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How Many Swipes of Deodorant Are Too Many?

And can you end up doing your pits more harm than good?

Deodorant is good stuff — it masks your natural stench with an exotic scent usually called something ultra-manly like STEEL JET or CONCRETE GUNBARREL. Indeed, if traditional Axe ads are anything to go by, it makes you so irresistible that angels will willfully give up their haloes just for a chance to get within regular sniffing distance of you.

Artistic/nonsense license of those ads notwithstanding, it’s clear that a swipe or two to the ol’ stinky pits can be a great thing. But when it comes to swiping, how much deodorant should you put on? 

There are a few things to factor in here: excessive deodorant can completely destroy the armpits of your clothes (as anyone with permanently yellow pit stains can attest), as well as making you smell like you’re hiding something (if someone smells too strongly of deodorant, it’s easy to assume it’s because without it, they’d reek of stale beer/eye-watering B.O./jizz, etc).

You might also be doing it wrong. Hopping out of the shower in the morning and spraying your pits isn’t the best way to go about things, according to Patricia Boland, lead product developer and skincare specialist at Colorescience UK. “Contrary to popular belief, the best time of day to apply an antiperspirant deodorant is before bed,” she says. “This allows ample time for the product to close your armpits’ sweat ducts. If applying after a shower, it’s good practice to wait approximately 15 minutes before applying any antiperspirant deodorant, as wet skin tends to be poor at absorption.”

This is probably a good time to point out the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant: The former plugs up your sweat glands so you don’t sweat so much, while the latter kills off the bacteria that actually cause the B.O. smell. Most kinds you can buy these days, of course, do both, hence “antiperspirant deodorant.”

If you’re using it right, “Two or three swipes on each armpit is plenty,” says Bella Middleton, founder of Norfolk Natural Living, a natural deodorant company. “Enough for a pleasing aroma to take hold but not so much that it follows you around like a cloud. If people can smell you before they see you, you’ve definitely applied too much.”

If it does all work, though, are you doing yourself any harm? Parts of the internet think so, although that’s true for a lot of things (related: vaccinate your children). The two conditions that antiperspirant is most commonly linked to are breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, both supposedly due to its aluminum content (again, most antiperspirants work by temporarily blocking the sweat duct, which they do with a tiny particle of aluminum). 

So do you have to choose between living smelly and dying fresh? Short answer: No. Slightly longer answer: Well, probably not. While some researchers have claimed connections between aluminum and both diseases, according to the National Cancer Institute and Alzheimer’s Society, there’s no evidence of a direct link with either. There is a lot of ongoing research looking at both, just not enough, on a large enough scale, to draw any massive conclusions from. The conclusion from meta-studies looking at the research is basically: “Oh, hey, wow, we should do some more research into this.”

(It’s worth bearing in mind that aluminum enters your body from a lot of unscented sources, as well — there’s a lot in antacid tablets, for instance, and aspirin, tap water and lots of foods. And so, there’s a bunch of it in your body at any given time. There is also, in scientific terms, an assload of aluminum around — it’s the third most abundant substance in the Earth’s crust.)

If concerned, you can get deodorants without aluminum (or try other natural methods — Ancient Egyptians were known to place handfuls of scented wax on their heads and allow it to melt throughout the day). After all, excessive worrying makes you sweat, and that’ll make you stink, and that’ll make you slap more deodorant on, and that’ll just make everything worse. 

Life is a vicious, stinky cycle.