Crystal Deodorant: What's The Deal With This Antiperspirant Alternative?
Natural deodorant has certainly piqued the public's interest—perhaps one reason it's such a curiosity to folk is that there are so many kinds and variables. Traditional antiperspirants all more or less look and function similarly: They come in stick form, use aluminum to block sweat, and cover any smells with odor-neutralizing fragrances.
But in the natural space, brands have gotten creative largely because of the self-imposed restrictions on questionable actives and ingredients (necessity is the mother of invention, no?). Sure you have the natural brands that mimic the classic deodorant stick just with plant-based alternatives, but you also have herbal tonics you spray on, charcoal pastes you apply with your fingers, creams that come in squeezable tubes, and crystals. Uhh, what was that last one?
What is crystal deodorant and how does it work?
Crystal deodorant is made from natural mineral salt called potassium alum, which has been shown to have antimicrobial properties1. And that's it—yes, this is a one-ingredient deodorant. Potassium alum has been used as a deodorant across the globe for hundreds of years—and is actually quite popular in many parts of Asia and Europe. It's starting to come stateside in a major way.
"As mineral salts such as potassium alum have natural antimicrobial properties, applying these can decrease the number of bacteria on the skin and therefore reduce odor produced by these bacteria," board-certified dermatologist Lisa Airan, M.D., tells mbg. However, unlike antiperspirants, these are not thought to disrupt the microbiome (however, more research is needed on this front.) As for sensitivities: "While any ingredient can irritate the skin, the fewer ingredients someone is exposed to, the less risk there is of an allergic reaction. Traditional deodorants contain more ingredients, which puts the patient at increased risk for skin irritation."
If this sounds too good to be true, here's the problem: This is not a widely studied ingredient (even though most groups, including the Environmental Working Group, deem it safe), and thus we don't know how effective they are outside of anecdotal evidence. And even those testimonials range from high praise to not-so-much. So there's not much we can definitively say about how well it works other than: Give it a go yourself and see.
Why would you want to make the switch to natural?
All of this raises the question, why does one make the switch to a natural deodorant (crystal or otherwise)? That's because many—especially those who are interested in the well-being world—don't like the potential health implications of traditional antiperspirants. Many suggest that the aluminum in them are endocrine disrupters2, linking them to certain types of cancer. Not to mention there are other ingredients that people find too irritating for sensitive skin, like the preservative paraben, propylene glycol, and synthetic fragrances. However, there is still much debate about how strong these connections are and how concerned we should be about them.
Why wouldn't you want to make the switch?
The day-to-day drawback of naturals being that it doesn't have as strong of a reputation in the efficacy department (a reputation that's slowly changing thanks to the new and innovative brands entering the market).
And listen: Everyone's body chemistry is different, so not everyone is going to respond to natural deodorants as well or in the same way. Ultimately, if you are curious about using mostly natural ingredients in general, making the switch to a deodorant is a worthwhile endeavor. It just might take time, trial, and error to find one that works for you.
How to make the switch and use it daily:
There is the oft-cited "detox" period of switching to natural deodorants where you may sweat or smell a bit more than you would otherwise. This, again, is largely anecdotal—and some people never go through this period at all. If you do find your body adjusting to the new product, it's not cause for concern. Not to mention, your skin and body often go through temporary changes when you introduce a new product (think acne-purging from AHAs, flaking from retinol, or oiliness from sulfate-free shampoos), so it's not necessarily out of reason to suggest that your body might go through a temporary change with a new deodorant. If you can, power through it.
As for the daily application, here's how you should apply most kinds of crystals:
- Wash your armpits or shower as usual. Crystal deodorants need to be applied to clean skin.
- Lightly dampen your armpits, as the crystal needs water to spread onto the skin. Some types you will need to wet the rock directly—follow instructions as indicated.
- Rub the crystal on each armpit several times, until you can feel it imparting a film.
- Let the deodorant dry for a few minutes—do not put clothing over it until it is dry as you will just wipe it off.
- Wash your hands and carry about as usual.
If you are curious about making the switch, this may be an option for you—especially if you have sensitive skin. Just remember that everyone is different, and if crystal doesn't work for you, perhaps another type of natural deodorant will.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.