Channel your inner Dr. Meredith Grey, and imagine a patient complaining of itchiness, chafing, redness, and bumps under her arms that make it painful to move the upper body. What’s the diagnosis? Barring an invented-for-TV tropical virus, the most likely cause is an allergic reaction to deodorant. But really, is there such a thing as a deodorant allergy?
Before you freak out that you’re doomed to stink forever, here’s the good news: it’s impossible to be allergic to all deodorants, because they come in so many different sizes, formulas, and applications (ever tried deodorant in a tube?). However, you can become sensitive to certain ingredients that are commonly found in deodorants, and that sensitivity may lead to an allergic reaction.
Here’s what to know about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of an allergic reaction to deodorant.
Symptoms of a deodorant allergy
Redness, bumpiness, itchiness, and general irritation under your arms are the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction to deodorant, which often manifests as contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is an itchy skin rash that’s usually caused by a substance coming into direct contact with your skin—like applying deodorant under your arms.
Keep in mind, your underarms are way more sensitive to potential irritants than other parts of your body; that’s because the underarms are damper and darker than other body parts, lowering their threshold to irritation. If that same ingredient that’s causing an allergic reaction under your arms comes into contact with other parts of your body, you might not have the same intense reaction that pops up under your arms.
Causes of an allergic reaction to deodorant
Your deodorant’s ingredients are likely to blame for an allergic reaction—and yes, that still applies even if you’re using a natural deodorant. There are three big irritants that might be the culprits:
Baking soda: This common household staple may seem harmless, but some people’s underarms have a lower tolerance for irritation from baking soda. Most natural deodorants that rely on baking soda as their main ingredient have a gritty texture that feels about as gentle as sandpaper on your skin (as in, not at all). And of course, some people’s natural pH just doesn’t mesh with that of baking soda, making them especially vulnerable to an allergic reaction.
But baking soda is a proven odor neutralizer, and it can be a powerful ally in your fight against underarm stink when used appropriately. So instead, look for a clean deodorant that uses the smallest amount necessary to get those anti-stink results you need. Type:A is silky soft and uses a clever sweat-activated technology, so our ingredients only kick in when you really need them, thus protecting you from unnecessary discomfort. Hey, less is more, right?
Fragrance: Many traditional deodorants add "fragrance" to their formulas to strengthen their odor-masking properties; "fragrances" which are often made up of thousands of man-made chemicals and potential irritants. Most brands simply list “fragrance” on the packaging so, if you're using one of these brands and have a reaction, you'll never actually know which fragrance ingredient might be causing it.
If you think fragrance might be to blame for your deodorant rash, try switching to a brand that lists all of their fragrance ingredients right where you can see them (so you can see if there's any potential irritants listed here). We list all our ingredients right on the tube, so you always know what you’re putting on your body (and you get the peace of mind of knowing that the ingredients are all proven to be non-toxic, too).
Essential oils: We know, the horror! We love our essential oils too (especially in a diffuser as part of our nightly self-care practice), but the sad truth is that some people are sensitive to them. Essential oils might be in a deodorant as a fragrance-boosting ingredient; you can opt for an unscented deodorant that’s free from fragrance AND essential oils just to be safe, like The Minimalist.
And if you’ve never had an allergic reaction to deodorant before but one surprises you out of nowhere one day, look to your environment for potential causes. Things like your soap, your laundry detergent, your household cleaning products, your lotions, and more can all interact with your body to make your skin suddenly sensitive to a formula that didn’t bother you at all previously.
How to treat an allergic reaction to deodorant
First: step away from the offending deodorant. Continuing to use the deodorant will only make your irritation worse.
Your next move is a rescue mission for your damaged skin. Apply a hydrating, restorative balm to the inflamed area. You can use a multi-purpose skin balm formulated for sensitive skin (pro tip: baby lotions totally work), an anti-inflammatory cream or you can get scrappy with items you already have in your kitchen, like extra virgin coconut oil or Manuka honey. For best results, do this right before you go to bed (your skin naturally replenishes itself at night, anyway).
As you wait for your deodorant rash to clear up, cut your skin a break and wear loose, flowy tops in soft fabrics that won’t pull and pinch at your delicate underarm skin. (Yes, we’re giving you permission to wear your baggiest, hanging-by-a-thread-from-college sweatpants and sweatshirts 24/7, if that’s what you need to do.) This break from form-fitting clothes lets your skin breathe and heal while reducing friction that could cause further irritation.
Finally, re-evaluate your shaving routine. Applying deodorant right after shaving can cause irritation, since your skin has just been ‘exfoliated’ and is at its most vulnerable. Instead, wait 20-30 minutes after shaving to apply deodorant. Or, shower and shave in the evening, and apply deo in the morning.
Allergic reactions to deodorant are uncomfortable, but understanding the ingredients you’re sensitive to will help you avoid any irritation. Your best bet is using a non-toxic deodorant that clearly lists its ingredients on the label, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ll never experience chafing again.
If you're concerned that fragrance might be the cause of your deodorant allergy, then you might want to give The Minimalist a try.
Written by Kristen Geil