What is natural deodorant?
Good question! Let’s start with taking a look at the two words separately:
What does natural mean?
Well, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘natural’ means: ‘as found in nature and not involving anything made or done by people’. Hmmm…
So, a natural deodorant in its literal form would be something that you take directly from nature and spread on your armpits. I’m not sure I’m sold on that one to be honest; I think I’d rather go with a bit of ‘people intervention’ if that’s ok?
Pedantry aside, my interpretation would be that a ‘natural product’ is one that doesn’t use synthetic (person-made) materials either in its ingredients, or in its manufacturing process.
A natural ingredient may, therefore, be manipulated in some way to make it usable in a product, but fundamentally, it is not synthetic or artificial. My opinion, but open to challenge!
What is a deodorant (and what’s the difference between deodorant and anti-perspirant)?
In very basic terms, a deodorant on its own will not stop you sweating. But, using a combination of ingredients, it should stop your sweat from smelling unpleasant.
An anti-perspirant, however, will stop your glands from producing sweat in the first place, although in recognition of the fact that it can be difficult to prevent it completely, brands sometimes combine anti-perspirant and deodorant in one product.
And so, a natural deodorant is…?
Thank you for bringing me back to the original question! I was getting a bit carried away there…
A natural deodorant, then, is a product that should contain no synthetic ingredients, and that should make your armpits smell ok, even when you sweat (because it won’t stop you doing that).
What’s wrong with synthetic ingredients?
Well, let’s look at synthetic fragrances – they are everywhere, and incredibly difficult to avoid. From scented candles to fabric conditioner, washing-up liquid to shower gel, and from make-up to perfume.
Most will contain synthetic fragrances made from petro-chemicals. Not so great then, either for you, or for the environment.
What are some of the synthetic ingredients in anti-perspirant?
Some of the synthetic ingredients in anti-perspirant that natural deodorants generally avoid include:
- Aluminium – it is the aluminium salts that work to prevent you from sweating
- Synthetic fragrances – often derived from petrochemicals
- Parabens – this topic can get a lot of people very hot under the collar. Are they ok, are they not? One thing you can say is that they are not strictly ‘natural’ and may have a wider, negative environmental impact, even if they are proclaimed as safe to use on people (within certain limits)
Is natural better than synthetic?
You would think so, wouldn’t you? But (and there’s always a but) …
Hemlock is natural plant that grows wild here in the UK, but eating it would probably kill you. So would rubbing it on your armpits! Ask Socrates. (Type ‘how did Socrates die’ into a search engine if you’d like to know more!)
Earthquakes are natural; so are scorpions. As is the dreaded palm oil come to think of it. I think you get my drift.
What’s better then, natural or synthetic?
Basically, the answer is that natural is probably better most of the time, but sometimes it isn’t. Maybe not what you wanted to hear, huh?
The upshot is that when you consider buying a product, you have to use your common sense, do a bit of research, and most of all, don’t blindly accept the message in the blurb!
So natural is best most of the time?
In my opinion, yes. With exceptions.
Would you prefer your favourite perfume to use the glands of the musk deer to make you smell nice? Or want your perfume to contribute to the over-harvesting of the sandalwood tree?
There is clearly a danger that the word ‘natural’, used by marketers the world over to sell you products, can sometimes be misleading. Or perhaps more accurately, we can simply misunderstand it.
Let’s look at this more closely…
Are natural deodorants better for you?
The science can tell you different things depending upon which research you look at. Importantly, research on both sides of the divide can be ‘interpreted’ by an interested party.
Imagine. If you are making a product that contains synthetic fragrances and parabens, it’s going to be in your interest to have some research out there that says they are safe to use.
If, instead, you are creating a product that uses only ‘natural’ materials, you might want science to support the suggestion that there are risks associated with synthetic materials, and benefits with natural ones.
Should I believe the science?
I am not suggesting for a moment that scientists sell their services in any inappropriate way. It is a profession I have an awful lot of respect for (and they are really, very brainy).
Scientific opinion is critically important, but keep an eye out for any brand that misrepresents that opinion.
Data and results can be viewed through many different prisms and presented in a way that can effectively support whatever message a brand wants to convey.
Heck, it all starts to get pretty serious doesn’t it?
Quick message for any doctors out there
Probably important to let the medical profession know at this point that if I have something wrong with me that is life-threatening, you can fill me with synthetics if it helps. I won’t mind!
Anyway, back to my opinion…
Natural deodorants, on balance, can be a good choice
I suspect that natural deodorants, if made with appropriate ingredients, are probably better for you. (This does have some caveats though – see below.)
My common sense tells me that I should do my best to avoid synthetic materials, and not to use products that prevent something that my body does naturally (it’s got to sweat for a reason).
Is natural deodorant good for people with allergies?
Not necessarily. You should always look at the ingredients very carefully, particularly if you know you have a sensitivity.
For example, a lot of natural deodorants use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). This is an alkaline substance that can be problematic for some skin types.
Speak to a medical professional if you are in any doubt.
Does natural mean it’s vegan?
Another common misconception of course is that natural = vegan. Wrong!
Apart from my example about the musk deer above (and yes, their glands really were highly sought after by the perfume industry years ago), cow’s milk is a natural product, but as a vegan, I don’t want to drink it.
I guess the moral of the story here is, always check the ingredients!
What is vegan and cruelty free deodorant?
This can get very tricky. If you are a vegan, I would recommend that you look for both labels (assuming you also want it to be cruelty-free!)
How to check if a product is vegan
You can find out more about vegan society approved products and the logo to look out for here.
Basically, a product can be vegan, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is cruelty-free. The definition of cruelty-free, according to the online Collins dictionary, is that a product is developed without being tested on animals.
Because a product doesn’t contain any animal-derived ingredients, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been tested on one.
And don’t forget that today, we use products safely that don’t require testing any more, but that were (once) tested on animals. It really depends on how deeply you feel about this topic.
How to check if a product is cruelty-free
Similarly, if a product is labelled as cruelty-free, for us vegans with a keen sense of what cruelty is, you might still want to check that the product doesn’t contain any animal-derived ingredients.
There is an informative blog here that explains a bit more about the leaping bunny and PETA logos that you might see on a product.
Please don’t think I doubt the integrity of the majority of ‘natural’ brands out there – quite the opposite.
Most are very nice people, with very good intentions, making some excellent products. I think they are a breath of fresh air (if that’s not too much of a pun?)
But, the market for natural products is growing (thank goodness) and many brands are jumping on the bandwagon, so the consumer just needs to be aware of what they are buying.
Did you ever think that being an ethical vegan would be this difficult?
It can be, but to my mind, worth it. Every step of the way.