As the wellness movement has increased bodily awareness and inspired us to embrace traditionally less-thought-of parts of our physical being, underarm care has emerged as a new category, one that’s particularly intriguing as the past two years has, for many of us, brought on an abundance of sweat stress. (Or is that just me?) The good news is, perspiration is absolutely a good thing—especially now.
“For humans, the physiology of sweating is crucial to maintaining a safe and healthy body temperature,” says Alicia Zalka, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep, who goes on to explain that we offset excess heat from our bodies by way of our built-in cooling mechanism. “When the body produces too much heat, sweat droplets from within sweat glands are produced,” she continues. “Through the portals of microscopic sweat ducts, moisture permeates on the skin surface. As the moisture of sweat meets the air by evaporation, it releases [and] heat and cooling takes place.”
As important as sweating is to helping the body stay balanced, its outcomes aren’t always desirable—especially when there’s an excess of body odour. But what many don’t realise about sweat is that at its source, it has no smell. “It gains odour when the bacteria known as corynebacterium present on the skin interacts with the sweat and oils creating the smell we know as ‘body odour,’” explains Dr Zalka. That’s where underarm care, from thorough cleansing and exfoliating to a refreshing deodorant, comes in: to not only to keep odour under control, but also contribute to your body’s overall well-being. Here, a guide to how you can detox and nourish your underarms.
Underarms are a part of the body that’s considered an intertriginous zone, which means that due to the folding of the skin, it’s prone to being moist due to lack of airflow, and it can often harbour particular bacteria and fungal-yeast organisms. “Proper care and cleansing is important to reduce unwanted moisture and keep the natural balance of the microbiome,” explains Dr Zalka. “Yet, doing so must be approached delicately.” She recommends washing your underarms once a day (no more, unless you have a very athletic or physically demanding job or hobby) and alternating between different pH-balanced body or underarm cleansers. One such option is the Kaia Naturals Underarm Bar, which is powered by detoxifying charcoal. “Sweat doesn’t smell—it creates food for bacteria to feed on, and this is what causes the odour,” says Mary Futher, the founder of Kaia Naturals, who is known on TikTok as @MadameSweat. “When you address odour-causing bacteria, you will push your odour-free hours much farther. It’s a necessary step for a natural-deodorant routine, especially as it does not prevent sweat; it stops you from smelling.”
Eucerin Advanced Cleansing Body and Face Cleanser
Kaia Naturals The Underarm Bar
Glossier Body Hero Cleanse + Exfoliate Duo
Goshi Exfoliating Shower Towel
Like the face, underarms can be impacted by skin sensitivity and irritation. According to Dr Zalka, “too much oil, clogged pores, pimples (known as folliculitis), and a buildup of dead, dull, and sometimes discoloured skin cells,” are all reasons exfoliation should extend below the neck. To this end, there are physical exfoliants, which are masks or scrubs that manually remove dead skin cells and debris, or chemical exfoliants, such as toners, that harness the power of AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs to gently melt away the buildup. To avoid irritation, Dr Zalka is partial to the latter, and recommends using a glycolic toner (no more than 5 percent of glycolic acid) to slough away dead skin and improve overall tone and texture, and/or using exfoliating deodorant pads such as Surface Deep’s innovative Anti-Odorant Pads, which team fruit-based glycolic acids with probiotics and antioxidant-rich ingredients to inhibit the bacteria that cause bad odour and reset the natural balance of the skin’s microbiome.
Surface Deep Anti-Odorant Pads
Soft Services Buffing Bar Microcrystal Exfoliant
Megababe Happy Pits Detoxifying Underarm Mask
Lavanila The Healthy Underarm Detox Mask
If you shave, do so gently
If you choose to shave your underarms, think of doing so like skiing. “If not done on a smooth surface, you are skiing moguls, and it is a bumpy experience,” explains Dr Zalka. “You want to glide down to prevent razor ouches.” For a smooth shave, a shave gel (or at least a moisturising cleanser) in a warm shower is critical to prevent razor burn and razor bumps, she emphasises. If you’re prone to irritation or want to safeguard against ingrown hairs as much as possible, prep the night before. “Go to bed with a thin layer of moisturiser on the area you will be shaving,” instructs Dr Zalka. “This will create a friction-free experience the next day.” Razor-wise, be sure to change your razor at least once every one to two weeks. “It’s expensive, but prevents problems!” Dr Zalka emphasises.
Flamingo Shave Set
Athena Club Smooth Skin Trio
Fur Moisturizing Shave Cream
Ursa Major Stellar Shave Cream
In the same ways your face and body crave moisture, your underarms need hydration to look and feel their best. They just don’t need it quite as frequently. Since they are damp, Dr Zalka recommends using a pH-balanced underarm or body lotion once or twice a week, or more as needed for dryness. Another tip for keeping underarms smooth and supple: “If you notice irritation, take a break from shaving and deodorant,” she says.
PiperWai Underarm Oil
Humanrace Humidifying Body Cream
Billie Dry-Bye Body Lotion
Obagi Medical IDR Exfoliating and Hydrating Lotion
In navigating the deodorant market, Dr Zalka’s foremost advice is: Listen to your body. “If your deodorant is causing irritation or leaving too much residue on your skin and clothing, choose another.” If you want to take things to the next level, consider opting for one that is “clean and simple,” i.e. fragrance-free, and avoid phthalates, parabens, sulfates, or dyes. “Look for products with the fewest chemicals,” she says. “Isn’t that the case with the foods we eat, too?” Additionally, unless you need to block moisture because you have excessive sweating (known as hyperhidrosis), Dr Zalka advises avoiding aluminium in your deodorant. “Aluminium-containing antiperspirants are lifesavers for some, but we don’t all need aluminium in our day-to-day underarm care,” she explains. “It is possible to prevent odour without blocking sweat. Sweat is intentional; odour is preventable.”