In re your armpits

A quick but helpful word about deodorant

Hi it’s like 100 degrees (that’s not hyperbole, it’s Chicago in August) and I am coated in an AT LEAST light sweat at all times (yes even with my a/c, which is a merely adequate unit) and it’s has made me hyper-aware of my pit sweat so I thought I’d share this well-known-to-skincare-nerds life hack with you, along with some other general blatherings about armpits. How excited are you for this, huh? (If your answer is “not very” go on and delete this fucker, I’ll see you next time.)

The Secret Deodorant

It’s facial acids like AHA and BHA. I personally splash on some of my Paula’s Choice 2% BHA, but many people opt for an AHA like The Ordinary’s Glycolic Solution. You wouldn’t want anything much stronger than that, I think, and some creams and such might create different types of odors, for all I know, so I think it’s best to stick to very simple, basic products. You just need enough to coat the area, same as you do for your face.

Okay look, it won’t make you sweat less but it will magically make your pit sweat odorless. This is because it creates a hostile workplace for the bacteria that produce stink. Here, let Tracey tell you all about it, she’s the genius who discovered it.

I have generally been somewhat hesitant to do this with any frequency - usually I’ve only resorted to it when travelling because I often forget to pack deodorant, or run out, or just want to save space in the toiletries bag. And boy howdy is it GREAT for that, because I sure as shit never forget my 2% BHA. But my hesitation has been because it’s not been through any kind of clinical trials and, I reasoned, what do I know about the long-term consequences of splashing acid every day onto a spot so close to so many glands? And besides, I’m fine with my Secret solid, so who cares.

But this summer I have been Sweating A Whole Fucking Lot and antiperspirant never seemed to put much of a dent in the moisture on the best of days anyway, so I figured why not. Plus, I honestly doubt that anything I can slop onto my face (also close to many important sub-skin things!!) every day is unsafe, and it really seems like it works better to eliminate smell. At least for me.

And maybe you ain’t gotta do it every day but keep it in mind if you have a special occasion where you REALLY can’t risk being even a little smelly. Or if you or someone you love and have to live with in these close-quarters days of quarantine has a real stink problem - like maybe especially when you work out or whatever - then you can always double it up with the the usual deodorant. Like consider the acid as your base coat and then top off with a traditional stick deodorant. It is seriously the secret sauce.

Pigmented Pits, price, et al.

In terms of choosing between AHA and BHA, there’s one clear reason to go with the AHA option: if you want to solve more than just odor. If the skin in your armpits is darker than the rest of your body skin - and if that bugs you - you are not alone. (Frankly I never noticed anyone’s pit skin in my entire fucking life and I implore you to not feel shamed by darkish patches that seem to be a normal feature of human armpits, for godsakes.) AHA will, over time, lighten skin that has more pigment, so it does well to de-darken armpits.

As noted in the article linked above, AHA is also great for ingrown hairs, if that’s an issue for you. (So is BHA for that matter.) So it really can serve many purposes. But you do have to choose a strong enough solution to do the job. The only time I’ve used AHA on my pits is this low-dose mandelic acid toner I’ve got and it only lasted a few hours so it’s obviously too weak.

Plus also, the glycolic from The Ordinary is cheap as balls, you get like a year’s worth of deodorant for like $8USD. You can also use some cheapass drugstore salicylic thing, like Stridex or the like. (Probably steer clear of benzoyl perozide, though, it might do the job but I also feel like it’d lead to dry itchy skin unless you want to, like, moisturize your armpits.)

And if you’re experimenting around with acid products? Your pits are the perfect place to re-purpose a product that your face disagrees with. Not that pits can’t be sensitive (especially after shaving, beware) but they are less likely to complain about a product, and certainly not in a way that makes you want to put a bag over your head for a week.

On Natural Deodorants

So lately this little helpful tip has been adopted by “natural” deodorant companies, hahahahahahahaa as though there’s anything more “natural” about acids engineered in a lab. And hey, side note: baking soda also does not grow on trees in the forest primeval, for the love of sweet baby jesus. BUT ANYWAY. You can skip the middle man and just splash on the acid instead of picking up a jar of overpriced lavender-scented paste from the friendly hippies at your local farmer’s market. Frankly, I have never used a natural deodorant that didn’t make me smell worse than my own body’s natural funk, which is truly eye-watering all on its own, thanks.

But people get convinced that the aluminum in commercial antiperspirants is deadly, and I just want to assure you that notion is not even close to being back up by actual science. It does not cause cancer, you guys. It just doesn’t. It’s not fucking with your hormones. There has been no proof that it causes dementia and no reason to believe it would. As for “endocrine disruptors” - look, along with “toxins” there is no phrase more guaranteed to show up in a snake-oil pitch, okay? Read all about it here, but the upshot is: it’s all a scam and you ain’t gotta be scared of commercial deodorants. I promise.

I also just want to point out that whatever else goes into the purportedly “natural” deodorants could potentially be really harmful. I mean, saying “aluminum is toxic!” is one thing, but then pushing something that has eleven herbs and spices BUT NO ALUMINUM is not exactly my idea of safe. I mean, have a million clinical studies been done to determine if the topical application of arrowroot in the armpit causes Alzheimers or whatever? I think not.

But maybe you have allergies or sensitivities or otherwise legit reasons to seek out non-aluminum deodorants and if so, I assure you that the acids work and can serve as an alternative.


I bring this message to you because I’ve been using BHA on my pits pretty exclusively since the weather turned sweltering a couple months ago, with great success. Since I sweat all day, I tend to do a rinse-off shower a couple times a day, which half-rinses off my deodorant and then I go reapply and it gets all gloopy and caked and…ugh, it’s just easier to throw on the BHA every morning and not have to think about it again. It’s weird because I’m used to either having stink lines emanating from my pits OR smelling powder fresh, nothing in between. So having damp underarms but no smell of any kind is disconcerting, but in the best way.

Okay that’s it, I feel like Heloise now. OMG I bet lots of you don’t even know Heloise, but her hints were one of my favorite things about reading the newspaper when I was a kid, along with Garfield and my horoscope.

Sweatily Yours,
EK