Despite the fact that they are categorised as a grooming essential, deodorants have become an afterthought when it comes to our daily beauty routines. One reason for this is that the market is dominated by pharmacy brands that are, for lack of a better word, unsexy and unglamorous. Coupled with unsightly packaging and outdated marketing and advertising campaigns (we are looking at you, Old Spice guy), it is no wonder deodorant spray bottles are at the back of our bathroom cabinets. Now the humble deodorant is having a renaissance. A recent report said the global deodorant market is predicted to reach US$30.7 billion by 2026 thanks to a greater awareness of personal health and hygiene. What’s also driving growth is the emergence of a new generation of brands that are the opposite of their predecessors. Direct-to-consumer brands were the first to change consumer’s habits and educate them about what they are applying on their armpits. They started a movement towards “cleaner” formulas that have set benchmarks for other brands to follow. “Now many of these brands are being bought out by fast-moving consumer goods companies, while there are also a range of independent labels in the market,” says Charlotte Chen , founder of Everyday Humans, a line of beauty basics that is available at Target in the United States and launching in Sephora’s Asia-Pacific stores in July. What sets many of these niche brands apart from their pharmacy counterparts is the ingredients they use. For years the shelves were filled with antiperspirant deodorants formulated to block sweat glands and prevent sweating, using a combination of ingredients including aluminium and other sulphates. Plastic-free, natural deodorants: we test six of the best available in Hong Kong As the clean beauty movement has gone mainstream, many of these ingredients have come under fire, resulting in brands removing them from their formulas and setting new industry standards. “These new brands contain highly sophisticated formulas that are free from aluminium, pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms), which can cause irritation and long-term health issues,” says Newby Hands, global beauty director at online fashion and beauty retailer Net-a-Porter. “We see that more and more brands are consciously investing in research and developing proven ingredients to combat the possible health side effects associated with these ingredients.” As such, the new crop of deodorants work differently. “Natural deodorants don’t stop you from sweating. Instead, they target bacteria which cause body odour when combined with a dark, damp environment. It’s about stopping the bacteria from forming in the first place using antimicrobial ingredients,” says Rachel Winard, CEO and founder of one cult deodorant brand, Brooklyn, New York-based Soapwalla. Many of these ingredients come from natural sources, and include antibacterial essential oils such as tea tree oil and astringents such as witch hazel. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and starches such as arrowroot and tapioca, or even clay powders, are also popular as they absorb sweat. Textures and packaging have also improved. Instead of thick stick formulas that leave white stains on your clothing, the latest offerings run the gamut from spray-ons – which according to Winard are better suited to men due to the amount of hair under their arms – to lightweight creams that blend easily into the skin without leaving any residue behind. Most come housed in sleek and elegant containers that resemble high-end cosmetics and are often made from sustainable materials. Another major difference is that most of the newer deodorants are unisex. “Pharmacy brands always categorise their deodorants specifically for men or women, but honestly it’s all marketing. At the end of the day, skin is skin – sure, hormones can play a major role in your skin needs, but that’s not regulated along sex or gender lines. That’s why essential oils are great – they do the work while also adding different fragrance profiles,” says Winard. While the newer crop of brands may look and feel better, they do come with some drawbacks. In addition to higher-quality ingredients their price tags are bigger. It’s hard to know whether a bad reaction is related to your body getting rid of chemical build-up from your commercial antiperspirant or if it’s an allergy to specific ingredients Charlotte Chen, founder of Everyday Humans, a line of beauty basics available at Target in the US “Read labels and educate yourself on ingredients and make a decision about what you want to avoid. Practicality is also important – you want to buy something that’s easily available or that suits your budget. More than that, it’s always about performance. Don’t be afraid to try a couple of brands, as one may not work straight away. Everybody reacts differently to different formulas,” says Chen. Winard also warns that some ingredients, particularly baking soda, can cause skin irritation, especially among sensitive users. These are usually short-term and can be remedied over time. “It’s hard to know whether a bad reaction is related to your body getting rid of chemical build-up from your commercial antiperspirant or if it’s an allergy to specific ingredients. I always suggest that you try it out for 30 days and allow your body to recalibrate,” says Chen. “Make sure you sweat it out to release toxins, and I also suggest an underarm scrub or mask once or twice a week made from one-part clay/oatmeal to one part yogurt. It will soften and protect the skin.” Five clean deodorants to try 1. Sweet Pitti Deodorant Cream (HK$125) by Drunk Elephant Like most of Drunk Elephant’s products , this recently launched deodorant is free of potential skin irritants such as baking soda and essential oils. These are replaced with evidence-backed ingredients such as mandelic acid and arrowroot, which absorb excess moisture, while nourishing butters like marula and shea soothe dry and irritable skin. 2. Bergamot Deodorant (HK$220) by Malin + Goetz One of the first “clean” formulas to hit the market, Malin + Goetz ’s clear stick deodorant is a bestseller for various reasons. Formulated without aluminium, alcohol or parabens, it includes corn starch and probiotic enzymes to help avoid bad odours. Originally available in Eucalyptus, the company has just released a second scent, Bergamot. 3. Coconut Oil Deodorant (HK$250) by Kopari Beauty Hip brand Kopari celebrates one of nature’s “superfood” ingredients – coconut oil – which features in all its products. Its deodorant is ideal for those with sensitive skin and is both aluminium- and baking soda-free, and packed with soothing ingredients such as coconut water. It comes in a clear stick formula, so it will not leave marks on your clothing. 4. Deodorant (HK$250) by Aesop Aesop’s deodorant is popular with men and women alike and comes in a handy spray formula (it is also available as a roll-on). It contains a blend of odour-busting essential oils including coriander seed, lemongrass and vetiver root, while zinc works to kill compounds that contribute to bacteria. 5. Deodorant cream (US$18) by Soapwalla Soapwalla started off as a brand specialising in deodorants, so you can choose from several scents and versions, including sensitive skin formulations. Their creamy formulas contain vegetable powders, clay and lavender, peppermint and tea tree essential oils. They are also multipurpose and can be used on other areas of the body that are prone to sweating, including the feet and hands.