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Health and wellness

Plastic-free, natural deodorants: we test six of the best available in Hong Kong

Growing health and environmental concerns around big-brand antiperspirants are leading to more deodorants made with naturally antibacterial ingredients and minimal packaging

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 9:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 6:35pm

Once the preserve of hippies and health food shops, natural beauty and skincare products are experiencing a boom. Now, alternatives to big-brand personal-care staples like shampoo, toothpaste, lotion and deodorants can be found in independently owned shops throughout Hong Kong, though larger cosmetics retailers seem to be slowing catching on.

Minimally packaged deodorants that emphasise ingredients with naturally sweat-stemming or antibacterial properties are becoming more popular and more widely sold. Instead of using synthetic fragrances and aluminium, “natural” products use essential oils for freshness, and often a mixture of baking soda and clay to minimise moisture.

In 2016, the worldwide natural and organic beauty market was valued at US$11.06 billion and is predicted to grow to almost US$22 billion by 2024, according to market research firm Statista. In a 2016 survey of 20,000 women worldwide aged between 15 and 70, nearly a third of respondents rated “natural or organic” as the most important feature of a skincare product.

Demand is growing particularly fast in China, where repeated contamination scandals have shaken consumer faith in traditional beauty brands.

Deodorants work to mask smells, or inhibit the bacteria that cause smells, while antiperspirants temporarily plug the sweat ducts to physically prevent the body from perspiring.

The latter are commonly made with aluminium, which has been linked to cancerous changes in cells and Alzheimer’s disease in numerous studies. However, the jury is still out on any solid causal link, so aluminium is still used with impunity by manufacturers.

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Millions of people worldwide use antiperspirants with no ill-effects, but with rising awareness of personal health and the environmental issues related to disposing of pressurised metal cans and plastic packaging, demand for plastic-free, greener packaging is rising. While the idea of natural deodorants is not to block pores (so expect a little underarm moisture), they work to fight the bacteria that cause the distinctive BO smell.

Of course, a more eco-friendly option would be to create your own using bulk ingredients and recycled containers. There are plenty of online tutorials that tell you how to do this using a concoction of baking powder, shea butter and essential oils. But in my experience this often results in an imbalance of potentially irritating agents, such as baking soda, which can cause an angry red rash for those with sensitive skin.

Below are six plastic-free, natural deodorants available for sale in Hong Kong. As with all cosmetics, efficacy varies from one user to another.

Coconut Matter – Prebiotic Deodorant stick

With its minimalist packaging, the Hong Kong-made prebiotic deodorant stick from Coconut Matter is a sleek and smart addition to the bathroom cupboard or bedside table.

As well as fighting stink-causing organisms, the product is also designed to boost “good bacteria” with the addition of lactobacillus.

The push-up tube is made of cardboard, which is strong enough to withstand being bashed around in a gym bag. The formula is quite dry and firm, so anyone with particularly hairy underarms might find it difficult to get the product to reach the skin.

Once it warms up on the body, the product releases a subtle yet fresh scent during the day. Of the four blends sold, including one unscented version, I preferred “5 Spring”, which gave off a relaxing scent of lavender, lime and geranium.

The deodorant performed well, keeping odour at bay both in the office and during a sweaty outdoor running session without the need to reapply.

HK$95 for 25g at Coconut Matter. Also sold in shops throughout Hong Kong (see website for stockists).

Meow Meow Tweet – Tea Tree Deodorant Cream

Fun, illustrated packaging and solid green credentials help Meow Meow Tweet’s natural cream deodorant stand out.

The vegan skincare brand, which is based in Hudson Valley in New York State, only uses organic plant oils and butters and no animal-derived ingredients. It is also committed to eliminating plastic in its tubes, pots and boxes, and donates a share of its profits to a different charity each month.

I tried the tea tree scent, but the company also makes grapefruit and lavender deodorants. It also offers a baking-soda-free version in stick form for sensitive armpits or those who don’t like getting product on their fingers.

HK$125 for 60g (HK$180 for the 85g baking-soda-free version) at Plastic-Free HK or Live Zero.

Lush – T’eo Solid Deodorant

The original global zero-waste beauty brand, British chain Lush champions minimal and plastic-free packaging alongside plant-based ingredients.

Its various deodorant options include loose powders, powder bars and solid blocks. I also tested the brand’s Aromaco bar, which resembles a block of soap, but preferred T’eo for its odour-absorbing properties and addictive lemongrass, grape and juniper berry smell.

Unlike the other products I tried, which all left a slightly tacky residue, powdery T’eo barely felt like it was there. This was strange on first use, but the palm-sized product proved effective in blocking bad smells.

This wouldn’t be my first choice for particularly hot or active days, but should be welcomed by those who prefer zero-waste products.

HK$105 for 90g in store (eight shops in Hong Kong) or online at Lush Hong Kong.

ZeroYet100 – Natural Deodorant

This was the product I found myself reaching for most often after trying all six options on this list. It even inspired enough confidence to be taken on a weekend break in Taiwan – at the time with temperatures easily topping 30 degrees Celsius – without the need for a backup product.

The charcoal grey paste is also a match for Hong Kong’s summer heat and humidity. It contains the usual bacteria-blasting ingredients – including coconut oil, arrowroot powder and cocoa butter – and balances them with probiotics to help maintain the skin’s natural balance.

HK$130 for the metal pot version (65g), or HK$148 for the paper tube version (60g) at ZeroYet100 or No! w No Waste.

Soaper Delights – Natural and Vegan Deodorant

Easily the best-smelling of the bunch, the bergamot and lime deodorant from Hong Kong handmade cosmetics company Soaper Delights comes in a metal tin that can be reused, or washed and recycled.

The scent is of sweet-lime-flavoured confectionery with a tinge of garden herbs. If that is not your cup of tea, there are two other options: lavender and sweet orange, and rose, geranium and lemon.

The deodorant uses bentonite clay to absorb moisture, cocoa and shea butters to moisturise, and coconut oil to battle smells. Its smell-fighting properties, however, were not as heavy-duty as some of the other brands I tried.

HK$90 for 30ml at Soaper Delights or at Lively Life, 302-308 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai.

Lamazuna – Solid Vegan Deodorant

Pioneering French sustainable cosmetics company Lamazuna is famed for its high-quality body care products, including shampoo, toothpaste, shaving and massage bars, and deodorants. Each comes packaged in a small, recyclable cardboard box.

The deodorant bar, whose smell is barely detectable, is designed to be used wet and rubbed on the underarms. Its BO-battling properties are credited to cymbopogon martinii (a type of lemongrass) essential oil, plus sunflower seed wax and coconut oil.

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The small, cone-shaped block was slightly challenging to use at first, due to water dripping off it after it had been run under the tap, though the brand suggests applying it immediately after stepping out of the shower.

HK$100 for 30g at No! w No Waste.