What does detox mean to you? In the beauty world, there is a new trend aimed at de-gunking targeted areas of the body, whether that means unclogging the pores in your scalp or — this is where it really gets interesting — even armpits.
Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, points out that there is an increased focus on “detoxing” the armpits because it is an area of the body where there is skin on skin, allowing for certain types of bacteria to live there that don’t live on other parts of the body.
He, along with several other experts, also attributes the popularity of the armpit detox trend to the increased interest in natural skincare as a whole (according to reports, the natural and organic beauty market is projected to be a $22 billion industry by 2024), including natural deodorants.
What’s an armpit detox?
“When people make the change from conventional antiperspirant to natural deodorant or none at all, they can notice that they are smellier than they are accustomed to being, as it takes time for the bacteria to balance out and you may experience more odor. The idea is that an armpit detox can make this transition easier,” explains Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Modern Dermatology.
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And while the term “armpit detox” has become a bit of a catchall when it comes to all things relating to pit purification and preservation, as well as using a body scrub to help shed dead skin, Robinson says an armpit detox is typically referred to as the act of using products or treatments that contain detoxifying properties (such as bentonite clay, charcoal or apple cider vinegar) to help clear pores of dead skin or product buildup as part of the switch to natural – or, what she considers a true detox in this sense – no deodorant.
“A buildup of dirt, oil and antiperspirant on the skin can alter the skin’s microbiome, which means that the natural balance of bacteria on the skin may become unbalanced. The clinical significance of this change is not clear but taking a break from antiperspirants can help restore the natural diversity of bacteria on the skin,” explains Zeichner.
Antiperspirants use aluminum-based salts to form a club to block sweat glands, adds Zeichner. “This physically prevents sweat from reaching the surface of the skin. Deodorants, on the other hand, do not address the issue of wetness. Rather, they either mask or neutralize body odor,” he explains.
And even though the jury is still out on just how effective said ingredients and products are at abstracting toxins (such as aluminum) from the pores or lymph nodes, or helping to reduce sweat long-term, there have been studies that suggest deep-cleansing and taking a break from antiperspirant can have its benefits.
“The use of deodorant and antiperspirant has been found in a small study to decrease the diversity and number of normal healthy flora, respectively. When the products were stopped, the healthy flora returned back to normal,” adds Robinson. “It is similar to thinking about the healthy bacteria in our gut. When we take an antibiotic for an infection for an extended period of time, it not only kills the bad bacteria causing the infection, but also healthy bacteria which allows for unhealthy bacteria to overgrow and become prominent,” she explains.
Who can benefit from an armpit detox?
Armpit detoxing can be done by anyone, with products typically recommended for the masses, but Robinson says a detox can prove especially helpful for people who have bromhidrosis (and excess of odor) or chromhidrosis (strange colors like yellow, green, pink and others in their sweat), both of which can be caused by the overgrowth of bacteria. “Genetics can also play a role, in addition to hormonal status, weight, and other co-existing medical conditions,” she adds.
For Zeichner, since the only organs in the body that have true detoxing capabilities are the kidneys and liver, an armpit detox should be thought of as more of a deep cleanse. If refraining from antiperspirant, he says you should make sure to wash your skin (preferably with a gentle, soap-free cleanser and lukewarm water) after vigorous activity to remove excess dirt and oil, and to apply a moisturizer after shaving to help protect the skin barrier.
Of course, as with many skin conditions, experts also suggest that those with more severe sweating conditions and questions visit a dermatologist for a diagnosis and information regarding the latest treatment options.
What does an armpit detox consist of?
In terms of what to look for in a detox deodorant or other detox product alternatives, Zeichner says you can typically expect to see ingredients like clay. “Just as it is used on the face and patients with oily skin and acne, it can help absorb oil and dirt in the under arm. Clay also has a soothing bath and can calm inflamed skin,” he explains.
Robinson adds that vinegar has also been used in detoxifying products, as it is regarded for its natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. “When used topically, it can help decrease bacteria load on the skin and is being used as a means to try to reset the skin flora,” she says.
“In homemade masks, bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar are typically mixed together, potentially with some water to help dilute the vinegar. The mask is applied to the armpits and left on for 5-20 minutes and then washed off,” explains Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York, adding that vinegar can be irritating and therefore those with sensitive skin should start by diluting it with water.
In terms of over-the-counter products, we are also seeing an increase in the use of activated charcoal for its magnetic properties when it comes to attracting gunk from pores.
Could an armpit detox work for you? Test-drive the trend with these products and kits.
Pacifica Coconut & Charcoal Underarm Detox Scrub
This vegan scrub from Pacifica, featuring charcoal, green tea and coconut, aims to exfoliate armpits and remove pore-clogging buildup. Just massage in a circular motion, rinse well, and (if desired) follow with your favorite natural deodorant.
Primal Pit Paste Charcoal Magnesium Daily Detox Deodorant
Charcoal promises to draw out impurities, while magnesium works to help neutralize odor, in this daily detox deodorant. It has five stars from believers who have come to rely on it as an everyday go-to.
Lavanila The Healthy Underarm Detox Mask
The malic acid in this detox mask from Lavanila is said to bind to aluminum that may have been left behind, while silica helps to absorb sweat for staying dry.
Kaia Naturals The Takesumi Detox Charcoal Underarm Detox Kit
This kit from Kaia Naturals includes a detoxing handbook, bath salts, a deodorant booster bar and a deodorant stick featuring ingredients like charcoal and apple cider vinegar designed to help make the transition to no deodorant, or natural deodorant.
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