Save or Splurge? Comparing Low-Cost, Natural and Designer Deodorants

Deodorant is a $4 billion business and growing.

— -- Deodorant: It costs a few bucks at the drug store, you swipe it on after a shower and that’s it, right? Wrong.

Deodorant is a $4 billion business and growing, partly because brands that advertise themselves as “natural” are selling faster than ever and because designers are jumping into the category. But are natural deodorants that sometimes cost twice that of drugstore brands and designer deodorants that cost as much as $50 better than our traditional choices?

To understand this trend you first need to understand the difference between antiperspirants and deodorants. I asked Barrie Drewitt, director of testing at Princeton Consumer Labs, an independent lab that tests claims made by deodorant companies, to explain.

“An antiperspirant actually works to stop you from sweating. Deodorant will only mask the smell,” he said.

The active ingredient in antiperspirants is aluminum and it physically blocks the pores where sweat would come out. Because our armpits sweat more and from some of the stinkier glands in our body, blocking those pores is an effective way to reduce body odor. Deodorant, on the other hand, is all about smell reduction.

Drewitt explains that deodorants do have proprietary salts and charcoals that help to absorb smell, but most deodorants focus on covering smells up with other scents. That is where our designer $25 and $50 deodorants come into play.

I guess that makes sense. If you’ve paid $400 for a 3.4 oz bottle of cologne, you wouldn’t want to mix the smell with the ever-popular Axe for Men antiperspirant.

But this gets back to the crux of the issue. Designer deodorant is an extension of a designer fragrance.

Drewitt summarizes it this way when it comes to deodorant: “People think if you pay more, it's going to be better. That is just not the case, at all.”

He says if you want supreme efficacy in stopping sweat and minimizing smell, pick an antiperspirant/deodorant combo applied once every eight hours. “Go for the box standard, go to the supermarket. Pay $5 to $10,” he said.

But what about natural deodorants? Maybe they won’t stop you from sweating, but are they healthier?

I bought eight different types at my local natural foods store. They come in sprays, wipes, creams, even one called Primal Pit Paste. They ranged in price from $5 to $18 dollars and they all smelled great.

But none of them are antiperspirants. That’s because the main reason many people choose not to use an antiperspirant is the desire to avoid aluminum.

Thinking persists that the chemical is tied to Alzheimer’s disease, but numerous studies have led the Alzheimer’s Association to issue this statement on its website:

"During the 1960s and 1970s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. This suspicion led to concern about exposure to aluminum through everyday sources such as pots and pans, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat."

So as you make a choice to try and stay fresh, let your budget and your nose be your guides.