Short-listed reviews of the best natural deodorant brands: PAPR and byHumankind. (And why these two companies are more sustainable options than Dove, Native, Myro and Ethique.)
In most of my other sustainable product reviews, I’ve tested pretty much every plastic-free brand I can find, and written novels about them.
But today, let’s keep it simple.
I just have two options for you that are both ideal alternatives to the typical – often not even recyclable – plastic deodorant tube, and the reasons why they beat the competition.
These are the categories (and the winners):
- A natural deodorant in a simple cardboard tube from PAPR that works well, smells natural but not hippie-ish, and skips any sort of plastic packaging (single-use or reusable).
- A sleek, refillable deodorant system from byHumankind that was my first zero-waste love, and works just as well as PAPR.
Both of these options have plenty of competitors, some of which I tried, and others I purposefully didn’t (for reasons I’ll explain below, but which mostly boil down to those other companies not being as legitimately sustainable).
As a baseline, both PAPR and byHumankind are carbon-neutral, vegan and print with soy-based inks.
Now, everything else you could want to know about these two, starting with PAPR’s plastic-free deodorant:
Why I recommend PAPR: Full disclosure – I’ve been camping for the past few weeks, traveling through national parks in the West, living in a van, and taking an average of 1 shower every 5 days. Using only PAPR deodorant on this trip, I’m not stinking. If there’s a better endorsement than that, I don’t know what it could be.
If you want to try something that doesn’t feel like a commitment, then PAPR is definitely the way to go since you don’t have to buy a refillable container to get started. (Which, if you don’t end up loving the product, becomes just another piece of plastic to throw away or find a friend who wants it.)
You can save 15% on any PAPR deodorant order with the discount code MAP15 !
Note: I can offer a discount code for PAPR because I’m an affiliate of theirs (meaning I make a commission if you click through these links and order from them, at no extra cost to you). I’m also an affiliate of byHumankind, and I’ve turned down, or not pursued, affiliate deals with competing brands whose products I don’t like as much, or don’t find to be as sustainable. Both PAPR and byHumankind make great products, and I’m proud to recommend them both!
New York-based byHumankind is one of my favorite sustainable companies, because they’re really innovative with reusable, refillable packaging. (I talk about them all the time: I’ve already reviewed their toothpaste & mouthwash tablets, shampoo & conditioner bars, and other products.)
Here’s how their deodorant works: Your first order includes a refillable plastic deodorant tube. Every refill order is just a cardboard container of deodorant that you slip into the plastic carrier.
I absolutely love the concept – and their floss works the same way. It’s one of my favorite products. I still think the formula is great, as are the scents, and design, but now that I’ve discovered PAPR, I don’t really see the need for a refillable deodorant container anymore.
A word to the wise if you do go for byHumankind – the lime green case is really, really green. That should be pretty obvious from their website, but for some reason I didn’t believe it could be quite as intense as it looked. Well, it is. And next to their green floss container (a different green) on my turquoise bathroom counter, it’s a little much.
byHumankind vs PAPR: Pit Tests
Before setting off on this van trip/ ultimate deodorant test, I did an Armpit A vs Armpit B test for months (always using byHumankind on my left and PAPR on my right, never switching, because your body can take time to adjust to a new formula). And I could never tell much of a difference. I smelled the pits of my t-shirts after several days of use, and they were the same.
The main difference I’ve noticed between byHumankind and PAPR is that byHumankind leaves a little bit of white residue on my armpits, while PAPR leaves none. This might be because the byHumankind formula has a softer consistency, probably because it contains hyaluronic acid (a moisturizing ingredient that I use on my face).
How do they smell?
Both come in natural scents that aren’t too strong, and actually smell like something real, not cheap artificial perfume. Both brands market their scents as unisex, but clearly there are some differences.
PAPR Deodorant Scents
My favorite PAPR scent is Bright Shiny Morning, which smells exactly like a juicy grapefruit.
I think their Coastal Forests scent is probably the most traditionally masculine option – strong and woodsy, but not overwhelming in an Axe kind of way. My husband uses it, and we both approve.
I’ve also tried their From Dusk Till Dawn, which is lemongrass-y and more of a traditional “natural” scent.
PAPR also just launched a sensitive skin deodorant formula, which is unscented and free of baking soda, which some people find irritating.
byHumankind Deodorant Scents
My favorite scent from byHumankind is Coconut, which smells exactly like a fresh coconut, with a slightly floral hint to it (but there’s nothing floral in the ingredients, so I may be imagining that part).
I also used their Lavender Citrus scent for about five months (that’s how long a tube lasted me) and liked it. Like PAPR’s lemongrass option, it’s more the kind of scent I’d expect from a “natural, eco-friendly” deodorant – a little more herbal smelling.
(byHumankind used to have an unscented option, but it’s now disappeared from their website. I asked them about it and they said they’re low on stock and deciding whether or not to continue making it.)
Do natural deodorants really work?
A lot of natural deodorants I’ve tried don’t seem to do much deodorizing. I’ve found both PAPR and byHumankind are both in a class of their own.
