Woman with deodorant

Choosing a deodorant can be the pits.

Upon moving to Washington, D.C., about a year ago, I quickly realized two things: Our Nation’s Capitol was built on a swamp and The Hill is called that for a reason. So biking — my chief form of transit in the city — can be quite the damp, smelly affair. After arriving at more than a few congressional hearings smelling certifiably ripe, I realized my hippie stick wasn’t cutting it anymore and decided to try out some new options.

Grist’s Pick

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal
$6.59, 4.25 oz.

I spurned traditional deodorant sticks a few years ago, after hearing news stories about how some researchers have found that aluminum in antiperspirants might be leaching into my breasts, possibly causing cancer. And apparently some types of deodorant contain phthalates, a chemical that has been linked to negative reproductive health effects in both men and women. Others contain propylene glycol, a chemical that may cause eye and skin irritation. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety actually warns consumers to avoid skin contact, so applying it to your armpits doesn’t seem like the best plan.

In the interest of keeping both my underarms and my sexual organs happy, I volunteered to test some “organic” and “natural” varieties. I tried six of them out for a week each and attempted a variety of activities to test their might. Biking, dancing, gym-going, a wedding, sitting at my desk all day, weed-whacking — I tried the whole gamut. I also enlisted my boyfriend for a daily smell-check (that’s gotta be love, no?).

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

After testing them out, though, I was tooling through Environmental Working Group’s product guide and found that some of my “organic” products contain a number of less-than-favorable elements. A few of them contain chemicals that are known allergens, and others have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and developmental and reproductive toxicity. Further investigation found that some “conventional” brands might be better for you health-wise. So I tested one more conventional brand as well. And now I bring you my testimony, dear Grist readers, so you don’t have to suffer the same sweaty fate.

Tom’s of Maine
Unscented long-lasting deodorant stick
2.25 oz. / $5.49
Eco-claims: Natural, aluminum-free, uses botanical hops
Not-so-eco realities: Contains propylene glycol
EWG score: 2
Bonus: Tom’s uses 100 percent wind energy to power their manufacturing facility

I’ve been using Tom’s for years and have usually been happy with their lemongrass and calendula scents, at least for sedentary activities. But I picked up the unscented version accidentally, and I haven’t been as pleased. I’m super-sweaty after minimal effort, and though my sweat doesn’t stink as bad as it could, I don’t feel fresh at the end of the day. Boyfriend smell test: “Eh.”

Nature’s Gate Organics
Lemongrass & clary sage deodorant stick
1.7 oz. / $5.59
Eco-claims: Contains certified organic botanicals, propylene glycol-free, paraben-free, no aluminum, no animal testing
EWG score: 2

Smells great and lemony-fresh when I apply it in the a.m., but I start smelling musty by midday. And by the time I get home at night, I smell downright rank. When I asked my boyfriend to appraise the pit-smell situation, his response was a loud expletive. It actually made my pits smell sort of like a latrine, which is far worse than they smell normally.

Tea tree-scented deodorant stick
2.5 oz. / $5.99
Eco-claims: Pure, natural, organic, paraben-free, aluminum-free, no animal testing or by-products
EWG score: 4

Smells more like regular deodorant than most hippie sticks (which is a shame — I like the smell of tea tree). Does a good job of keeping stink to a minimum, though on days I bike a lot or hit the gym, I’m still pretty ripe. My smell tester gives this a less-than-favorable rating, too.

Lafe’s Natural and Organic
“Active” scent deodorant stick
2.5 oz. / $7.99
Eco-claims: Natural and organic, paraben-free, aluminum-free, propylene glycol-free, made with certified organic hemp oil, natural antibacterial agents
EWG score: No rating
Bonus: 1 percent of their profits go to breast cancer research

Definitely smells more sporty than the others, perhaps even manly. Though the smell wears off pretty quickly, there’s no noticeable stink at the end of the day. I don’t really have any strong feelings about this stick either way.

Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal
Distributed by TCCD international
4.25 oz. / $6.59
Eco-claims: Naturally fresh, 100 percent pure and natural, no harmful chemicals or propellants, environmentally safe
EWG score: 0
Bonus: Made from mineral salts, so no complicated ingredient list to sift through

At first I was completely skeptical that rubbing a “magic crystal” on my armpit would do anything other than make me look like a kook, but this was by far the most effective of the bunch. I didn’t even sweat as much as I usually do! Part of me has to wonder if it’s just me imagining it’s working. As an added bonus, it has no real odor, which is kind of nice — the sticks that attempt to cover up stink generally seem to backfire. No complaints about my odor from the boyfriend this week.

Look, Ma — no residue!

Kiss My Face Obsessively Natural Active Enzyme
Peaceful Patchouli scent deodorant stick
2.48 oz. / $4.99
Eco-claims: Natural, propylene glycol-free, no artificial fragrance, no artificial colors, no animal ingredients, was not tested on animals, 100 percent biodegradable
EWG score: 4

OK, I’ll admit it. I love the smell of patchouli — and if that makes me a damn hippie, I don’t care. I smelled pretty rockin’ when I put this on in the morning, though the deodorant was sort of gummy and made my pits feel weird. The smell turned musty by mid-afternoon, and I hadn’t even left the house yet! I went to the gym in the evening and by mid-body-pump class, I could smell myself. It was a long, stinky ride home. The patchouli smell I liked so much in the morning seemed to totally backfire, and instead of masking my sweat smell, it melded together and created a fusion of stink. I guess this stick is fine if you’re headed to a Phish concert, but not recommended for professional endeavors or high-activity days.

Sure Invisible Solid
Unscented antiperspirant & deodorant
Eco-claims: None
Not-so-eco realities: Contains aluminum
3.2 oz. / $2.79
EWG score: 0

Though it says it’s “unscented,” it does have a mild baby-powder odor, so this is probably not the best choice for someone who has trouble with fragrances. While I found the scent pleasant, I was distressed that it made a big, white gunky mark on my black tank top. I still smelled remarkably fresh at the end of the day, so it appears to work. I’m not a fan of either the aluminum or the rings around my pits though.

The bottom line: When it comes to keeping me fresh as I traverse the Capitol, not all deodorants are created equal. I’m going to have to vote for the crystal, despite how wacky the concept may sound. Not only does it keep me from stinking up the Hill, it also has the fewest problematic ingredients. The price isn’t terrible either, and one stick lasts up to a year.