As everyone participates in social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not really seen by anyone besides who you’re quarantined with (I’m not counting those Zoom meetings). Because of this, now is the most opportune time to take a break from antiperspirant (and bras, and underwear, and makeup, if you so desire). Since an underarm detox from aluminum in antiperspirants is an actual thing that some people do when switching to an aluminum-free deodorant, we asked experts for the intel on just what happens when you stop wearing deodorant for an extended period of time.
You’ll experience more of a change in your sweat levels and your B.O. if the deodorant that you typically wear is an antiperspirant versus an aluminum-free option, since these formulas do more than prevent your body odor. “Antiperspirants work by blocking wetness from reaching the surface of the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “These contain aluminum salts that form a plug or blockage within the sweat glands to physically prevent sweat. Despite the popular belief that discontinuing antiperspirant use will detox your underarms, the only detoxifying organs in your body are your liver and kidneys. Without antiperspirant, perhaps your skin may better clear dirt, oil, and debris that accumulate on the skin and within the sweat glands.”
By stopping use of an antiperspirant, Dr. Zeichner notes that your skin’s natural microbiome can potentially reset. “Antiperspirants work by lowering levels of odor-causing bacteria that live in the underarms,” he says. “Some people speculate that stopping use will help your skin’s natural microbiome reset, though it is unclear whether this has any significant impact on your health.” Though stopping antiperspirant or deodorant use altogether hasn’t been thoroughly studied, he does point out that underarm odor will definitely return when you’re not wearing it (so beware).
If you’re used to swiping on an aluminum-free deodorant but decide to take a break, you’ll continue to sweat, just as you normally would—but your odor-causing bacteria might cause more of a stench. “If you’re using an aluminum-free deodorant, it would only be used to cover the smell,” says Shirley Chi, MD, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist. Dr. Zeichner adds that these deodorant products work to “neutralize the odor with a fragrance.” Since you’ll be taking that away, it’s more likely that you might have a smell.
If you’ve noticed that your trusty deodorant hasn’t really been doing its job as well after extended use, your pits may have gotten used to the product you’ve been using. “There is anecdotal evidence that the body may develop some so-called resistance to antiperspirants over time,” says Lyall Gorenstein, MD, surgical director at the Columbia University Hyperhidrosis Center. “It’s unclear why this happens, yet many patients recognize this phenomenon.” So if you’re sheltering in place, he suggests taking a break from the antiperspirant you’ve been using.
Whether you’re on team still-swiping-on-deodorant-every-single-day even when social distancing, or if you’re enjoying the deodorant holiday, experts say that taking a break from this personal hygiene product is A-okay. (Maybe keep a yummy-smelling body spritzer around, though, if you’re not alone.)