The other day a friend texted me: "I think my armpits might be addicted to deodorant." I laughed (i.e., texted her back "hahaha"), to which she replied, "No seriously! I swear that the more I use it, the more I sweat, and more needy my armpits get for it. Like, I feel the need to put it on the minute I get out of the shower." Cue my eyebrow raise and an instant ChapStick connection. You know the ol' notion that the more ChapStick you use, the more chapped your lips get and the more they crave it? Vicious cycle. It had me wondering if there was any truth to it, so I reached out to Osmia Organics founder and deodorant expert Dr. Sarah Villafranco for the sweaty scoop. Keep scrolling to see what she said!
First, a basic crash course in sweat, deodorant, and antiperspirant. A deodorant by definition does just what its name implies: It deodorizes you, which means it makes you smell good and masks the scent of body odor. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, use aluminum to prevent sweat from being secreted by your sweat glands. Most commercial options combine the two to make the product you consider your deodorant (i.e., chances are your deodorant is an antiperspirant, though they exist as stand-alone products).
Furthermore, sweat itself does not stink, explains Villafranco. "Rather, it’s a sterile fluid comprising secretions from two types of sweat glands—eccrine and apocrine—influenced by multiple factors such as temperature and stress. It is the bacteria in the armpit (staphylococcus and corynebacterium) that interact with the sweat once it’s secreted to cause odor." So basically, without the bacteria, sweat in its pure form has no odor (fascinating!).
Here's where we get to the addiction question. "As far as I can tell, there is no credible evidence to support the idea that using deodorant causes us to increase our sweating or creates any sort of 'addiction,'" she says. "Conceptually, it makes some sense to me that if you block the sweat glands with aluminum, they might work harder to secrete sweat, as is the case with many of the feedback loops in our bodies. But there simply isn't scientific evidence to support this theory."
"There is a tiny body of evidence to show that aluminum salts, such as those contained in antiperspirants, can alter the bacterial balance in the armpit, and if the balance shifts more toward corynebacterium, you may produce more odor. So, it’s probably a worthwhile experiment to try a couple weeks without antiperspirant to see if you are actually stinky," she says. "If your bacterial balance is more staph than corynebacterium, you may not create much odor." In other words, there is a possibility that antiperspirant might make you smell worse, which could make you feel like you need to reapply more of it constantly. But it isn't actually making you sweat more or biologically "crave" it.
Keep scrolling for a few options in both the deodorant and antiperspirant categories.