How To Choose The Best Deodorant For Sensitive Skin: A Dermatologist’s Point Of View

If your skin gets irritable when it meets up with certain skincare products, you know it is particularly hard to find an antiperspirant deodorant you can tolerate. Sensitive skin types, consider yourselves heard! The battle for body odor control is a crossroads of where delicate underarm skin meets harsh formulations, even when choosing the natural deodorant options. This is because the skin of the armpit is prone to rashes (read on to see why) in the best of circumstances, then we add things like baking soda, fragrance, alcohol and hosts of other offenders found in the ingredient list of deodorants and skin irritation can easily result. As a 25 plus year board certified dermatologist, I know this all too well. What should you do to be odor free and sensitivity free? Here is what you need to know to show your skin some love.

Why are underarms at risk for skin sensitivity?

Armpit, underarm, axilla (medical name), whatever you call it, this area of skin is delicate and prone to irritation. The skin itself is thin and may not be able to “stand up” to friction and to the application of chemicals as well as other body parts can. In contrast, the palm of your hand is thicker and so is your elbow skin. Then realize that your underarm skin suffers with: shaving, waxing, rubbing, chafing, trapped moisture, exposure to chemicals from roll-on or stick antiperspirants. This is the basis of why our pits can feel like the “pits”, especially for those who find themselves easily irritated by soaps, perfumes, powders, sprays or lotions. Particular ingredients found in deodorants and antiperspirants are well-known offenders for those with sensitive skin. Notably, the active ingredients of aluminum salts such as aluminum chlorohydrate, among others, found in antiperspirants that promise to diminish sweating and keep skin dry, can “over do it” and create too much dryness and lead to problems. So, keeping skin dry is aluminum’s function, but when used on irritable skin, or just-shaved skin, or dehydrated skin, this ingredient can light a fuse of skin irritation, also known as irritant dermatitis and result in a rash. This can occur in anyone, not just sufferers of sensitive skin. But even aluminum free alternatives can still cause unwanted outcomes, hence the difficulty in choosing a deo for sensitive skin. This is largely why I invented my patented Anti-Odorant Surface Deep which is skin friendly and consumer tested. It prevents body odor without harsh chemicals. It does this by maintaining a skin microbiome that prevents odor causing bacteria from forming. 

What to look for when choosing body odor prevention:

Products that contain soothing ingredients such as aloe, chamomile,or a hydrating formula such as a deodorant cream that contains shea butter or deodorants that include essential oils or post-biotic ferments in their ingredients.

Brands that state ” deodorants for sensitive skin” or are“hypoallergeniccan be a helpful guide for consumers. However, there is no strict criteria for what those terms mean and you must trust the maker of the product as to what they are marketing and promising with such wording.

“The National Eczema Association Seal”,  “dermatologist developed”, “pregnancy safe”, “clinically tested”, are used by brands to underscore tolerability or efficacy of the product. Seeking out such branding statements may be helpful when choosing any type of skin care product, but your individual experience is the true deciding factor. Trial and error may be the best option as well as discussing choices with your dermatologist.

Testimonials and word of mouth. Ask trusted friends and skin care experts about deo options for sensitive skin and look for reviews that mention that actual user’s skin tolerated regular use of the brand you are considering. Sometimes sensitivity develops weeks after using a product so duration of using the product without reported irritation can be a key indicator to look for.

What to avoid when choosing body odor prevention:

Fragrance. Added fragrances, even natural ones, perfumes, and scented products as a rule are to be avoided. Why? fragrance is a frequent cause of allergic reactions in personal care products. Yet, the great majority of antiperspirant and deodorant brands use their strong scents as a draw. There is a test called a patch testing that dermatologists perform which can help pinpoint what you may be allergic to so you can avoid a contact dermatitis rash. If you suspect you have allergies to perfumes contained in skin care, seek out unscented deodorant or fragrance-free options for all types of products that touch your skin.

Alcohol. Alcohol free products are often less drying for the delicate armpit skin. Interestingly, alcohol is typically found hand in hand with fragrance. Avoiding both of these is a good step in preventing sensitive skin challenges.

Aluminum. If you do not sweat excessively you do not need to block sweating, so therefore you can choose products which are labeled as aluminum free deodorant. Aluminum free options can help reduce odor without blocking sweat ducts. A phrase I often repeat is, ‘sweat is intentional but odor is preventable”. You can sweat as nature intended without blocking the skin,  but still fight odor when using the right product.

Clinical strength. These products listed as clinical strength are usually referring to a high percentage of aluminum being contained in the antiperspirant.  With a higher concentration of aluminum there is potentially more risk for irritation or sensitivity ramifications. These clinical strength brands are great if you suffer from excessive sweating (also known as hyperhidrosis), but for routine body odor prevention, you can pass on it.

Baking soda. This natural ingredient found in many brands will help keep skin dry but for some consumers the crystals can leave skin inflamed after regular use.

Parabens and other preservatives. Products rely on preservatives to maintain their shelf life and prevent bacterial contamination of your daily skin care items. However, preservatives have been found to cause skin allergies in some people. Your dermatologist can perform patch testing to confirm if you are allergic to these ingredients.

Application hack to help avoid rashes caused by your favorite deodorant: Picture your underarm as a dart board. Aim for the bull’s eye. Apply your deo right in the center of your armpit where it is naturally moist skin and don’t use it on the surrounding skin which tends to be drier skin. Use products within the hair bearing part of the armpit and not on the surrounding arm skin.