Is Not Wearing Deodorant The Secret To Alleviating Underarm Odor? | Essence (2023)

While armpit detoxes and masks trend, some, like Lizzo, have smelled better than ever by forgoing antiperspirants. A dermatologist explains why that is.

As we find ourselves in the era of celebrities proudly sharing that baths are not really a necessity these days, there have been a number of stories that have surfaced lately about the hygienic habits of the A-list. Some have been pretty wild, like when Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher shared that they only bathe her children when you can see dirt on them. But other insights, the less dramatic kind, have us second-guessing our own go-to practices.

Actor Matthew McConaughey shared in the past that he hasn’t worn deodorant in more than 20 years. That sounds and smells, one would assume, insane. But in a recent interview, his Tropic Thunder co-star Yvette Nicole Brown shared that despite that, he smelled wonderful.

“He does not have an odor,” she said during a visit to Sirius XM’s Jess Cagle Show. “He smells like granola and good living. That’s all I can say. He has a sweet, sweet scent that is just him. It’s not musty or crazy.”

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He’s not the only person who has managed to smell pleasant while forgoing deodorant. Singer Lizzo commented on the fuss surrounding McConaughey’s BO, or lack thereof, in her Instagram Stories saying, “Ok…I’m w him on this one,” she wrote. “I stopped using deodorant I smell BETTER.”

As someone whose pH has shifted since having a child and gone through a number of deodorants to find something that works, I found myself intrigued. Could the answer to my ‘pit problems be in chucking deodorant, too? According to the experts, it depends. As board-certified dermatologist Yolanda Lenzy, MD, FAAD shared, some people, like McConaughey and Lizzo, can get away with it while others can’t because of bacteria.

“What we know about body odor, some people sweat a lot and they have odor, some people don’t,” she tells ESSENCE. “What we notice the difference to be is the breakdown of bacteria that can happen in some people versus others and probably what distinguished them is the profile of the bacteria. There are good bacteria and then there are what we call pathogenic bacteria that has more of an odor.”

In the same way that we have bacteria in the stomach, good and bad gut microbiomes, there is good and bad bacteria on the skin. Under certain conditions, Dr. Lenzy says that bacteria can be enhanced. An example of that is the studies that have shown that for some people, the use of antiperspirant can lead to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, causing an odor. So for some, going without brings about the best results.

Other causes for a puzzling odor can include a pH change, conditions like excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), and can also be connected to diet. Dr. Lenzy points out that, for example, people who eat large amounts of curry release a great odor from the skin. But she says that in general, while there are theories, there isn’t a clear-cut answer as to why some see an improvement in their odor when they put away deodorants.

“It’s kind of complicated in that this is not really a scientific kind of known fact of why that could be, but what I can surmise is that, not perspiring or blocking that is just changing the bacteria profile on your skin, which can either make smells enhance or decrease.”

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For those interested in testing out an anti-perspirant-free phase, the trade-off may be that in place of such protections, you take more baths in a day. However, too much scrubbing of the skin with soap and water can decrease the natural oils in the skin and worsen skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

“If one does shower more than once a day, you definitely need to use a good moisturizing cream throughout the entire body within a couple of minutes of getting out of the shower and to prevent the skin barrier breakdown, which can increase flaring up several inflammatory skin conditions,” Dr. Lenzy says. “But I think, definitely without using antiperspirants, one will actually probably cleanse more frequently than not.”

For me, I opted to continue seeking out the right deodorant, finding a clinical strength option with the right, light scent (the wrong scent left me reeking) that has helped me feel more comfortable and confident from day to day. But as Dr. Lenzy pointed out, every individual, and their skin bacteria, is different. While what worked for Lizzo wasn’t the best option for me, it could be the perfect alternative for your ‘pits.

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