Just keep in mind these are both deodorants, not anti-perspirants (meaning they don’t stop you from sweating naturally, they just keep you from stinking naturally). They don’t contain aluminum, which according to lots of studies might not be good for you anyway.
If you’ve been using an antiperspirant, it might take a couple of weeks for your body to adjust to something more natural. That’s part of why I tested these for several months before reviewing them. byHumankind explains what to expect when switching to natural deodorant on their FAQ page, under “Product Info,” as does PAPR here (in less detail).
Other plastic-free deodorants that didn’t make the cut
I didn’t just test or look into two brands for this review – but you don’t want a list of 14 eco-friendly options, you want two that work, right?
If you’re curious, here are the ones that didn’t make the cut, and why.
byHumankind vs Myro (Refillable) Deodorants
Myro is another refillable deodorant that you’ve probably heard of if you get targeted ads for eco-friendly toiletries all over social media, like I do. At first glance, it looks very similar to byHumankind’s deodorant, and I was going to order it to compare – until I realized Myro is not plastic-free!
Yes, it’s a refillable tube system, but Myro’s refill cartridges are made of plastic. They say “50% less plastic than traditional deodorants,” but what’s the point when you could go for zero plastic with PAPR, or “at least 90% less plastic,” with byHumankind?
(byHumankind’s refills are in cardboard tubes, with a small plastic wheel and stick for the crank mechanism. PAPR’s is just like a push-up pop in a cardboard tube. So if you want something that feels a bit more like the deodorant tube you’re used to, but doesn’t require so much plastic waste, byHumankind is a far better option than Myro.)
Other Refillable Deodorants & Why I Don’t Recommend Them
Even the drugstore brand Dove has now launched a refillable deodorant. That’s great for two reasons:
- First, because it proves that even big companies are seeing that customers are sick of disposable everything, and they’re getting on the refillable, zero-waste train. When big companies start changing their tune, it’s proof that the world is changing and zero-waste isn’t just going to remain a fringe thing.
- And second, because it’ll bring the less-waste concept to more people.
But I still didn’t try Dove’s refillable deodorant because they’re not the people pushing change forward. They’re just following the trend, after seeing the success of small start-ups like byHumankind and PAPR, which are taking big risks to put something different on the market.
I believe in voting with your wallet, so I would rather support a small company that’s been mission-driven and dedicated to being plastic-free from the beginning, instead of a big conglomerate with infinite funding that only decided to care about plastic waste after the little guys proved caring could be profitable.
PAPR vs Native Deodorant (the other cardboard option)
You might have seen Native’s ads for their new cardboard-packaged deodorant plastered all over social media. The reason I didn’t try Native is the same as why I didn’t Dove’s refillable option: Their cardboard line is just an off-shoot of a plastic-based company.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: It’s great that they’re making a change in the right direction. But I’d just rather support the pioneers like PAPR and byHumankind.
If you already use and love Native deodorant, then their plastic-free line makes sense. But if you’re trying a plastic-free, cardboard-tube style deodorant for the first time, I would absolutely recommend PAPR over Native.
Ethique (a zero-packaging option)
Some sustainable brands make deodorant that’s just completely unpackaged, like one I tried from the New Zealander zero-waste brand Ethique. Ethique is one of those great companies that checks every single box for sustainability: They’re a Certified B Corp. They’re a member of 1% For The Planet. They carbon offset not only every part of their business, but every part of their employees’ personal lives, too.
Bonus Review: Ethique Deodorant
When Ethique offered to send me sample sets of their face products, hair products and deodorants, I wanted to love them all, since the company checks all those sustainability boxes, but their package-free deodorant just didn’t work for me.
I used it for more than a month, doing the same Armpit A vs. Armpit B test I’d used with PAPR and byHumankind. The Ethique armpit always got way stinkier, way faster.
Also, the concept of a piece of deodorant without any packaging doesn’t really do it for me – especially since it won’t travel well. (You can’t just throw it in your toiletries bag without getting deodorant all over everything else. For shampoo bars, I travel with a small washcloth to wrap the damp bars in, then tuck them in a pocket of my suitcase, but I don’t really want to have to do that for deodorant, too.)
What Else Ethique Does Well
I had initially skipped testing Ethique, since they’re based on the opposite side of the Earth from me (and from most of you readers). But they told me they basically ship products on a slow boat to warehouses around the world. So individual orders don’t actually ship from New Zealand, making their carbon footprint not nearly as bad as it would seem.
I did like some other Ethique products much better than their deodorant. (Their Deep Green face wash bar was surprisingly great, and made my master list of sustainable travel toiletries, and some of their shampoo and conditioner bars worked well for me.)
So if you’re interested, Ethique is definitely worth a try since it’s such a great company from a sustainability perspective. And I love that they sell sample sizes of almost all of their products, so you can try them out before you commit (straight from Ethique, or from their Amazon storefront).
Questions? Other brands I should try? If I left something out, let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you.