How I Made That: Deodorant

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When I first started R&D for my product line, deodorant was not on my radar. I felt like the market was already saturated with options like Native, Schmidt’s, Primal Pit Paste, and the like. It also wasn’t something I felt particularly passionate about. That is, until I did some more digging.

At the time I started with R&D, I was using Native, a natural deodorant brand whose primary active ingredient is baking soda. While at first it seemed to work okay, over time I noticed that I developed an angry, painful, red, raised rash in my armpits that extended down my ribcage and even into my upper bicep. The rash was even more uncomfortable if I applied the deodorant after shaving my armpits. I switched to a Burt’s Bees alcohol-based deodorant with sage essential oil, and while it seemed to work okay, it dried out my skin (duh) and holy moly did that mofo STING on my armpits, especially after shaving.

I did some research online and found that most natural deodorants use baking soda, and if you look on Pinterest you will notice that it is hailed as a natural superhero ingredient. While I certainly agree with that sentiment when it comes to house cleaning purposes, it’s super high pH (~9.5) does not jibe well with the skin’s naturally acidic pH (~4.5). It will destroy the skin’s acid mantle, cause rashes and irritation like I experienced, and potentially leave the skin vulnerable to infections. No thanks.

The moment I knew that I really needed to make a deodorant was when I met a woman who was married to my husband’s friend, and when I told her I was developing a line of natural hair and skincare, the first thing she asked was if I would have a deodorant. I told her I hadn’t considered it but she encouraged me to try to develop one. Like me, she was unhappy with the rashes she got from options with baking soda, and she was also looking for a solid stick that didn’t require you to use your fingers in a gooey formula. I was clear that there wasn’t a great solution to natural deodorant on the market, so I set out doing research.

This was one of the last products I developed, so at this point I knew that Pinterest wouldn’t be the best source for recipes (95% of them included baking soda), though it did have some good information on some other raw ingredients. I happened upon a post about diatomaceous earth in deodorant, and I was intrigued. Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of microscopic organisms called diatoms, and has a variety of uses from insect control in your organic garden to stank control in your deodorant.

How exactly does diatomaceous earth control stank? Well, sweat itself doesn’t stink – what causes B.O. is actually the result of the skin’s bacteria breaking down the sweat. In order to control your funk, you want to create an environment on the skin that doesn’t allow those bacteria to flourish without compromising the skin. Diatomaceous earth plays a big role in making your ‘pits an inhospitable place for the sweat-snacking bacteria. As for another active ingredient in the formula, I turned to bentonite clay to help boost the power of the D.E. However, because bentonite clay is also quite alkaline (pH ~9), I knew that I couldn’t add too much to the formula. The last powder ingredient was an easy choice – arrowroot powder – which helps to absorb some excess moisture without preventing you some sweating. Many DIY deodorant formulas say that you can use arrowroot powder alone, in place of baking soda. While arrowroot is a great absorbent and stabilizing ingredient, it does nothing in the anti-stank category. I knew I would rely on the arrowroot powder to help create the right texture, not for anti-odor purposes.

After focusing first on active ingredients, I figured that the hardest part would be determining the proper balance of butters, oils, and waxes in the base. Most natural deodorants on the market contain beeswax, but I know it is not well-tolerated by everyone (especially in high concentrations) and also would be a no-go for vegan consumers. I did a little digging to find candelilla wax, a plant-based wax that is slightly harder than beeswax. The other two base ingredients were easy to choose – shea butter for cohesiveness, moisture, and glide, and coconut oil to prevent the formula from being too hard.

My very first formula turned out more like a goo that should be applied with the fingers, despite the fact that I intended to develop a solid stick deodorant. While it did work to control odor, it was just too darn messy and would get stuck to clothes. I was happy with my proportions of the active ingredients, and I knew that refining the base would be challenging. My second iteration was, by contrast, too hard, requiring the user to really smoosh the stick into the skin. It also made the powders in the formula feel grainy and abrasive. After a few more attempts of formulas that were either too gooey or too hard, I finally landed on the formula that I sell today! It took a lot of patience but it was so worth it. This product is now one of my top three bestsellers and often peoples’ first exposures to Bright Body! 

Have you tried other natural deodorants? Did you ever experience rashes or irritation? Even if you haven’t had a great experience with other natural anti-stank products, I recommend giving our formula a try because it is quite different than what else is available on the market.

Until next time,

Gabi Day

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