Deodorant: What does "natural" mean?

Most of us have heard how bad toxic deodorant is for us, but most of us don't know what that means. 

There's been an explosion in recent years of "natural" deodorants in the market. But what does it really mean? The answer is actually a lot simpler than anyone really wants you to know.

An Allegory

Recently, McDonald's made a huge announcement and change to serving natural foods. If you step back and really look at what that means, it means they're going to use things that come from nature, thus they will *cough* serve actual, um, food. Yeah, the giant restaurant chain will be serving food. That coms from nature. Whoop? Whoop? Not really. But yay.

This clouds the issue. You walk down a grocery aisle and there are thousands of claims about "natural" this and "organic ingredients" that. And most of us know that organic certification is a hassle and it's hard and it's expensive and...whaaaa. But really, there's a lot more behind it all. 

Food is NOT the same as everything else

The things most in the spotlight are food products. We're all used to hearing about Monsanto (insert canned audience booing), and about small organic farms (cue audience response to underdog heroes). But what we don't realize is that food falls into a totally different category from everything else. Regulations that cover food are proactive. So McDonald's couldn't claim it was serving natural (read real) food when they weren't. And we are mostly aware that the food industry gets away with murder when it comes to labeling and all that. 

The bad news is that "Everything Else" is a virtual Wild West.

While food is in a bad place, from a natural perspective, the truth is that everything else is in dire straits by comparison. While there are actual proactive regulations (be they lackluster or not, they are proactive) for food and what a company can tell you to eat, there is no such set of regulations for soap, deodorant, shampoo, lotion, cleaning products, nail polish, dry shampoo, makeup, etc... 

So, I hate to break this to you, but as a deodorant company owner, I feel compelled to share what led me to start this revolution. The truth is, we can put anything we want into our product and we don't actually have to tell you about it. As long as we use the proper "hiding" terms like "fragrance," we can do anything we want without even telling you. So the crazy words on your bottle of shampoo aren't the worst things hiding in there.

The most direct way to tell you about this is that we could literally put arsenic in our deodorant and unless a bunch of people got really sick and then PROVED that they were sick because of our poisonous deodorant, we'd never have to change anything. So while all the labels out there are touting their freedom from aluminum, parabens, phthalates, etc, the reality is most of them had those ingredients in them before a bunch of people proved that those ingredients were dubious and the companies pretended not to be the culprit. 

The worst part is that they've replaced the ingredients with something else, but there's no oversight about what they're replacing those ingredients with, and there's no real way to prove that those aren't poisonous, too. It's basically just smoke, mirrors, and lies to try to get you to not think about how you don't know what ethyhexyl hydrate is. (Did I even spell it correctly? Yes, I did. I'm an editor by trade, it's what I do. I spray my armpits with whiskey and I know things about whiskey. Somewhat like Tyrion, but I digress.)

So, basically, in deodorant and other body products, natural means NOTHING. There's no one who tells a company whether or not they can use the term "natural." It's a free-for-all. Things like USDA Certified Organic are not a free-for-all. Those are labels that can help guide you, but natural is just a word thrown around to make people feel good.

Sorry. But someone had to tell you. I know it's grim, but it's also about to get better. Here's a picture of insanely cute puppies to make it better because I PROMISE there is light at the end of this tunnel. Remember, I said this is actually simpler than you thought? There's just a lot of bad before we get there. Don't lose heart, stick with me.

Don't be too sad about deodorant, at least there are puppies

 

Good news is you're not out there without a proverbial oar

You are smart. Really. You might not know what many of the ingredients in deodorant or shampoo actually are, but that shouldn't make you feel like a nincompoop. The reality is you DO know what is safe for your body. You eat it literally every day. Your body can safely wear the things that go into it without harm. Pretty simple. It's not that bad. The only bad news is that few companies are doing things right. Most of them are relying on you being too tired and discombobulated to know which ingredients are good and which ones aren't. 

Find people who think differently. I can tell you from our side that Natural Grocers is truly a store doing things the right way. They don't buy produce out of season, they don't allow crap in their body products, and they've got your back. Buy from them. Let's have a wave of support that shows the world we want change! 

I'm gonna go ahead and rummage through a few of the more popular "natural" and natural deodorants to help you. I have to start off by pointing out that ALL OF THESE ARE PACKAGED IN ENTIRELY PLASTIC PACKAGING AND OUR PLANET IS LITERALLY CHOKING ON PLASTIC RIGHT NOW.

