer," Velez says. "I skeptically rubbed it on before braving New York City's first summer heat wave and not once did I feel even an inkling of sweat the entire day. The truly amazing part, though, is that I wasn't the least bit smelly when I got home that night -- and that literally never happens. I've officially converted."
"It was beyond effective for me," says Well + Good's Lisa Elaine Held, "but it does contain baking soda, so if you're sensitive, you may get a little bit of irritation." Schmidt's jars and sticks are available in unscented, as well as four scents: Lavender + Sage, Bergamot + Lime, Cedarwood + Juniper and Ylang-ylang + Calendula. Schmidt's various versions earn about 4 out of 5 stars at Amazon.com; like Soapwalla, most users like it, but some say it gave them a rash.
What about the natural deodorants you commonly find at the drugstore? Unfortunately, they get mixed reviews at best. Crystal Body Deodorant (Est. $6) -- that familiar, wet-it-and-rub-it-on-your-armpits rock -- seems to be a love-or-hate thing. Two out of three Amazon.com users swear by it, but it flunks tests at Lululemon.com and Cup of Jo. "This one felt like I was wearing nothing at all and not in the good way," says Lululemon.com's tester -- and that's after the wet crystal dripped all over her clothes. Cup of Jo's Caroline Donofrio notes both Crystal's pros ("one salt crystal can last up to a year") and the cons ("the part where it doesn't actually deodorize"). Crystal's roll-on version is voted "most polarizing" in The Stir's test: "A favorite for two testers who will be switching (including me); most disliked by others," says Michele Zipp. Crystal's "salt" is actually potassium alum, which contains aluminum.
Tom's Of Maine Naturally Dry Antiperspirant Deodorant for Women (Est. $9 per pack of 2), which includes recycled aluminum (22 percent aluminum chlorohydrate), gets mediocre user reviews and flunks TheActiveTimes.com's test. "Unfortunately, it failed to keep [the tester] dry in the dance studio, prompting her to reapply repeatedly over the 24-hour review period 'lest my dance partner and students be appalled.'"
Aluminum-free Tom's of Maine Long-Lasting Deodorant Wild Lavender (Est. $4), which uses zinc ricinoleate from castor beans to neutralize odor, fares no better. "Goes on wet, feels wet, stays wet all day," says The Stir. "No odor protection. ... One tester said, 'Felt like a sticky swamp under my arms all day.'"