sweat week

Does a Natural Antiperspirant Actually Exist?

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist. Photos: Courtesy of the Retailer

When you find a natural deodorant that works (in a sea of subpar options), it feels like a miracle. Take a certain Real Purity natural deodorant that Aubrey Plaza told us about back in 2017 and soon after became beloved by many Strategist editors, who said it kept them “dry as a bone” (and odor-free) even though its formula didn’t contain aluminum. Anecdotally, New York magazine deputy editor Alexis Swerdloff and at least ten of her friends say the Real Purity has stopped their sweating, period. “Real Purity legit changed my life,” says Swerdloff, who is still using it many years later. (Strategist senior editor Simone Kitchens, who’s been using it just as long, says it keeps her dry, too, which hasn’t happened with any other natural deodorants she’s tried: “The rest have all stopped working after a month.”) Many of Real Purity’s customers, too, have expressed the same disbelief about its drying effects.

Intrigued by Real Purity’s apparent ability to prevent sweat, we first spoke to to dermatologists years ago, in 2018, about whether a natural antiperspirant exists. Their answer then was technically no, because at the time aluminum was the only FDA-approved antiperspirant, or sweat inhibitor, on the market. In the years since, we’ve heard about more natural deodorants that folks say also minimize sweat, leading us to wonder if the science has changed. The short answer? It has not, as aluminum remains the only FDA-approved antiperspirant. Antiperspirants, dermatologist Dr. Shari Sperling reminds us, “work to block sweat ducts and prevent sweating, while deodorants work to eliminate odor.” Dr. Annie Gonzalez of Miami’s Riverchase Dermatology adds, “Given that aluminum cannot be an added ingredient in natural deodorants, there is technically no such thing as a natural antiperspirant.” But there is a longer answer that is less cut and dry.

Dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick, an assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell, who also treats patients with hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating), explains that “‘Natural’ ingredients may work to mask odors, but at this time there is not enough evidence to classify any of them as an antiperspirant.” But Gonzalez says natural deodorants that make you feel dry are likely doing something to that effect: “They use alternative ingredients that absorb moisture and dry the area rather than enter the pores.” Garshick says that Real Purity users, for instance, may feel like they sweat less with the deodorant due to the drying effects of the aloe and vegetable glycerin it contains. “The vegetable glycerin can help to absorb excess moisture, so while it is not acting as an antiperspirant and does not prevent the formation of sweat, it can help to absorb moisture, minimizing the feeling of wetness,” she explains.

So while a natural antiperspirant doesn’t technically exist, natural deodorants with drying properties do, and there are certain moisture-absorbing ingredients you can look for. Gonzalez says “a form of powder or starch is effective at absorbing moisture and killing bacteria that cause body odor.” Our experts say that natural deodorants with arrowroot powder and baking soda can have this effect. “Baking soda absorbs moisture, so it inherently makes you feel dryer,” says dermatologist Dr. Angela Lamb, the director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Practice. The only caveat, she warns, is that some people may experience skin irritation from baking soda. As for arrowroot powder, Lamb, Gonzalez, and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar, a celebrity aesthetician, all cite it as another effective ingredient for moisture absorption.

For those looking to make the switch from an aluminum-based antiperspirant to a moisture-absorbing natural deodorant, we asked our experts for recommendations that may help you with dryness (and certainly with odor) in addition to Real Purity. Their suggestions below take many forms — from roll-on sticks to creams to pastes — and for even more natural deodorants (that may or may not help with sweat) head here.

We start our list with Real Purity’s natural deodorant, the one that our editors and Plaza swear by. Plaza, in fact, isn’t its only celebrity fan: Actress Judy Greer actually recommended it to her. “She told me it’s the only one that works, and it’s true. I don’t have to reapply. It’s all-natural. It’s light and smells good,” Plaza says. As we noted above, it’s made of aloe, vegetable glycerin, and several essential oils, all of which users say work together to keep your pits nice and dry.

Both Garshick and Lamb pointed us to the brand Native, a direct-to-consumer option whose deodorants are frequently said to “smell like Jesus” (in a good way). Generally, they contain a blend of baking soda, oils, arrowroot powder, and shea butter — which is a happy medium of drying agents and moisturizers.

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If baking-soda products aren’t for you, Garshick and Lamb recommend Tom’s of Maine, which include vegetable oils and aloe (plus natural fragrances) for dryness and odor masking.

Garshick also recommends Lavanila, which makes a hyperpopular sport deodorant we’ve written about before. This one might have a similar moisture-absorbing effect to that of Real Purity because it contains aloe and vegetable glycerin, plus baking soda.

This cream-based natural deodorant is a favorite of Strategist contributors Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur (and is widely considered to be the one to launch the natural-deodorant craze). It contains moisture-absorbing baking soda, vegan glycerin, and clay, plus a blend of oils.

This product, which is more of a paste, comes from Schmidt’s, another super-popular deodorant brand. Formulated with both arrowroot powder and baking soda, Orchard co-founder Peter Piekarczyk told us he’s worn it on such sweaty occasions as a 40-mile, 2,000-vertical-feet bike ride in San Francisco. “I love the consistency and I’ve never had any issues with the product not performing,” he says.

Garshick says another promising (though far from proven) natural alternative to aluminum are peptides, which may decrease stimulation of the muscle that triggers sweat release and actually block the pores that release sweat. “Peptides function similarly to Botox for the prevention of sweat,” she explains, cautioning that “not enough studies have been performed to show if they are truly effective or how they compare to aluminum-based antiperspirants.” Should you want to give peptides a go for wetness protection, try Klima’s HyperDri, the only natural deodorant on the market containing peptides. It bills itself as an “aluminum-free antiperspirant,” though technically that’s incorrect, per FDA definitions.

This natural deodorant from Truvani is made with USDA certified organic ingredients. Aguilar recommends it to her clients with sensitive skin. The formula contains many of the absorbent ingredients our experts told us can help with dryness, including arrowroot powder, baking soda, tapioca starch, and glycerin (which is found in its MCT oil).

“Taos AER Lavender Myrrh deodorant is an excellent alternative to an antiperspirant,” says Gonzalez. That’s because it’s made with tapioca, corn starch, baking soda, and essential oils, all of which, she notes, “help absorb moisture and keep you smelling good throughout the day — even in the summer.”

Echoing Lamb, Sperling says that baking soda can cause irritation to the skin, which is why she likes this baking-soda-free deodorant from Megababe that instead contains corn starch to absorb odor and wetness.

With additional reporting by Lori Keong.

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Does a Natural Antiperspirant Actually Exist?