But without further ado, here's my list of deodorants that compete in our space and actually seem to be trying to appear or be natural in one way or another:

 

Native

It's at least once a month someone I know writes me to ask if I've ever heard of or tried Native. Yep. I have. It didn't work for me, and worse, it gave me rashes. These rashes were caused by baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in their ingredients list. It has no business in an armpit. It's not okay to just sit around and think of stinky things and the ways you solve those stanks, and then tell loads of people to throw those things on their pits. Not okay. Because an armpit is not a refrigerator. (Duh, but really.) Baking soda absorbs bad smells. Great. But then what happens? The things that stink make more. So you'd need an army of baking soda to keep up with the bacterial poop on your pits. The stink in your pits is from bacteria poop. If all you do is a solid cleanup on aisle armpit, but you leave the culprits, you're going to have more problems later. The worst offense with baking soda is that it's actually a base and the bacteria that cause your pits to reek are happiest in a basic environment.

Baking soda will cause rashes in the armpits for a majority of the population. BUMMER! 

Native has cultures of bacteria that are good for your gut, but we know that for deodorant to work, it has to kill the bad bacteria, and I'm sorry, but lactobacillus acidophilus ain't gonna cut it. If it did, more people would be putting yogurt on their pits. That's yogurt bacteria. Makes no science sense.

Diving further, there are a few ingredients like cyclodextrin and capric triglyceride that aren't BAD per se, but they're not natural either. If natural means derived from nature, these are not such a substance. 

So, for us, Native is a fail in the "natural" department.

*There is also some unconfirmed talk of changes made to the ingredients list and we have to wonder about it. Nothing on the label actually kills bacteria, so one begins to wonder how it's expected to work because masking isn't effective. I don't want to be specific since I don't have confirmation of these changes, but the general gist is that there's strong evidence that their ingredients don't include something that kills bacteria without harming humans. I'm being vague on purpose. Legal stuff and crap. Be wise. Also, I have to say, Native leaves my pits REALLY messy and it gets all over my clothes and I don't like that.

So, moving on...

 

 Lume

Excuse my lack of French, there is no accent key on my computer. But this deodorant absolutely confounds me. Read that label. It's a literal deluge of unpronounceable chemicals peppered with the occasional thing like water or cocoa seed butter. This deodorant is NOT natural. It is mostly a chemical bath for your pits. I also hear about this one from a friend or someone meaning well on a regular basis where people want to know if I've seen their super-catchy ad. Yep. We've seen it. 

Now, Lume was formulated by a nurse who was tired of the crap in deodorants and she apparently used her nursey smarts to come up with this. Which is great. But I have a massive problem with the fact that this deodorant doesn't look much different from a label perspective from anything else on the market. It's a bunch of words I don't know and I don't know this lady, so I literally can't say whether I trust her judgment of what should go on my body. And don't get me started on the whole "private parts" thing. I won't let my 2-year-old rub this on her arms, I'm not about to toss it on the lady bits and see what happens. Those areas have a particular flora to maintain a neutral odor, not to mention an ideal pH. There's alcohol in this product (not a natural alcohol, but I digress) and alcohol should not go on your lady parts. Your armpit is not your bajingo. 

Lume: Fails. Is not actually natural.

 

Kopari

Seriously? I don't even know how this company calls itself natural. All their ads tout their clean ethic, but the ingredients list is riddled with things from fragrance to the first ingredient: propylene glycol (antifreeze). "Fragrance" is one of those words used to hide other things. If they're straight up telling you they're using poison, don't you think "fragrance" might hide something kinda dark? We think so. This deodorant is not natural on any level. It smells nice, but then you remember what actual coconuts smell like, and you feel a little sad.

Kopari: Fails hard.

 

Piper Wai

Not bad. Not bad at all. Except that baking soda is the only ingredient that would address you rank stank, and we remember from before that baking soda is a base and it makes bacteria happy and makes your pits sad. 

Piper Wai IS ACTUALLY NATURAL. So if you happen to be someone who doesn't react to baking soda, it might be a great fit for you. It's nice smelling, a bit pasty, but the instructions say to rub it in all the way. 

Piper Wai: Actually is natural, but makes no scientific sense in stench quenching. Baking soda is not a good solution to your search to end pit stink.

 

Pit Liquor

I want to briefly tell you why we believe we fall heads above the rest here. We use organic ingredients and are working toward our organic certification. We have a strict standard of only using edible ingredients. We also have a strict standard of only using ingredients that are known to be effective at killing the specific bacteria that live in your armpits. We lean hard on science and common sense to create our deodorant and we believe it's heads above the competition.

Pit Liquor: NATURAL AND EFFECTIVE and doesn't come in plastic.

 

Regardless of which brand you use,

We hope you take comfort in knowing that you CAN decipher ingredient lists. You can KNOW what you're putting in your body. Look for ingredients you recognize. Look for things you can identify. Trust your gut. You're more than smart enough to figure out what to put on your body. You know what to put IN it, and that's honestly a lot harder. Think of all the nuance you understand about what to eat and what not to eat. You've got this.

So there you have it. Hope this helps. Thanks for reading.

 

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