Who would have ever imagined that antiperspirants could change the ecology of the bacteria that live in our armpits? It turns out that antiperspirants can shift the balance of our microbiome to a species that produces some nasty body odor. This reader shares a fascinating story:
Q. I work in cancer research. About ten years ago, most of the women in my office decided to stop wearing antiperspirant because of the uncertainty of adverse health effects.
We all had amazingly similar experiences. Most of us immediately had an increase of smelly perspiration that gradually tapered over a year. We used frequent underarm toweling and added baking soda-based underarm powder for meetings.
Fortunately, once we got past the rebound period, there were virtually no problems. We experienced normal sweat production and no unusual odor.
I suspect that antiperspirant rebound is like so many other problems caused by living in the age of chemistry: it fixes a short-term problem but causes a long-term one.
A. Your story surprised us. We’re familiar with rebound congestion after stopping nasal spray decongestants or rebound hyperacidity and bad heartburn after discontinuing acid-suppressing drugs. We never imagined such an effect after eliminating antiperspirants.
What Scientists Discovered In Our Underarms:
We found, however, that some researchers have actually studied this question. They discovered that antiperspirant use changes the balance of bacteria in armpits (PeerJ, Feb. 2, 2016). According to one scientist, antiperspirants encourage the growth of Actinobacteria that create unpleasant odors (Archives of Dermatological Research, Oct. 2014).
An article in the Washington Post titled “Antiperspirants May Actually Make You Smell Worse” by Terrence McCoy reported that:
“Today more than 90 percent of Americans use some sort of armpit cosmetic, creating a worldwide deodorant bonanza worth $18 billion.”
“But what if part of that industry is predicated on a notion that smells fishy?”
“New research published in the Archives of Dermatological Research suggests that antiperspirants actually increase the levels of the odorous bacteria populating the armpit, which ‘could lead toward an altered, more unpleasant, underarm odor,’ lead author Chris Callewaert of Belgium’s Ghent University told The Washington Post in an e-mail. ‘Deodorants were generally not really a problem.’ Antiperspirants ‘should not enhance the odor-causing bacteria, but rather ‘steer’ towards a non odor-causing micro biome.”
The Rebound Body Odor Problem:
Stopping an antiperspirant appears to promote bacterial growth. This might account for the rebound body odor the cancer researcher and her colleagues experienced.
Most people would never think that their antiperspirant might actually be making body odor worse by changing the population of bacteria living in the armpit towards what Chris Callewaert described as “the smelly stuff.” What that means is that every time you stop using an antiperspirant the smell is enough to get you right back on the bandwagon. What a perfect guarantee for continued use.
The Difference Between Antiperspirants and Deodorants:
Antiperspirants by law must contain aluminum salts. The FDA demands that cosmetic companies include a significant amount of aluminum before a company can advertise its product as an antiperspirant. That’s because aluminum changes the physiology of the cells in the armpit. It is considered a drug rather than a cosmetic. By plugging and swelling sweat glands, perspiration is reduced. The FDA never thought to ask about changes in the bacterial ecology of the armpit as a result of aluminum.
Deodorants are often products containing fragrance to try to cover up body odor. That’s why we were so astonished to learn from one of our readers that milk of magnesia (MoM) made a great deodorant without any fragrance. Milk of magnesia is magnesium hydroxide. It is a great antacid and it is also a laxative. But we have also found it to be a terrific deodorant. We don’t know how it works; we just know that it does an amazing job without the irritation that aluminum sometimes causes.
Stories from Readers:
Anna in Houston says MoM is great:
“I’ve been using MoM for over two years now. I switched to get off aluminum-containing antiperspirants. I live in Houston, TX, where it is very hot six months out of the year and we sweat a lot. This works great! No odor.”
Michael in Georgia confirms:
“I am an adult male who sweats heavily. I also get itchy breakouts in my underarms. Saw this stuff and doubted its effectiveness. Finally decided to give it a try, not expecting much.
“Ordered one bottle, and after trying it, I am convinced of its effectiveness. No more B.O. and the red irritations are gone. I’m sold. Not trying to sell this nor do I ever write reviews. Just saying it works for me. I just want others to gain from my experience.”
Here is a video to explain our experience with MoM:
Special Labor Day 25% Sale on MoM:
We are offering a special Labor Day sale on our 2 oz. unscented People’s Pharmacy Aluminum-Free (Milk of Magnesia) MoM Roll-On Deodorant. The sale will last from now through Monday, September 5th, 2016. This is a special 25% discount for first time users of MoM.
Here is a link to our original formula MoM. Use the discount code LaborDay16 to save 25% on your purchase.