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Best deodorant for smelly armpits
f you’re looking for the best deodorant for women, you’ve got two options: an antiperspirant that stops sweat, or a natural deodorant that neutralizes BO. We researched ingredients, talked to dermatologists, and tested 32 finalists to find products that applied smoothly and left little residue.
The Best Deodorant for Women
- Secret Invisible Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant –Velvety application, minimal residue, and a clean scent — with aluminum zirconium to stop sweat and C12-15 alkyl benzoate to prevent BO.
- Speed Stick Power Unscented Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant –The same active ingredients as Secret Invisible Solid, but scent-free for sensitive skin.
- DERMAdoctor Total Nonscents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant –A roller-ball antiperspirant that takes longer to dry but leaves very little residue.
- Sam’s Natural Deodorant –Aluminum-free, so it won’t stop sweat. Instead, uses coconut oil and baking powder as odor blockers.
- Green Tidings All-Natural Deodorant –The same odor blockers as Sam’s, but boasts certified organic ingredients.
- Fatco Women’s Stank Stop Deodorant –Blocks BO with coconut oil, baking powder and zinc oxide. An aluminum-free cream you apply with your fingers.
- Agent Natuer & Shiva Rose Holi Rose Deodorant –A rose and sandalwood-scented deodorant that reminded us of high-end perfume and left very little residue.
The Difference Between Antiperspirants and Deodorants
Did you know your sweat doesn’t actually smell? The real culprits behind body odor are the bacteria living in your armpits, which metabolize particles (think proteins and sugars) in your sweat and emit odor as a byproduct. Antiperspirants and deodorants each handle the bacteria/sweat problem differently.
Antiperspirants prevent sweating.
Aluminum forms a gelatinous plug that stops up your sweat glands, preventing more perspiration from seeping out. Without sweat, bacteria have nothing to dine on — hence, no body odor.
Even over-the-counter antiperspirants are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In its final monograph, the FDA states that products marketed as antiperspirants must reduce sweating by at least 20 percent in user tests that the FDA has verified (Section IIC, Comment 9).
Deodorants neutralize odor.
A deodorant, in the strictest sense, will not contain aluminum or prevent perspiration. Instead, deodorants mask and neutralize the odors that bacteria emit. The masking part is fairly simple: synthetic fragrances and plant-based essential oils can be used to cover up smell. As for neutralizing, products can rely on everything from the modern-day antimicrobial C12-15 alkyl benzoate to good old baking soda. Many products are labeled antiperspirant and deodorant, in which case they’re relying on a combination of both processes.
Some people fear that regularly applying aluminum to the underarms could cause it to accumulate in the bloodstream, leading to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. The National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, and FDA have all examined the issue and concluded that aluminum-based antiperspirants are safe. But many consumers still opt for aluminum-free deodorants — often marketed as “natural” deodorants.
Scent is the only difference between men’s and women’s products.
Ad campaigns make it easy to believe that the sweat coming out of a man is different than what comes out of a woman. But according to a recent study led by Sean Notley, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Ottawa, that’s not the case.
“We found that sex could explain a maximum of about 5% of individual variations in sweating,” Notley told us. “A more active female may need a stronger antiperspirant than a male who sits at a desk all day.”
“In terms of active ingredients, there’s no difference between men’s and women’s products.”
Notley’s research had us wondering: do men and women really need different deodorants? Dr. David Pariser, Senior Physician at Pariser Dermatology, told us, “in terms of active ingredients, there’s no difference between men’s and women’s products. The main difference is scent.” Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, of BeautyStat.com, seconded the notion. “It’s really about personal preference for scent and application style,” he said.
So consider our top picks for the best women’s antiperspirants and deodorants your starting point. We’ve narrowed a field of hundreds down to a handful of options. If you don’t like one, try another — and don’t rule out the possibility of going for a “men’s” product.
How We Found the Best Women’s Antiperspirants and Natural Deodorants
We started with a list of more than 200 antiperspirants and deodorants — we wanted to look at as many brands as we could find (although we did limit ourselves to products that could be easily found and purchased either online or in-person).
Then we began scrutinizing ingredient lists. Worthy underarm protection should fight body odor without causing irritation — but the best antiperspirant ingredients are going to be different than the best natural deodorant ingredients. So we created a wishlist for each category.
What We Wanted in a Women’s Antiperspirant
The most effective, least irritating aluminum. Namely, aluminum zirconium. Five dermatologists all told us this was the best type. “Newer antiperspirants which contain both aluminum and zirconium are most effective,” said Dr. Pariser. And we found a 2015 study that backs this up. Not only that, aluminum zirconium is “less irritating to the skin” than other forms like aluminum chloride and aluminum chlorohydrate, according to Dr. Whitney High, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado.
