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Natural brands have taken over the deodorant aisle — but do they work?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have more for your summer survival. We're talking deodorant now. Natural brands are in vogue, but it can be hard to find one that works. NPR's Claire Murashima tells us about her search for the one.

CLAIRE MURASHIMA, BYLINE: For the past five years, I've been looking for a natural deodorant that will actually, well, deodorize. Under my sink, there's a basket full of sticks, sprays and pastes collected during my search for the one. Before I moved to D.C. last summer, my mom voiced this fear on my behalf.

MOTHER OF CLAIRE MURASHIMA: That there would be body odor that other people could smell that you would not be aware of, and that that would affect people's opinions of you.

MURASHIMA: Because, of course, I wear natural deodorants, and to this day I have yet to find one that works as well as antiperspirant. So what's the difference? Many antiperspirants contain aluminum, which blocks your pores from sweating. There are claims that the exposure can cause dementia and even breast cancer, though there's no solid evidence to support that. Those claims aren't what launched my search for an alternative.

I just like using natural products. I've tried the one that comes in a little glass jar that you smear onto your armpits with your fingers and the translucent rock that you run under the faucet and rub on your armpits. Deodorants are designed to reduce odors, not moisture. They use ingredients like baking soda or alcohol, which makes it hard for that odor-causing bacteria to grow. Some have oils or powders to absorb sweat. But here's the problem.

GLORIA LU: Natural deodorants aren't true antiperspirants.

MURASHIMA: Gloria Lu co-founded the skincare line Chemist Confessions. She and her partner, Victoria Fu, wrote the book "Skincare Decoded." Fu says the armpit is a great place to grow bacteria.

VICTORIA FU: It's dark. Especially when you sweat, it creates a really nice, moist environment. And because of that, that's how you get the odor.

MURASHIMA: But some people are lucky - they don't smell bad. Why is this? It comes down to the genes that control your body odor. Most people with East Asian ancestry - they lack this gene. But if you have European ancestry, you may have more pronounced body odor. For me, I've got a foot in each gene pool. My mom is Dutch, and my dad's Japanese.

DON: As a child, I don't recall my parents or any of their friends - that anyone had an odor.

MURASHIMA: But unlike my dad Don and his family friends, I do have an odor. That's natural, so maybe I'll just embrace it. My co-workers, however, may be less accepting.

Claire Murashima, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Murashima
Claire Murashima is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. Before that, she worked on How I Built This, NPR's Team Atlas and Michigan Radio. She graduated from Calvin University.

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