There are a lot of reasons to stop using your conventional deodorant, beyond just basic skin care. Natural deodorants have a lot to offer.

But before your body can adjust to a natural deodorant, a patient asked me if they should do  “an armpit detox”?

Sounds a little odd, but detoxifying your armpits is similar to doing a face mask, it’s just on a different part of your body. Could an “armpit detox” be a natural way to restore the balance of good bacteria to your underarm and draw out those toxins that conventional deodorants leave behind. 

Let me walk you through what I think.


Is deodorant bad for you? 

Conventional deodorants are not deadly. The National Cancer Institute says that there are no links between antiperspirants and cancer. The Alzheimer’s Association says that aluminum is not a significant health risk.

However, these conventional deodorants may contain potentially harmful or irritating ingredients that small pockets of research have linked these along with other lifestyle factors to cancer, Alzheimer’s, thyroid disorders, etc.

Keep in mind that many factors can increase our risk for cancer and health issues such as Alzheimers, thyroid disorders etc. The conditions of our day to day life such as how you eat, live and breathe also matter. 

For those who want to err on the side of caution — who don’t want to be that one in a million unlucky person — and want to keep their products as clean as possible, throwing out your conventional deodorant can bring you peace of mind.

For those who tout armpit detox as a great way to transition from conventional deodorants to all-natural deodorants, let’s dive a little deeper into what it is and what they say about how it works.


What is an armpit detox?

An “armpit detox” refers to the use of a natural antimicrobial (usually diluted apple cider vinegar) with a soothing thickener (usually bentonite clay) to “detoxify” your underarm and restore a natural balance of bacteria to that vulnerable area. 

The scientific research behind armpit detoxes is not as much as some would purport. However, there is evidence that the potentially harmful ingredients in many deodorants can alter the makeup of your armpits, and an armpit detox is intended to undo some of that harm.

Using a clay mask on your skin may sound familiar to you since this is something I recommend as one of the natural non-toxic ways to help address acne. But is it the right thing to use in the delicate skin of the armpit where there are less oil glands?


Difference Between Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Natural deodorants contain all-natural ingredients you can apply to your armpits with a clear mind. These should be applied every day to fight odor.

Regular deodorant does not block your sweat glands from functioning. Although it may contain harmful chemicals you may want to avoid, regular deodorant is an effective odor controller.

Antiperspirants use mineral salts (most commonly aluminum salts) to block your underarm’s natural ability to sweat. Some antiperspirants may contain harmful chemicals, just like regular deodorant, that can irritate your skin and may be linked to other health issues.


Common Deodorant Ingredients To Possibly Avoid:

  • Parabens can be hormone disruptors in high doses that have been linked along with lifestyle factors to risk of breast cancer. (Look for ingredients that end with “paraben”).
  • Phthalates also can be hormone disruptors that research has linked these along with lifestyle factors to thyroid disorders.
  • Aluminum may be associated to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum salt is in almost all antiperspirants — it’s what helps stop the sweat.
  • Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can also irritate your skin.
  • Triclosan is banned from use in soaps, but not in deodorants. It is an endocrine disruptor after prolonged use, which may be associated with an increased risk of cancer and birth defects.
  • Talc should never be applied to broken skin or an open wound. If talc gets under your skin, it can cause inflammation or even infection. Also, talc rarely can be contaminated with asbestos because they are typically mined together.
  • TEA/DEA (triethanolamine/diethanolamine) are liquids that have been deemed safe for “brief use followed by thorough rinsing” of the skin. Any TEA or DEA products should not be used as leave on products and be sure to rinse them off thoroughly.
  • Propylene Glycol is a very common ingredient in many skin care products and can lead to irritation of the skin. It also can be found in medications and foods and cumulative ingestion of propylene glycol can lead to problems with your nervous system
  • Steareth also contains propylene glycol.

Best Ingredients for Natural & DIY Deodorant

  • Activated charcoal can absorb natural wetness (and toxins) without clogging pores.
  • Essential oils offer a pleasant scent and potential health benefits. I suggest lavender, rosemary, or sandalwood. If you have sensitive skin, it’s probably best to use the unscented options. 
  • Tea tree oil is an all-natural antibacterial disinfectant. Be sure it is diluted so it does not irritate your skin.
  • Arrowroot starch naturally absorbs moisture.

