If you’ve ever heard the words “armpit detox” and wondered what the heck that was (or if you needed one), we’re right there with you. In theory, a detox of anything sounds good—and of all the body parts to detox, the armpit sounds like a ripe place to start. But do we actually need one or is it completely unnecessary? Let’s take a deeper look.
First off, what is an armpit detox? It’s when you ween off of conventional deodorants and antiperspirants and use various ingredients (like apple cider vinegar or bentonite clay) to help draw out any “toxins” from the area that have built up over time. Proponents claim you can drastically reduce body odor and underarm wetness after doing an armpit detox.
However, “your body already has excellent systems for dealing with these ‘toxins’ and your skin is a very effective barrier that prevents most things from penetrating. So no, you don’t need to detox your armpits,” states Brianna West, a biochemist and founder of Ethique.
Moreover, “sweating is a good and natural part of the body’s existing detoxification process,” says Martha Soffer, an Ayurvedic specialist and founder of Surya Spa in Los Angeles. “Your armpits contain lymph nodes, and one of the main functions of the lymphatic system is to detox. One of the many ways it does that is through sweating,” she explains.
So why do we smell? “Basically, your skin is covered with trillions of little microbes, also known as your skin flora. These little guys are one of your skin’s first defenses against infection and can actually help your immune system—and, no, they don’t smell. Neither does your sweat," says Tara Pelletier, co-founder of Meow Meow Tweet. It’s actually the combination of the two getting trapped in an area with poor ventilation (aka your pits) that produces any odor.
OK, but why do people do armpit detoxes? “Sometimes when people experience irritation from switching to a natural deodorant, they think that all of the leftover toxins from when they were using conventional deodorants are making their way out of their newly unblocked pores. However, the jury is still out on whether this actually occurs or not,” says Pelletier.
Both Soffer and Pelletier agree that if you’re more odorous than usual, it’s more a symptom that your whole body needs a little cleansing more than the armpits themselves.
You can do this by simply taking a look at your diet. “Attend to your gut and overall microbiome health by consuming probiotics and adding more leafy greens,” advises Pelletier. “And drink plenty of water.”
“It would also be helpful to reduce foods that create heat in your body like garlic and onions, alcohol, tomatoes and other nightshades, especially chilis,” advises Soffer. “And no, you don’t have to give up these things forever—this is just until your body comes back in balance.”
If you still want to show your pits a little love, skip the detoxing and gently exfoliate them once a week using a washcloth and a scrub (or make your own simple scrub by mixing oat flour with water at a 1:1 ratio).