man smelling his armpit to check for body odor

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.

We Love Our Antiperspirants:

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.”

Can You Absorb Aluminum Through the Skin?

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).

Another Aluminum Complication:

We recently wrote about bad rebound BO after stopping aluminum-containing antiperspirants. The report from a reader came as a total surprise to us but when we started researching the question we discovered that there was actual research to support this person’s account. Find out how aluminum changes the balance of bacteria in the armpit at the following link:

Will Stopping an Antiperspirant Cause Bad Rebound Body Odor?

Other Strategies for Controlling Body Odor:

People who would like to avoid both odor and aluminum may want to consider using one of the many remedies our readers have suggested to control body odor. 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.

25% Sale on MoM Through Labor Day!

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 fragrance-free, men’s MoM and women’s fragrance aluminum-free roll-on deodorants. We are offering a 25% sale on our unscented 2 oz original-formula MoM roll-on deodorant through labor day, especially for first-time buyers. Make sure you use the discount code LaborDay16 when you check out at this link.


Revised by Joe Graedon on 9/1/16

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  1. Abigail
    NW USA

    An alert about using baking soda : Baking soda is very effective , but, applied in our armpits can change the color of the clothing there if the fabric is not color fast.

  2. C M

    Now that I am retired, I use less deodorant. I have been using MOM or an aluminum-free stick deodorant for several years. These products have worked well for me. I also use MOM for the occasional pimple (yes, at retirement age I still get pimples!)

    I read the article about re-bound body odor and think that is true, even though I am not using aluminium-based deodorants. Maybe it is because I am not out in the public and have no stress, or maybe it is age-related, but I definitely don’t need as much deodorant, nor as often. Sometimes, after showering, I don’t use it at all. My body odor is minimal, according to family and friends who know what I am doing. In years past, I could never get by with this. Needless to say, I do use MOM when I have special occasions or go out in the public.

  3. Caroline

    After decades of using regular combination deodorant/antiperspirants, I developed a terrible underarm rash. Now, the Peoples’ Pharmacy MOM deodorant works great, but I live in a humid, semitropical city and really need an antiperspirant, too. Any suggestions? Having sweat rings on one’s clothing is not acceptable!

  4. Dave
    NW Oregon

    In about 1998 I was in a job where I had to go across the room to get items from among hundreds of bins to do the job at my work area.
    –I suddenly noticed that oftentimes I couldn’t remember what I was needing to get when I was walking toward the bins.
    –I traced my activities and proved to myself beyond any doubt that it was caused by an “aluminum chlorhydrate” underarm product.
    –I stopped almost all contact with aluminum and have not had the problem again until just recently, at age 75.

  5. Cat

    Coconut oil is the best solution I’ve found! Yes…can be a bit messy to apply but I put a small amount on a paper towel and wipe it around my pit area, then get a 2nd paper towel to wipe most of it off.

    The remaining very thin layer is not oily and doesn’t rub on my clothes and works like a champ. I’m a farmer and do lots of physical labor. Doesn’t prevent you from sweating, which is part of healthy detox, but does keep you from stinking. Best solution ever!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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:

    • rick

      Yes, the FDA is a total wonder when it comes to allowing most medications, especially those that should be prescribed are now sold over the counter with impunity!

  9. 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.

  10. 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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