Armpits are the next big thing in the detoxing craze. 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.
But before you go cover your pits in green goop, do these detoxes really work?
How to make an armpit detox mask
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.
The mask is applied to the armpits and left for 5 to 20 minutes, much like a face mask. Once it’s dry, the mixture is washed off in the shower or with a wet washcloth.
There are many claimed benefits of an armpit detox.
1. Increase 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 will work better afterward.
There’s no proof that these detoxes can reduce odor or make a deodorant more effective. However, deodorant and antiperspirants change the types and amounts of bacteria in the armpit.
A small study found that people who wore antiperspirant or deodorant had fewer Staphylococci microbes than people who didn’t use any antiperspirant or deodorant. It also found 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 people who typically used only deodorant, or went without any product, applied antiperspirant, the Staphylococci bacteria on their skin decreased.
These changes in bacteria can make room for super smelly bacteria to take over. Antiperspirant can increase the amount of Actinobacteria, a bad-smelling bacterium, on the skin, according to a small Belgian 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 may help remove some of the odor-causing bacteria, but so will soap and water.
2. Remove 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 there are irritants such as fragrances, alcohol, and other irritating ingredients.
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 have done the trick.
If you need to be sure all traces of fragrances, alcohol, and other irritants are removed, it’d help to follow the water rinse with a soap and water scrub with a washcloth to remove the antiperspirant.
3. Detox your body
From removing “cancer-causing toxins” to draining lymph nodes, some of the 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,” said Shilpi Khetarpal, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “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,” she explained.
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.
There’s also no research showing that toxins in deodorants or antiperspirants result in breast cancer. This is just one myth about breast cancer that you should ignore.
4. Reduce irritation from natural deodorants
Redness and itchiness may be from an increase in bacteria as your body adjusts. But 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’ll likely only make it more inflamed once you’ve already had a reaction.
5. Eliminate odor
No one wants to worry about clearing a room with their B.O. The promise of odorless pits almost makes holding your arms over your head while the detox mask dries seem worth it.
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. Learn more about how sweating works.
For the most part, doing an armpit detox isn’t going to do much good or bad. However, vinegar can cause irritation. The last thing you want is an itching or burning armpit.
“I would caution people against [an armpit detox],” said Khetarpal. “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 somehow clear out the lymph nodes.
Instead, a simple wash with a gentle soap and water will remove any of the 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 wrist 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.