Armpits can get smelly and gross.
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A recent trend involves “detoxing” your underarms with masks made with ingredients like charcoal and apple cider vinegar.
The thought is that by applying these ingredients, they help remove toxins and unclog pores.
But do we need to do a detox to get those underarms in optimal shape?
Dermatologist Amy Kassouf, MD, explains what an armpit detox is and if it’s necessary for you to do.
What is it?
An armpit detox is a mask that can be applied to your underarms for around 15 minutes.
The mask can be made at home with common household items like baking soda and cornstarch, or some beauty brands offer their own masks or scrubs.
You’ll need to keep your arms raised while the mask dries and then wash off with water, by either using a warm washcloth or taking a shower.
What does an armpit detox do?
When you switch your deodorant, your body needs time to adjust to the ingredients. It can affect the amount and type of bacteria you’ll find under your arms, so you may notice a stronger body odor at first.
Many who transition from aluminum deodorant to a natural deodorant turn to a detox to help with the shift, claiming it can help natural deodorant work better.
Fans of armpit detoxes claim that the treatments extract toxins through the sweat glands found in your underarms. Therefore, your pits will be healthier and smell better.
But not so fast, says Dr. Kassouf.
“There are no scientifically proven reasons to do a detox,” she says.
And, remember that your liver and kidney are designed to remove harmful chemicals and that your sweat, urine and bowel movements also eliminate any toxins.
Armpit detox concerns
While most of the ingredients used in an armpit detox are all-natural, irritation can occur with abrasive chemicals or with strong bases or acids.
“Generally, ingredients like clay and apple cider vinegar aren’t too offensive,” says Dr. Kassouf. “The clay can bind unwanted molecules in the skin. Apple cider vinegar, which is basically acetic acid, can help keep the pH on the lower side, which can prevent unwanted bacteria from growing. But too much or too concentrated of either product can be irritating.”
So, it’s important to watch what you apply to your underarms. For example, lime juice may seem like a safe choice.
“But fresh lime juice certainly can burn if any part of the skin is irritated or freshly shaved,” says Dr. Kassouf. “It does contain citric acid which can be a natural exfoliant and maintain a lower pH as well.”
Natural deodorant vs. aluminum deodorant
Need a primer on what options are out there for your armpits?
“Deodorants are simply detergents or fragrances that help decrease bacteria and the odor they produce. Antiperspirants contain aluminum, which can chemically turn off sweat glands to decrease moisture production,” explains Dr. Kassouf. “All-natural products rarely contain an antiperspirant and are usually just ingredients to decrease or mask odor.”
It’s a matter of personal preference on what type of deodorant you want to use. But as for concerns that aluminum deodorants cause cancer, you can rest assured.
“There are many studies that show that there is no link despite many fears,” says Dr. Kassouf.
And if you’re switching from an aluminum deodorant to a natural deodorant, you’ll need to give your body time to adjust to the change of ingredients.
Research shows that those who used a regular antiperspirant or deodorant had fewer Staphylococci microbes than those who didn’t use them. And more Staphylococci microbes were present in those who didn’t use sweat-blocking antiperspirants.
When to see your doctor
Is your sweating becoming too much to bear?
“There are medical conditions that can increase sweating and change your body flora like diabetes, infections or thyroid disorders,” says Dr. Kassouf. “If you notice a significant difference suddenly, then it would be a good time to visit your doctor.”
Your doctor can discuss options like a clinical-strength antiperspirant, Botox® or topical glycopyrronium wipes.
How to keep your underarms healthy
“Healthy skin care is the best treatment of underarm skin,” says Dr. Kassouf. Here are a few tips on how to keep your pits happy.
- Watch what you eat. “There are a lot of spices and other molecules in the foods we eat that can make it into the sweat and change the odor,” says Dr. Kassouf.
- Shower after working out. “This can help remove sweat and bacteria and is helpful in keeping all skin folds clean and dry to help minimize odor,” she says.
- Wash regularly. “Pores can get clogged from sticky or heavy products that cause dead skin cells and oils in the hair follicles to get stuck,” she adds. “Make sure you wash regularly with a gentle, foaming cleanser to remove residual products.”
While trying an armpit detox most likely won’t harm you, consider skipping that clay mask and just don’t sweat your sweat.
“Mostly good skin care is all that is needed,” says Dr. Kassouf. “There should be little need for aggressive treatment.”