What Is an Armpit Detox, and Do You Really Need to Do One?
By this point in the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine, you’ve likely forgone jeans for loungewear (sans-bra, of course), traded makeup for bare skin, and picked up a hobby (or three), and, hey, maybe even tried baking bread. Up next in your quarantine adventure? An armpit detox—after all, being a bit smellier than usual is NBD thanks to social distancing.
Wait, what is an armpit detox?
Natural deodorants have been rising in popularity over the past few years. And as they've become commonplace, so has the idea that your armpits need to be "cleansed" in some way-beyond soap and water.
Proponents of the practice of armpit "detoxing" claim that by switching to natural deodorant, using clay masks in your armpits, and using probiotic-enhanced products to balance the skin microbiome of the armpits, you can boost the health of the area.
"An armpit detox allows the microbiome in the armpit to recalibrate to a normal state," says Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. "It’s a break from products."
Because your armpits are home to tons of lymph nodes, which are key in the body's waste elimination process, some believe that by detoxing the area, you can remove harmful buildup caused by years of deodorant and antiperspirant use. This could lead to less-smelly sweat and less sweat overall, according to armpit detox advocates.
But, first, you might experience a boost in B.O. (Thus why quarantine might be the best time to give this a try.) One possible reason? When you stop using products such as antiperspirants, you might produce more sweat, which is essentially food for the microscopic bacteria that live on your skin. And when bacteria break down this sweat, it produces a smell.
But do these methods actually make your armpit area any healthier? Dermatologists weigh in.
Is natural deodorant really better?
First off, it's important to establish that there is very little evidence that switching to a natural deodorant is necessary for your health. Traditional deodorant, which masks the smell of sweat, and antiperspirant, which actually stops sweating, are most likely perfectly fine to continue using as you always have, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in the Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital. "There has been no definitive data linking antiperspirants to any harmful health effects."
That being said, we don't know *for sure* that traditional products are completely safe. And because deodorant is applied near the breast, some scientists have suggested a possible connection between their ingredients and breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. For that reason, and because of the overall trending switch toward natural skin care, some people would rather be on the safe side by using natural products only—and that's totally okay. (Related: The Best Natural Deodorants to Combat B.O. Sans Aluminum)
So, do your armpits need detoxing?
These days, it feels like you can detox basically anything. Your diet. Your tech habits. And, yup, even your armpits. But let's get one thing straight: "The only truly detoxifying organs in the body are the kidneys and liver," which filter toxins from our blood, says Dr. Zeichner.
That being said, there may be some benefit to doing an armpit detox in the sense that you take a break from using antiperspirant altogether when you can. "Our research has shown that certain ingredients of underarm cosmetics persist in the underarm skin up to three to four weeks after usage," explains Chris Callewaert, Ph.D., a microbiome researcher at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Some of those chemicals only go away when your skin completely renews, he says, which takes about four weeks.
What's more, the number one thing your armpit microbiome impacts, is your B.O., says Callewaert. "We see a very strong correlation between the abundance of malodor-associated bacteria and malodor development. And a higher diversity correlates with more malodor." In other words, the more types of bacteria you have in your underarm area, the worse you smell. And using antiperspirant and traditional deodorant can make this worse. (Related: I Rubbed a Crystal Deodorant Stone On My Armpits for an Entire Summer of Sweaty Workouts)
So, "taking a break from antiperspirant can help restore the natural diversity of bacteria on the skin and let the natural microbiome re-establish itself," says Dr. Zeichner.
As for how long? One to two weeks, according to Dr. Gohara, who adds that "giving your skin a break from all the non-essentials is good to do from time to time."
And what about using a clay mask on your armpits?
Another popular method of doing an armpit detox is using a clay mask to "draw out impurities."
"By using a mask applied to the armpits, proponents of armpit detoxing claim that 'dangerous' toxins are removed from deep within the skin and that lymph nodes are stimulated to drain," says Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, M.D., medical director of Mudgil Dermatology. "This claim has absolutely zero scientific basis. It honestly just can't happen."
Clay does have some legit skin benefits, though, and there's no reason you shouldn't take extra-special care of your armpit skin, especially if you shave the area. "Clay is used in skin care for its absorbent properties," says Dr. Zeichner. "Just as it is used on the face for oily skin and acne, it can help absorb oil and dirt in the underarm. Clay also has a soothing quality and can calm inflamed skin." That could come in handy if you have razor burn, for example. (Speaking of razor burn, check out these tips to shaving your bikini area.)
Detox or not, here's how to keep your armpits healthy.
If you want to take care of your armpits—they're a pretty sensitive area, after all—there are a few simple steps you can follow.
Treat your 'pits to some TLC. "Make sure to cleanse the skin after exercising to remove excess dirt and oil," says Dr. Zeichner. "Apply a moisturizer after shaving to ensure that the skin barrier stays healthy.
Use a deodorant you like. And if that happens to be a natural one, awesome. Pick something you're comfortable with in terms of scent, antiperspirant properties, and ingredients.
Get help if you need it. If your interest in doing an armpit detox stems from being super sweaty or feeling extra smelly, check in with your dermatologist or GP. "Excess sweating, known as hyperhidrosis, is a significant issue that can interfere with patients' quality of life," says Dr. Zeichner. "If you suffer from excess sweating, visit your dermatologist, because there are ways to help." (One of those ways? A brand new underarm wipe for excessive sweating that derms say is a game-changer.)