A formula free of irritants. Underarms are delicate, especially if you shave regularly, so harsh irritants were a no-go. This includes hydrogen peroxide, which Dr. Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, (sarcastically) told us is “great if you are looking to cause an irritant contact dermatitis.” Simple alcohols like isopropyl alcohol can lead to similar issues, so we nixed them too. And to find an antiperspirant suitable for women with sensitive skin, we looked for products with no fragrance or perfume: These two words can mask a slew of potentially irritating chemicals.
Antimicrobial benefits. Remember how it’s bacteria that cause body odor? Just in case any sweat should sneak past the aluminum zirconium, we wanted a bacteria-fighting ingredient in our arsenal. Triclosan, banned by the FDA in 2016, is no longer an option. That left us with C12-15 alkyl benzoate. “It’s generally considered to be safe and provides emollient and antimicrobial benefits,” said Dr. Audrey Kunin, dermatologist and founder of DERMAdoctor.
This criteria helped us narrow down a field of over 90 antiperspirants marketed as either unisex or for women to 14 to try ourselves. (Read more about our methodology in our review of the best antiperspirants.)
What We Wanted in a Women’s Natural Deodorant
During our research, we learned no one regulates the use of the term “natural.” It’s a label that could theoretically be slapped onto anything. So we consulted experts and looked at as many peer-reviewed studies as we could find to settle on the best plant- and mineral-based ingredients — and to figure out what we should avoid.
Absolutely no aluminum. Since so many natural deodorants were developed in response to concerns about aluminum, we decided to avoid the ingredient altogether. This also meant weeding out potassium alum, a mineral form of aluminum used in some “natural” products, including Tom’s of Maine and Crystal.
Devoid of harsh irritants. As with antiperspirants, we excluded products that contained simple alcohols, benzoyl peroxide, and fragrance/perfume. To be extra careful, we also weeded out products with propanediol and propylene glycol, which “are no longer being used regularly due to some data that they might be harmful,” according to Ron Robinson.
Powerful odor-blockers. Our experts referred us repeatedly to three key odor-neutralizing ingredients. So we looked for deodorants that contained at least two of the following:
- Coconut oil “contains lauric acid, which is very good at killing odor-causing bacteria,” said Nathan Morin, the self-proclaimed Deodorant King of Chicago, and founder of North Coast Organics. A study in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy confirmed this.
- Baking soda raises the normally acidic pH of your armpit, which helps kill bacteria (and their attendant smell).
- Zinc oxide has been used in deodorants since the 19th century. Why? It neutralizes odors by converting them into odorless zinc salts. It may even work better than aluminum chlorohydrate, the active ingredient in a number of antiperspirants.
These criteria eliminated a huge swath of our 128 contenders, leaving us with 18 to try out ourselves. (Read more about our methodology in our review of the best natural deodorants.)
We put our 32 top contenders to the test.
An ingredients label can only tell you so much. After we’d whittled our list down to 18 natural deodorants and 14 antiperspirants, we did some hands-on testing:
In our scent test, we pulled the cap off each product and gave it a whiff. Scent is subjective — so what were we looking for? Aromas that were subtle and fresh, not overpowering or cloying. We sought input from a dozen test users and struck out any products that were overwhelmingly unpopular. Of course, the way a product smells on your body is more important than how it smells in its packaging, so we also applied each product, let it set for two hours while we went about our day, and then came back for a second sniff test. Was the scent too intense now? Had it vanished completely? Had it been replaced by BO?
When it came to application, we felt a little like Goldilocks: we wanted a product that struck just the right balance between wet and gooey versus dry and crumbly. After applying each solid, gel, and cream, we took notes and gave preference to the products that glided on smoothly with a satiny finish. After two hours, we spot-checked for any clumping on the skin.
We also created a residue test to see which formulas were more prone to rub off on our clothes rather than stick to our skin. After two hours of wear, we rubbed a swatch of dark t-shirt fabric across our underarms and nixed products that left the most vivid, chalky white streaks.
Our Picks for the Best Antiperspirant for Women
Secret Invisible Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant won our hearts for hitting high marks in our scent, application, andresidue tests. Our closest runner up was Dove Advanced Care Original Clean, another triple threat that scored high in all three tests, but didn’t do quite as well.
We tried not to let scent sway our decision-making process too much since most of our finalists are available in several varieties (Secret Invisible Solid has eight scents; Dove has 12). That said, we did weed out anything especially overpowering, like Ban Invisible Solid Antiperspirant and Deodorant in Powder Fresh, which one tester said was so strong that she caught a whiff every time she moved her arm. (Fragrance might be Ban’s fatal flaw; its fragrance-free formula was one of our top picks in the unscented category.) Secret and Dove, by contrast, smelled subtle and clean, the sort of scents our testers said they would be happy to have on all day.