If you have sensitive skin, there are a few more common ingredients in natural deodorants you might want to think twice about. 

Cornstarch combats moisture but can dry out skin too much. Baking soda can dry your skin as well, but it is a common ingredient to fight moisture. I’ve seen coconut oil cause breakouts on my patients with more sensitive skin — even though it’s a soothing antimicrobial.


Does Armpit Detoxification Actually Work?

Evidence is neither in favor nor opposed to armpit detoxes. The jury is out on whether it is necessary to restore your armpits to their intended natural state and perhaps even make natural deodorant more effective. As an Integrative Dermatologist, I prefer to allow the body and skin to heal itself without significant intervention if possible.

The main ingredient that concerns me about the armpit detox  is apple cider vinegar. Because your body will naturally detox itself the longer you go without using antiperspirants, I am hesitant to recommend anyone with a history of sensitive skin to try the armpit detox. 

Apple cider vinegar can be a more aggressive antimicrobial than soap, and the several-minute exposure to the armpit clay mask can be exfoliating and refreshing for some. But in one study, almost 73% of people who soaked their arm in dilute apple cider vinegar noted skin irritation. 

As with any new skin treatment, you should consult your dermatologist before altering your skincare routine.


Benefits of Armpit Detox?

Though some benefits are more heavily researched than others, I want to also provide you with all the potential benefits that are possible with the armpit detox. I’ll make it clear how much science there is behind each benefit.

1. Does it Eliminate Unwanted Body Odor?

It’s true, apple cider vinegar fights bacteria that can cause body odor. This one is an easy fact and benefit, however this benefit must be weighed against the potential significant skin irritation that will likely occur with applying this to your armpit area. 

2. Does it Make Natural Deodorant Work Better?

Many people who promote armpit detoxing will claim that it makes your armpit more ready for natural deodorant. The detox is intended as a transition between conventional deodorant and natural deodorant.

Dubious as this claim may be, an armpit detox can change the bacterial composition of your underarm. However, doing an armpit detox is likely not necessary as your skin microbiome is likely to make this change without the detox. 

3. Does it Get Rid of Conventional Deodorant Build-up?

Conventional deodorants and antiperspirants may contain ingredients that clog your sweat glands. An armpit detox is thought to help to get rid of that deodorant buildup in your pits. However, even the natural antiperspirants and deodorants may contain ingredients that can clog your sweat glands. It is thought that the more natural ingredients may break down more easily and into less potentially toxic end products.

4. Does it Restore the Balance Between Good Bacteria and Bad Bacteria?

Conventional deodorants (especially antiperspirants) could mess up the natural balance of bacteria underneath your armpits. This could give way to smellier bacteria dwelling in your pits.

The balance of bacteria living in your skin is called your skin microbiome, and there’s plenty of research documenting the importance of your skin microbiome. Your skin has a unique fingerprint of microbes that is unique to you and also different parts of your body contain different strains of microbes. 

5. Does it Exfoliate Your Underarm Skin?

What’s more to say? Apple cider vinegar can exfoliate your skin, even in diluted versions. Some claim it also drains lymph nodes of toxins, however this is not supported by research and is likely untrue. 

Just be sure not to use too much apple cider vinegar, as it can easily irritate your skin. Be mindful of any stinging and burning and rinse off immediately if this occurs and apply a moisturizer for barrier protection. 


The Bottom Line

Given the above, I don’t recommend detoxing your armpits as it’s likely not necessary and does carry some risk of irritating your delicate armpit skin. 

If you are wanting to switch from conventional deodorants to natural ones, you can skip the armpit detox and do so immediately! Just start your new natural deodorant today. 

If you have sensitive skin and are concerned that the new natural deodorant may irritate your skin, you could take a few days to slowly introduce the new natural deodorant on a small area of your armpit skin at a time before you use it in the entire pit. If you get a rash, then stop the new product and see if you can troubleshoot which ingredient created the irritation. Restart a new option after your skin is healed and you can repeat this process until you’ve found one that works for you! 



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