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Do Your Armpits Need Detoxing?

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Photo: andreonegin / Shutterstock

These days, it feels like you can detox basically anything. Your diet. Your tech habits. And even your armpits. Yep, really.

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. 

Enter: the armpit detox.

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.

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.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

New blog post up today talking all about armpit care! Armpits are one of the most neglected parts of our bodies. Most deodorant brands claim to help you stop sweating, but we actually don’t want that. Armpits *NEED* to sweat, its one of the most fundamental human functions. The microbiome in your armpits needs to be balanced in order for them to work properly, avoid irritation and excessive stinky sweat. Regular deodorant from most pharmaceutical brands can kill throw that microbiome off kilter and get rid of the good bacteria our pits need for optimal health. Plus, they can pose harm to the endocrine and reproductive system because of their “anti sweat” properties. Armpits host a large number of lymph nodes, which serve to filter out toxins and assist with the body’s immune system. Basically, your armpits help your body fight infection. In the blog post, I go over how I finally found peace with my pits and found a new armpit and deodorant routine that works for me after 11 years and trying every natural deodorant brand on the market without getting a rash or stained clothes (goodbye, creamy armpit marks on sports bras!). This routine is natural, assists in flushing out the lymph nodes, is price friendly, more eco-friendly and has actually helped to make my armpits softer and sultrier than ever. Crystal deodorant rock 1x daily @motherdirt’s AO+ Mist 1x daily Dry brushing my pits 3x weekly Masking my pits 1-2x monthly Link to full post in bio! #leefromamerica

A post shared by Lee Tilghman (@leefromamerica) on

But do these methods actually make your armpit area any healthier? We talked to dermatologists to find out.

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 switch toward natural skin care in general, some people would rather be on the safe side by using natural products only—and that's totally okay.

Do your armpits need detoxing?

While natural deodorant may or may not be a better choice for your health, the verdict on armpit detoxing is pretty clear.

"The only truly detoxifying organs in the body are the kidneys and liver," Dr. Zeichner says. Both of these organs filter toxins from our blood.

That being said, there may be some benefit to "detoxing" 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. 

Yep, you read that right. your armpit has its own microbiome. And the number-one thing your armpit microbiome impacts, Callewaert says, is your BO. "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 makes this worse.

"Taking a break from antiperspirant can help restore the natural diversity of bacteria on the skin and let the natural microbiome re-establish itself," Dr. Zeichner seconds.

And what about using a clay mask on your armpits?

Another popular method of armpit detoxing 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," explains 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," Dr. Zeichner says. "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.

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," Dr. Zeichner says. "Apply a moisturizer after shaving to ensure that the skin barrier stays healthy.

Use a deodorant you like. If that happens to be a natural one, cool. Pick something you're comfortable with in terms of scent, antiperspirant properties, and ingredients.

Get help if you need it. If your interest in armpit detoxing 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," Dr. Zeichner says. "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.)

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