What about application? No complaints for either of our top contenders. Of Secret, one tester commented, “This went on perfectly. It didn’t feel wet or liquidy.” And Dove was lauded as “smooth, not chalky.” Where Secret pulled slightly ahead was our residue test. While it’s not as invisible as its name implies, it still left no clumps in our underarms and only minimal streaks on our T-shirt fabric. Dove, by comparison, seemed to “get flakier throughout the day,” according to one tester. That said, Dove and Secret are both reasonably priced at about $4, so if you want to compare them for yourself it’s not going to break the bank.
Both Secret (left) and Dove (right) earned high marks from our testers, but Secret performed a bit better as the day progressed.
Secret Clinical Strength Invisible Solid Antiperspirant & Deodorant is also worth a mention. The FDA, in its final monograph on antiperspirants, makes no ruling on how the term “clinical strength” can be used, which means it’s unclear whether over-the-counter clinical strength antiperspirants actually do anything.
But Secret could be an exception. The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (the ad industry’s self-regulatory body), has confirmed several claims made by Secret Clinical Strength. Namely, that it provides “clinical strength wetness protection” and stops “wetness better than the leading invisible solid.” We still didn’t love the product, mostly because it left it a lot of flaky residue on our skin and clothes. It also contains just one percentage point more of aluminum zirconium compared to our top pick (20 percent, versus Secret Invisible Solid’s 19 percent) — and cost us an extra four dollars.
Our advice: start with our “regular-strength” picks and give clinical strength a shot only if the standard fare isn’t cutting it.
Whether you have sensitive skin or just don’t want to smell your antiperspirant all day, Speed Stick Power Unscented Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant is an excellent option.
Based solely on the packaging, you might assume it’s for men. But — as we learned — the main difference between men’s and women’s antiperspirants is scent. When you’re looking at unscented products, that difference becomes moot: We just wanted something that would work.
Without scent, however, we had an admittedly hard time differentiating among products. Of the seven unscented options we tried, we liked five. But ultimately Speed Stick and Ban Invisible Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant Unscented stood out. They were the only two products that contained C12-15 alkyl benzoate, an antimicrobial that can help curb odor should any wetness sneak past the aluminum zirconium (which is listed at 16 percent in Speed Stick and 19 percent in Ban). One tester said she caught a faint hint of musk in the Ban (could it be the sandalwood listed low on the ingredients list?), but that was hardly a deal-breaker.
Both products also applied similarly: each has a slim, domed top that molds nicely to the underarms. However, Speed Stick earned a slight edge here. Ban felt a little too wet, like it was melting into our skin, while testers described SpeedStick as “just moist enough for a smooth glide.” And while Ban has the word “invisible” in its name, it left about the same amount of residue as Speed Stick. At the end of the day, either product would make a good fixture in your medicine cabinet or gym bag, and they’re priced affordably at about $3.
We’re also giving an honorable mention to DERMAdoctor Total Nonscents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant. It lacked C12-15 alkyl benzoate but caught our eye for two reasons. The first was its application style: it was the only roller ball among our top picks. Some of our testers didn’t like this, reporting that the product felt drippy and took a while to dry. (And one hairy-pitted tester pointed out that armpit hair gets caught in the roller ball.) So why are we bringing it up? It left practically nothing behind on fabric swatches, especially when compared to stick products. Even though it’s over $20, if you have a high-end wardrobe, it could be a good product to have on hand.
Not only does DERMAdoctor Total Nonscents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant contain coconut oil and baking soda, two proven odor fighters, it has the added benefit of shea butter and tea tree oil. Shea butter provides moisturizing benefits, and tea tree oil might have antimicrobial and antifungal qualities although the evidence isn’t rock solid.
Our Picks for the Best Natural Deodorant for Women
Of its 15 available scents, Sam’s offers one marketed specifically for women, with lavender and clary sage essential oils. (The type of oil was the only difference between the men’s and women’s formulas.) Our testers loved the faintly herbal, faintly citrusy aroma and were pleased to find it lingered even after two hours of wear.
Compared to other natural deodorants that came in oval sticks and creams, we preferred Sam’s circular shape for our underarms.
As for application, we liked Sam’s circular stick. After trying an assortment of natural deodorants — some circular sticks, some ovals, and some creams — we tended to prefer the rounder ones. They fit more snugly into our pits than ovals, and as a result left less gooey excess on our skin and on the rim of the stick (an especially important consideration for natural deodorants, which can have a creamier, softer texture than traditional antiperspirants). And compared to the creams — which required dipping your fingers into a jar, rubbing the product into your skin, and then washing your hands — sticks were much less messy and time-consuming.
