Americans love to vacation abroad during the summer. They also love to complain about food, travel hassles and body odor on crowded trains or buses. They have a perception that people elsewhere are less devoted to antiperspirants and daily showers.

Maybe Americans are too fond of antiperspirants. These products are loaded with aluminum. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration considers antiperspirants to be drugs rather than cosmetics. They are intended to change the physiology of the cells in the armpit. The aluminum compounds the agency requires in such products cause swelling and plugging of the sweat glands.

Now, there may not be a problem with aluminum in the armpits. Scientists have been debating how much aluminum is absorbed through the skin and whether it poses any health hazards. Some dermatologists classify concerns that aluminum may be absorbed and increase the risk of breast cancer or of dementia as “urban legends.”

One case report, however, shows that aluminum can sometimes be absorbed from antiperspirants in toxic amounts. A 39-year-old woman started applying antiperspirant every morning to shaved armpits. Although she did not develop a rash or skin irritation, she did become extremely fatigued and developed bone pain when she was 43. The doctors who investigated her case found that she had excessive levels of aluminum in her body that declined slowly over several months after she stopped using the antiperspirant (American Journal of Medicine, Dec., 2004).

People who would like to avoid both odor and aluminum may want to consider using one of the many remedies our readers have suggested. One woman wrote: “I was skeptical about using vinegar on my underarms, but I have lost faith in commercial deodorants. They leave me feeling sticky and messy. White vinegar got rid of the stink without making me sticky. It’s amazing!”

Other readers report that spraying vodka on the armpits controls body odor. According to one: “I’ve tried rubbing alcohol under my arms. It kills bacteria and works well but I was not sure using it daily would be good for my skin. I now am trying vodka! It also kills bacteria. The smell is milder than the rubbing alcohol and is gone by the time it has dried, which is very quickly.”

Still another reader suggested an alcohol-based hand sanitizer: “I can’t stand the smell of most deodorants, so I tried a hand sanitizer. It works very well. I had no odor at all, even by the end of the day.”

Several years ago, we received an unusual recommendation for preventing underarm odor: “I want to share a remedy I learned about when traveling in Brazil. Just apply milk of magnesia to your armpits. It is the best underarm deodorant!”

Although milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide) is usually thought of as a laxative, it works quite well as a deodorant when applied to the armpits.

Other reader suggestions include applying old-fashioned amber Listerine, lemon juice or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). It may take a bit of experimentation to discover which remedy works best for your particular body chemistry.

If you would like to try a milk of magnesia based deodorant, you may want to check out the offerings in our store. We have both fragrance-free and women’s fragrance aluminum-free roll-on deodorants.

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  1. ptb

    Just coconut oil. That’s all I’ve used for 3 years and it works perfectly for me. No ordor at all. Just put a little on your finger tips and apply underarm. Actually, use it all over your body. Goggle for many other uses.

  2. Marti

    I read in a long-forgotten article that antibiotic cream applied lightly to armpits after bathing could eliminate odor. Lathering up did nothing to keep underarm odor at bay for my husband, but the (store-brand) antibiotic cream has proved effective! Don’t use oinment, too greasy; the cream absorbs well.
    He found vinegar, rubbing alcohol, vodka, milk of magnesia drying or other wise objectionable.

  3. JLC

    I have a question. I find that MOM works wonderfully as an underarm antiperspirant. However, I have read online that there are two downsides to regular use of MOM. First, the small amout of bleach is drying over time. Second, it is a basic/alkaline solution and therefore over time may encourage fungal growths. Could you comment on these two concerns. Thank you.
    One of the reasons that we developed The People’s Pharmacy MoM Roll-On Deodorant was to eliminate the bleach (chlorine) preservative found in oral milk of magnesia laxative products. We agree with you that bleach is probably not something you want on your underarms, even in small quantities. Why anyone would want it in their stomach is a mystery to us and why the FDA would allow it also remains a puzzle.
    We have been using MoM for years ourselves and have not experienced a fungal infection nor have we heard from others that this poses a problem. Of course we would never say never, and if a rash develops, MoM should be discontinued.
    Anyone interested in learning more…here is a link:

  4. PSD

    I have had rashes under my breast for years. I tried a mixture of zinc & vitamin D. It has stopped all odors and rashes. I also put it under my arms. Anyone anything detrimental about this.

  5. Carol Thornton

    I use a cornstarch, baking soda and coconut oil mixture that works great and is soothing to the skin. Just google natural deodorant for recipes. Only problem is in the hot weather the coconut oil turns to liquid and it is more difficult to apply.

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