Deodorant Tips for Tackling Body Odor

Posted by Azadeh Shirazi MD on

With the sun shining brighter and temperatures on the rise, it's time to embrace all the joys of the Spring season—well, almost all. I know body odor can be an unwanted companion during the warmer months and finding a solution can seem impossible. Finding the right one for you doesn't have to be a daunting task. Whether it's exploring different antiperspirants, adjusting your diet, or considering medical treatments, there is a solution out there that can effectively manage body odor and help you enjoy the season to the fullest.

Why Do I Have Body Odor?

Most people see body odor and sweat as synonymous things, but sweat is actually odorless. Body odor is a by-product of bacteria breaking down sweat. Other factors can contribute to body odor, such as diet, hormonal changes, certain medical conditions, and genetics.

What Is The Difference Between Deodorants and Antipersperants?

A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found both deodorants and antiperspirants to be effective at controlling body odor. There’s a notable distinction between deodorants and antiperspirants even though they serve the same purpose - to stop body odor.

Deodorant is a broad term referring to products applied to control body odor. Deodorants mask the smell of body odor usually with fragrances. Many are alcohol based to create a more acidic environment to decrease bacteria causing odors in addition to covering up the smell.

Anti-perspirants are products designed to reduce or stop sweating. They typically come in the form of roll-ons, sticks, sprays, or creams. These products contain active ingredients, most commonly aluminum-based compounds such as aluminum chloride, which work by temporarily blocking the sweat glands. It’s best to apply anti-perspirants onto clean, dry skin, preferably at night before bed, which will give the antiperspirant time to activate overnight. 

Here are some of my favorite deodorants:

Dove Clinical Strength: Most appropriate for those with active sweat glands, particularly during the reproductive years with the hormones causing greater amounts of sweat leading to body odor.  This formula is very effective at reducing sweat and eliminating odor from the byproducts of bacteria mixing with a rich supply of sweat as deodorants don’t reduce sweating.

Vanicream Aluminum Free: A dermatologist favorite for sensitive skin types, this aluminum-free formula comes in a gel form that dries without leaving a residue.  It’s also fragrance free and only contains five ingredients leaving out common chemical irritants, botanical extracts, and parabens 

Vanicream Antiperspirant + Deodorant: They also have a solid formula combining antiperspirant and deodorant with aluminum for those with a need to control sweating.

Necessaire Deodorant Gel: It’s a clear 5% AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) and Niacinamide deodorant to reduce odor causing bacteria while also treating hyperpigmentation and smoothing texture. It dries quickly, it’s not messy or sticky.  It’s also free of many irritants such as aluminum, baking soda, synthetic fragrance, PEGs, and parabens

What Ingredients Should I Avoid?

I consider both deodorants and antiperspirants as safe products with a few ingredients to consider:

  1. Fragrance is a common allergen in deodorants putting you at risk of developing allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) especially in skin folds like the armpits. You may notice rashes in the area with continuous use over time.  
  2. Baking soda is a common ingredient in aluminum-free deodorants as it makes it less favorable for odor causing bacteria to grow.  However, it can cause irritation leading to rashes, burning, and redness.
  3. Those with less than 30% kidney function should avoid antiperspirants with aluminum according to the National Kidney Foundation as they may not be able to clear the aluminum.

What Can I Do To Reduce Body Odor?

While sweat itself is virtually odorless, the rapid growth of bacteria that break down the sweat into acids are what cause an unpleasant smell. One of my favorite hacks is using glycolic or salicylic acid to exfoliate dead skin cells which reduces the amount of odor causing bacteria. Glycolic and salicylic acids are not deodorant, they are exfoliants. They do nothing to reduce or absorb sweat. 

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that works by breaking the bonds between the outer layer of skin cells, including the dead skin cells, exfoliating them off, boosting cell renewal resulting in a peeling effect that leaves the skin smoother. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that works by penetrating the skin and dissolving the dead skin cells that can clog pores.

Since these acids are anti-bacterial they can help reduce body odor. I'm hesitant in recommending glycolic acid for the delicate under arm skin as it can cause slight irritation. I recommend either salicylic acid or glycolic acid formulas with low concentrations used in a cleanser that you leave on for a few minutes and then rinse off for the safest options. I also recommend formulas like The One Spray or Clarify Pads.

I have a youtube video dedicated to this topic that you can watch below:

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Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a Board-Certified Dermatologist.

Specializing in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Shirazi received her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University Of Kentucky College of Medicine. After doing a Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, she completed her residency training in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in addition to completing her training in dermatology and cosmetic surgery at the University of California San Diego.

She has received multiple research scholarships from iconic institutions including Harvard University and the University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has several peer-reviewed publications to her name.