Some people do prefer creams because they want to control exactly how much product is going on; if this sounds like a draw, we’d recommend Fatco Stank Stop. It’s made with coconut oil, baking soda, and zinc oxide (all three of our wishlist odor fighters) and comes in a pleasant lavender-sage scent that’s similar to Sam’s.
All that said, Sam’s lived up to our application expectations. It maneuvered nicely inside underarms and glided on with a smooth, satin-y finish. It also left zero clumps in our armpits and only a modest amount of residue on t-shirt fabric. At $10 for three ounces, it’s a relatively affordable option (our natural deodorant finalists ranged from $6 to $24), which is impressive given that it’s handcrafted in New Hampshire.
Looking solely at scent, some of our testers were swayed by the rose and sandalwood of Agent Nateur No. 4, which felt on par with a fine fragrance (though some found it too “powder-y”). Agent Nateur was also a residue test winner, leaving practically nothing behind on our t-shirts. But it didn’t glide on as easily as Sam’s, and its $24 price tag could be a deterrent for everyday wear. Like DERMAdoctor Total Nonscents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant, it might make a good “special occasion” deodorant when you’re trying to protect delicate fabric.
On the hunt for an organic deodorant? Look no further than Green Tidings. The rigors of sourcing organic ingredients (as well as manufacturing the product in a solar-powered facility) probably contribute to its higher price point (about $8 for a one-ounce tube). But if buying organic is important to you, it’s our top choice.
We had a few other organic deodorants in the running during our testing, but Green Tidings emerged as the frontrunner based on scent, application, and residue. The gentle lavender fragrance appealed to testers’ noses, especially when compared to AC Nature, which some of our testers likened to Play-Doh — and reported wore off entirely after two hours, revealing body odor.
Green Tidings’ shape and siz (center) felt just right for our underarms, and the stick didn’t clump like offerings from North Coast Organics (left) and Bubble and Bee (right).
As for application, Green Tidings’ round stick felt perfectly sized for our underarms. Unlike products from North Coast Organics and Bubble and Bee, excess gooey product didn’t accumulate in our armpits or smear onto the edge of the tube’s rim. Green Tidings felt a little bit gritty going on, but our testers said this was added reassurance that they were getting a good coating. And the grit didn’t translate to clumps or heavy residue during our t-shirt test. (Here again, Green Tidings outperformed both North Coast and Bubble and Bee.)
The Best Deodorant for Women: Summed Up
Did You Know?
Your body doesn’t just cool off through sweating
Ever wonder why you often get red in the face during exercise? That’s because your body also transfers blood to the skin to regulate temperature. “Once you start exercising, your body shifts blood to the working muscles because that’s the higher priority where oxygen is needed. It also shifts it to the skin to release heat,” explains Jeremy Ross, exercise physiologist and strength and conditioning coach at Heroes Movement.
Body type is the biggest factor in how much you sweat.
After controlling for body type, Sean Notley’s research team found less than a 5 percent difference between how much men and women sweat.
If you’re trying to understand what body type could possibly have to do with sweat, think of a cup of coffee. “If a coffee is half full, it will cool much faster than a full cup. We thought that those principles might apply to sweat,” said Notley. And sure enough, in his research, Notley found that larger individuals, whose bodies have a lower surface-area-to-volume ratio, tend to sweat more in order to release heat.
Of course, the biggest factor in how much you sweat is going to be how hard you’re working. “The greater our exertion, the greater the increase in body temperature and the greater the sweat rate,” said Notley.
Male and female scents are based on traditional norms, but that’s changing.
If you walk through the personal care aisles of any pharmacy, you’ll notice that floral and fruity scents are targeted to women, while woods and musks are reserved for men. Why? “It’s not necessarily based on research, but more of how we are raised and socialized,” says Ron Robinson.
“There’s a lot of backlash against traditional masculinity and femininity. Things have been shifting over the last 10 years. The idea of woods in women’s fragrances isn’t even a new trend anymore.”
“Especially in the U.S. market, sweetness, fruitiness, and color are used to attract a female consumer,” notes Dana Steinfeld, who has worked in fine fragrance development for 17 years.
But this might be changing. In the world of fine fragrance (which usually influences other body products, like deodorant), “there’s a lot of backlash against traditional masculinity and femininity. Things have been shifting over the last 10 years. The idea of woods in women’s fragrances isn’t even a new trend anymore,” Steinfeld told us. She added that she’s also starting to see men wear more florals and “unisex” options — which typically rely on fresh, citrus-y scents that feel pretty universal.
Indeed, Schmidt’s Naturals, one of the natural deodorants we tested, told us, “we believe that scent should not be limited to traditional constraints of male or female, so have designed our formulas to be effective and appropriate for both genders. Traditionally ‘feminine’ scents like our Rose + Vanilla are beloved by men and women alike.”