Why Antiperspirants Can Make You Smell Worse

Armpits smell. And if you're like most, deodorant is your chosen antidote. Millions of people across the world use a variation of armpit protection. In fact, deodorant-donning adults apply it 8.6 times per week. But what if antiperspirants can make you smell worse?

Being the sweat experts we are, we dug into the research to get some answers. Here’s what we found.  

Science-Backed Reasons Antiperspirants Make You Smell Worse

To understand why antiperspirants can make you smell worse, let’s look at how they work. Deodorants don’t actually stop you from sweating — they target the bacteria that reacts with your sweat to mask the smell of body odor.

Antiperspirants, on the other hand, are aluminum-based. They form a gel-like substance that blocks your sweat ducts, preventing or reducing the amount of sweat your body produces.  

Read more about the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant here.

Research published in the Archives of Dermatological Research found that antiperspirants can increase the level of odor-causing bacteria in the armpit, which could lead to underarm odor.

In the study, the subjects agreed to stop wearing deodorant or antiperspirant for a month. Researchers examined the diversity and amount of armpit bacteria before, during and after they resumed using deodorant.

Switching up their daily hygiene habits altered the subjects’ armpit bacteria. The study also found that the long-term use of antiperspirants “can lead towards altered odor production of the armpit.”  

What to Do About It

This doesn't mean you should throw away your antiperspirants. While results were consistent, the study had a small sample size (only nine people participated) and didn’t test all antiperspirants.

If you do experience additional underarm odor, try switching up your deodorant or antiperspirant. You can try clinical-strength or prescription options, or switch to a natural deodorant that isn’t as harsh on your skin.

See our favorite natural deodorants.

If you’re using antiperspirant, make sure you’re applying it correctly. Our bodies adapt to antiperspirant after a few months of use. For the best results, apply antiperspirant the night before. The compounds have more time to absorb into your skin and block your pores.

Other Factors That Make Your Sweat Smell Worse

Antiperspirants aren’t the only factor that can make your sweat smell worse. Certain food, drinks and stressful situations can also increase body odor.

  • Food. A few hours after eating or drinking certain rich foods, it can seem as though the smell is seeping out of your pores. Foods like garlic, Brussels sprouts and onions contain and secrete more sulfuric compounds that make you stink.
  • Drinks. Having a few drinks the night before can also affect your sweat.
  • Nervous sweating. Stressful situations trigger the fight-or-flight response in your nervous system. They signal your apocrine glands (the smellier of your two types of sweat glands) to perspire.
  • Certain medical conditions. While rare, certain medical conditions can also cause body odor. See the full list and breakdown here.

Any other questions on how antiperspirants can make you smell worse? Let us know below!

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