Cleanses and detoxes have been wellness trends for years. Most of them stem from traditional practices in complementary and alternative medicine
From cleansing the skin to the gut, the idea is that periodically flushing the body with healthy substances can help keep things running smoothly the rest of the time.
Want to know what the next big thing is in the detox world? It’s armpits.
Instead of drinking teas or doing a cleanse, people are mixing up masks and slathering them under their arms in the name of good health and sweet smells.
Armpit masks for detoxing often involve charcoals, clays, or apple cider vinegar. You mix up the ingredients, so say proponents, and slather them onto your pits, keeping your arms raised above your head as they dry.
Supposedly, they help “detox” the harmful chemicals that may have been in previous deodorant and antiperspirant products you used.
But before you cover your pits in green sludge, let’s take a look at whether these detoxes really work.
Many people who switch from traditional to natural deodorants have noted going through a period of time when they say they sweat and stink more.
Armpit detoxes are believed to speed this phase up by unclogging pores and releasing impurities.
There are many claimed benefits of an armpit detox. Here are five common claims and what the research says.
Claim: Increases the effectiveness of natural deodorant
Most armpit detoxes are meant to make the transition from an aluminum-based antiperspirant to a natural deodorant easier. Many of the articles in favor of armpit detoxes claim that the natural deodorant, such as baking soda deodorant, will work better afterward.
However, there’s no proof that these detoxes reduce odor or make a deodorant more effective. But deodorant and antiperspirants change the types and amounts of bacteria in the armpit.
A small 2016 study found that people who wore antiperspirant or deodorant had fewer Staphylococci microbes than people who didn’t use any antiperspirant or deodorant.
Results also showed that the people who wore deodorant without any sweat-blocking ingredients, like aluminum, had more Staphylococci bacteria, while people who didn’t use any product had more Corynebacterium.
When the people in the study who typically used deodorant without sweat-blocking ingredients, or who went without any product, applied an antiperspirant, the Staphylococci bacteria on their skin decreased.
These changes can make room for bacteria that emit odor to take over. Antiperspirant can increase the amount of Actinobacteria, an odorous bacterium, on the skin, according to a small 2014 study.
This imbalance in bacteria can be one reason why transitioning from an antiperspirant to a natural deodorant can make you feel extra smelly. It takes time for the bacteria on your skin to balance out, and any product applied — including natural deodorant, soap, or a detox mask — can alter the types and amounts of bacteria.
The vinegar in the detox mask may help remove some odor-causing bacteria, but so will soap and water.
Claim: Removes the buildup of antiperspirant or deodorant
Antiperspirant works by temporarily clogging sweat glands to decrease sweating. It does this by creating a gel on the surface of the skin. It’s not absorbed into the skin, but it does contain irritants, such as fragrances and alcohol.
A couple of thorough washes with soap and water using a wash cloth will remove any antiperspirant or deodorant.
A detox mask may also remove the antiperspirant from your skin. But it’s more likely that rinsing the mask off with water when you’re done will do the trick.
If you want to be sure all traces of fragrances, alcohol, and other irritants are removed, follow the water rinse with a soap and water scrub with a washcloth to remove the antiperspirant.
Claim: Detoxes your body
From removing “cancer-causing toxins” to draining lymph nodes, some armpit detox articles make bold, unproven claims.
But can you actually remove toxins through the skin?
“All of these clay products and things that are trying to pull out toxins are really just a myth,” says dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal. “The liver and kidneys really take care of detoxing the body from any harmful chemicals. There’s no way to get them out of the sweat glands or out of the skin.”
There’s no evidence that toxins can be physically pulled out of the skin or deeper layers of tissue. Sweat can carry toxins like heavy metals out of the body, but it’s unlikely that clay alone can lift them from the tissues under the skin.
Claim: Reduces irritation from natural deodorants
Redness and itchiness may be from an increase in bacteria as your body adjusts. More likely, it’s a reaction to the ingredients in the natural deodorant, like baking soda and cornstarch.
Stop using a product immediately if you develop burning, itching, redness, or a rash. An armpit detox can’t prevent this irritation. It will likely make it more inflamed if you’ve already had a reaction.
Claim: Eliminates odor
The promise of odorless pits might make holding your arms over your head while the detox mask dries seem worth it. Turns out, there’s actually something to this claim.
Apple cider vinegar is antibacterial and can help eliminate odor-causing bacteria. However, it’s important to properly dilute the vinegar, and remember that it won’t keep you sweet-smelling indefinitely.
It helps to understand how sweating works.
In today’s world, it seems as if you can “detox” just about anything. There are digital detoxes, water detoxes, diet detoxes, and, yes, even armpit detoxes.
While it’s unlikely that an armpit detox will harm you, there’s no evidence that an armpit detox is going to offer any benefits.
Things you can do instead?
Thoroughly cleanse your armpits with soap and water, use a deodorant you like, and see a dermatologist if you have any other concerns.
Although there’s no evidence that armpit detoxes work, there’s likely no harm in trying it — as long as you patch test any new ingredients to prevent irritation.
Most armpit detoxes use a homemade mask of bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar. Some also include water to dilute the vinegar. Others use equal parts bentonite clay and coconut oil for a more soothing, hydrating mix that still has some antibacterial properties, thanks to the coconut oil.
You apply the mask to your armpits and leave it on for 5 to 20 minutes, much like a face mask. Once it’s dry, you wash the mixture off in the shower or with a wet washcloth.
For the most part, doing an armpit detox isn’t going to do much good.
However, it’s important to note that certain ingredients, like vinegar, can cause irritation. The last thing you want is an itching or burning armpit.
“I would caution people against [an armpit detox],” Khetarpal says. “There’s no need for it, it hasn’t shown to be useful, and it’s going to do nothing or just give you some problems.”
Your body naturally detoxes and removes harmful chemicals through the liver, kidneys, and elimination (urination, defecation, and sweating). Applying clay or vinegar to the skin won’t draw toxins out of the body or clear out the lymph nodes.
Instead, a simple wash with a gentle soap and water will remove antiperspirant or deodorant on your skin and help control odor.
If you’re worried about the ingredients in conventional deodorants, there are plenty of natural deodorants on the market. Just be careful to spot test on the inside of your arm, and keep an eye out for any sensitivity you may have.
Whether you switch to a different brand or a natural product, give your body — and your bacteria — time to adjust.