Instead of giving you a list of items I use (which wouldn't necessarily work for everyone) let's actually go over some of the more important stuff so you can understand the why. Then when our husbands and children accuse us of practicing "witchcraft" or "voodoo" we have intelligent arguments to give them.
So let's talk about deodorants. At this point everyone has heard about traditional deodorants and they have been plenty villainized in the media with breast-cancer awareness. Drug-store deodorants are for the most part actually antiperspirants, this is important and will discuss in a min. The antiperspirant component in most traditional deodorants is aluminum.
Aluminum is a metal that is used to create a sort of a plug to block your pores and hence prevent you from sweating. Aluminum effects on our health has been heavily investigated prior to the deodorant frenzy but mostly with focus on neurological disorders. Aluminum can damage DNA and prevent DNA repair and this led to the hypothesis that if absorbed through skin, it can accumulate in breast and lead to cancer formation by damaging DNA. Unfortunately the human data on aluminum and breast cancer is inconclusive. Earlier studies were retrospective, observational and small and found NO association between aluminum-based deodorants and breast cancer incidence. More recent studies showed that women with breast cancer had higher aluminum concentration in their breasts but it was irrespective of antiperspirant use. This means breast cancer maybe related to aluminum but antiperspirants may not be relevant or the only route of exposure. Bottom line is we need more studies that are prospective and randomized to conclude this debate. More importantly sweating is one of few methods for your body to get rid of toxins (detoxification) and it is the most robust and important one. When blocking sweat pores we abort that process in the armpits and inhibit the body to be able to properly detoxify. So, breast cancer or not, I am a big advocate for NOT using antiperspirants, aluminum based or not (or limiting the bodies ability to sweat in other ways). Deodorants, on the other hand, just cover the smell or neutralize the smell of your sweat, so that is fine to use.
Other ingredients that are commonly used in traditional deodorants are parabens, phthalates, talc, artificial dyes, BHT, petrolatum, triclosan and many others. Parabens are ubiquitous in cosmetic products and are used as preservatives basically. Parabens are estrogenic compounds; that is they mimic estrogen in their interactions with cells. Excess estrogen plays a role in many health issues including breast cancer, PCOS, infertility and others. So no bueno! Phthalates is a large group of chemicals also ubiquitous in our cosmetic industry and are used for many purposes including fragrance, making things less brittle and more flexible. These chemicals are also endocrine disruptors; that is they mimic some of our hormones and interfere with the natural hormonal pathways. Phthalates are frequently hidden under the "fragrance" label. The other compounds, though not as well studied, have been linked to allergies, immune compromise and maybe some forms of cancer.
Ok now moving on to natural deodorants. When we sweat our armpits release moisture, bacteria on our skin reacts with the elements in the sweat and uses some of it for fuel and that process creates the smell. So there are several ways to manage smell:
1) by killing or reducing the bacteria that react with sweat glands;
2) by neutralizing the smell via a chemical reaction or
3) absorbing the liquid we sweat out. One group of deodorants use baking soda, or cornstarch, or arrowroot powder to absorb moisture and neutralize bacteria due to its basic nature (baking soda). These are very popular. Another group uses natural antibacterials like tea tree oil or coconut oil, not as popular. The third group of deodorants use magnesium which counteracts odor-causing bacteria. All of these deodorants utilize essential oils to add pleasant smells to their product and our armpits (lavender, bergamot, citrus are all very effective). These products are all effective but they will never feel or keep you as dry as antiperspirant. Baking soda is very alkaline, in contrast to our acidic skin and hence can cause redness and irritation. So though those deodorants are very effective, some people will experience irritation. Magnesium based deodorants don't have the pH issue and are less likely to cause irritation. One more thing worth mentioning, when converting to a "natural" deodorant, it is common to experience a period of irritation and a period of stronger smells. This is a detox phase when your armpits go from clogged pores to open and there will be a surge in odor-causing bacteria. This can take about 4 weeks so stick with it!!
Lastly, there are a ton of great brands now that sell good deodorants. Here are just some that i can recommend: