GOOD

Strong Enough for a Hippie: DIY Deodorant to Handle the Sweaty Season Make Your Own Deodorant With This DIY Guide

Make your own deodorant with some baking soda, shea butter, and essential oils.

Lesley is ditching her store-bought beauty products and going full hippie. Here's how to join her.


For months, I’ve been using a remarkably simple deodorant recipe—equal parts cornstarch and coconut oil melted down and poured into a washed-out commercial deodorant tube. To keep solid, it has to be refrigerated. (Once I stopped accidentally grabbing the mustard, this stopped being a huge inconvenience). The formula did a pretty decent job for me all through the winter, but started slacking as the weather turned warm. No way would it carry me through a Texas summer. I had to step up my game.

If you’ve never ventured into the world of natural deodorant, I want to make clear that we’re not aiming for an antiperspirant. You’re still going to sweat. Aluminum-based antiperspirants are accused of causing cancer and dementia all over the internet, even though there is no empirical evidence to suggest that’s remotely true (because science). Still, aluminum’s job is to plug up your sweat glands and keep them from doing what they want. Sweating is an evolutionary practice your body undertakes to help you out, because it is sweet and it cares about you. I’m going to let mine do its thing.

Besides, sweat is not the problem here. The problem is stinky bacteria that love warm, damp places. My R&D on this project was highly scientific: I took known smell-tamer and all-around-good-guy baking soda, added moisturizers until it had a viscosity I liked, then tossed in every essential oil in my arsenal that has antibacterial properties. It totally worked. At least, it seemed to. But when it comes to an issue like body odor, I prefer to be certain.

When you decide to go full hippie, you run the risk of encountering a problem that I call The False Positive—mistaking acclimation for elimination. It’s easy to convince oneself that a method of stink control is working, when really you’re just getting used to the smell. It’s a problem that’s plagued cat owners and gym lockers for generations. The only way I could be certain of my recipe’s efficacy was to road test it on a mainstreamer.

I gave a few weeks’ supply of my deodorant to two friends with more conventional beauty regimens and asked them to try it and report back. One loved it—she even tried it on her feet. The other found that it stung like crazy when she applied it to her already irritated skin. The underarm is an especially sensitive area, so if you’re prone to rash or razor burn, reduce the essential oils by half or omit them entirely. The result won’t be as effective, but it won’t burn like hell either.

Traditional deodorant packaging like aerosols, sticks, and roll-ons are designed to keep your hands from coming in contact with your armpits. But in order to get a DIY deodorant that doesn’t need the fridge and is free to travel, I had to throw out the goal of achieving solidity. It took a little while to undo years of pit-phobic indoctrination, but now, dipping my fingers into the deodorant and rubbing it directly onto my skin feels totally normal.

Baking soda won’t dissolve in oil, producing a texture I’m not wild about. Substituting cornstarch for the baking soda makes a luxuriously smooth cream that’s more pleasant to apply but isn’t as potent. Any or all of the baking soda can be substituted with cornstarch, depending on your odor control needs and tolerance for grit. I’ve opted for the more aggressive approach.

I’ve been using this recipe for about a month now, and it’s never failed me—even through sweaty runs and 90-degree days. I didn’t consider scent when I was choosing which essential oils to include, but I sort of love the way it smells. It’s woodsy and herbaceous—more Old Spice than Secret—making this an equally effective de-bro-dorant.

Smells Like Green Spirit:

1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
3/4 teaspoon shea butter
3/4 teaspoon vegetable glycerin
3 drops each peppermint, lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils

Combine the grapeseed oil, shea butter, and vegetable glycerin and microwave for 5 to 10 seconds until the shea butter has melted and the mixture has a uniform consistency. Stir in the baking soda and essential oils and store it in an airtight container.

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