Summer in New York is all about smells. Linden trees and burgers on the grill, yes, but also urine, the boiling ketchup scent of hot garbage, and all those sweaty armpits in your face on the train. Lately, in the interest of eliminating potentially toxic chemicals from our grooming routines, we’ve been obsessively testing natural deodorants, but as anyone who has ever purchased a stick of Tom’s of Maine deodorant knows, a lot of them really don’t work. At all. So, at great olfactory risk to our fellow straphangers, yoga practitioners and loved ones, we tried out and quizzed friends about nearly a dozen deodorants. These are the best among them. And, because natural is basically a marketing term, we’ve included the Environmental Working Group cosmetics database rating for each one, which ranks thousands and thousands of products on their toxicity levels from zero (totally non-toxic) to 10 (buyer beware). Most commercial brands like Dove or Secret fall somewhere between a three and a five on the scale.
Herban Cowboy, $6-8 per stick
Herban Cowboy works very well, does not smell at all like a hippie, despite having scent names like Dusk and Forest, and lasts all day. It’s a stick that goes on smoothly–and the dusk scent smelled and felt like a slightly crunchier version of regular deodorant. Definitely a good choice if you’re looking to win over a natural deodorant non-believer.
EWG rating: 3-5, depending on scent
Pros: Comes in unscented, which is hard to find in a natural deodorant, and there are a lot of dude-friendly scents in their collection.
Cons: If you’re absolutely trying to eliminate all chemicals you should know that Herban Cowboy uses propanediol, a naturally-derived replacement for propylene glycol. The EWG gives the former a one and the latter a three.
The Pitts, Bunny Butt Apothecary, $12
BB pal Lee Ann Westover turned me on to Bunny Butt and it is, by far, the best natural deodorant I’ve used. As she put it, “It’s not eau de hippie, you’re not slathering weirdness on your armpits and it really works.” Westover says that she tends to be fairly sweaty, which I relate to, and we both find that Bunny Butt gets us through the day fresh as daisies. There are tons of scents available (too many, really), and so far Sucre Bleu and Hunnysuckle have been the clear winners.
EWG rating: Not listed, contains no aluminum, parabens or phthalates; contains propylene glycol, an ingredient that gets a three rating.
Pros: Tons of scents, really works, many of the scents come as a perfume or lotion, too, for layering.
Cons: Not cheap, and not available locally so you have to order online. The scent options can be overwhelming (Pirate’s Booty, described as “The woodsy aroma of a ship’s deck, Turkish coffee, cocoa, and spices plundered from a merchant ship, creamy vanilla and intoxicating musk, and, of course, a splash of honey rum. Think, sexy pirate” actually smells like a cupcake.)
Soapwalla Deodorant Cream, $14
This stuff, which is made from seriously all-natural, food-grade ingredients right here in Brooklyn, has inspired a serious following. When I polled natural deodorant users for their favorites, about half cited Soapwalla as the be-all, end-all deodorant for them. It smells fresh and great and the smooth cream is non-irritating, but this formula just didn’t work for me. In the winter, fine, but in the summer, when I got out of the shower and smoothed it into my pits I just felt like they never dried and I was vaguely sticky all day long, but I’m definitely on the sweaty side. Plus, and this is sheerly personal preference, I hated having to wash my hands again after applying.
EWG rating: 0
Pros: Super high quality, seriously non-toxic, made by a Brooklyn small business, smells amazing.
Cons: Not for the sticky summer months or if you’re particularly sweaty or if you just don’t love cream deodorants, and it’s not cheap.
Alvera All Natural Roll-On, $4-6
This is an old-school natural deodorant that has been around forever. A friend who is a holistic natural medicine practitioner and acupuncturist, Erika Gabriello, L.Ac MSTOM recommended it. “I use aloe and almond scent, but there are others,” she says. “It makes me feel confident with all-day freshness, it’s totally natural and it actually works.” The roll-on formula dries quickly and really lasts the whole day.
EWG rating: Not in the database, but the active ingredient gets a three
Pros: Cheap, good-smelling and effective.
Cons: While it’s mostly aloe vera and herbs, Alvera does contain alcloxa (a 3 on the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database), a naturally-derived aluminum salt. So yes, it’s effective, and free of parabens and phthalates, but it does contain aluminum.
EO Organic Deodorant, $4-6
I bought this on a whim while standing in line at the fancy organic bodega in my neighborhood. It’s basically water, alcohol and lavender oil, so it’s about as basic as it gets. Surprisingly though, it kept me smelling totally acceptable through an entire spin class, but it’s definitely a re-apply several times throughout the day type situation. Ultimately, you’d be better off rubbing lavender oil on your pits, but if you don’t sweat very much, this could really work. I’ve repurposed it as a salt water, beach spray for my hair, and it’s great at that.
EWG rating: 1
Pros: Recognizable materials, smells great, at least the lavender formula, spray dries quickly.
Cons: Not very strong, have to re-apply throughout the day.
Earth Science Natural Deodorant, $6-8
In the sea of natural deodorants you might pass Earth Science by–its packaging is pretty middle of the road and it just doesn’t stand out. But it works, especially in the less sticky months. The rosemary mint scent is bright and fresh and clean, but not perfume-y.
EWG rating: 1
Pros: Clean, light, non-sticky formula, inexpensive.
Cons: Not quite strong enough for a summer subway ride.