The idea of a detox can either sound super appealing or pretty gross (or a mix of both). Whether you’re detoxing your gut, the pores on your face, or your armpits, the main goal is to rid the body of toxins — aka unwanted pollutants, bacteria, and other buildup — so that you feel healthier.
On TikTok, users have been all about documenting their armpit detox journey (the hashtag #armpitdetox currently has over 4 million views). In the most viral videos, someone who is either switching from an antiperspirant to a natural deodorant or simply wants to combat B.O. applies a “detox” mask — usually made of clay and apple cider vinegar — to their underarms in an effort to unclog pores and release impurities. The purported result? Less of a funky smell.
Does the self-care practice actually work? Do your pits need to be detoxed? Read on for what the experts have to say.
What It Means To Do An Armpit Detox
A quick refresher: Antiperspirants — aka traditional aluminum-based deodorants — prevent you from sweating, while natural (read: aluminum-free) deodorants simply help offset body odor. And its antiperspirants that have gotten a bad rap: Since they stop your sweat, some folks argue that it traps unwanted toxins in the body. That said, it’s important to note that despite having been linked to breast cancer and hormone disruption, there’s not any scientific evidence that aluminum-based deodorants cause any serious issues.
If you’re using a natural deodorant, however, you likely already know about how it doesn’t completely mask B.O. “Since nothing in [natural deododrants] cuts down on the bacterial population at the skin surface nor decreases the amount of sweat reaching it, they do very little to stop underarm odor,” says Dr. Daniel P. Friedmann, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology.
That’s where an armpit detox comes in: They’re touted as a DIY way to help reduce body odor, which is a very real side effect of ditching antiperspirants in favor of letting your body sweat freely. Because of the sweat, the idea is that impurities can leave your body. “We all absorb toxins every day, some more than others depending on lifestyle,” Dr. Jenelle Kim, DACM, L.Ac., a doctor of Chinese medicine and the founder and lead formulator for JBK Wellness Labs, tells Bustle. “Toxins could include chemical and synthetic ingredients our skin absorbs from lotions or other body care products, artificial ingredients in the food we eat, and even pollution from the air around us.”
When you stop using antiperspirant and then unclog your pores by using a mask, these things can purportedly exit the body without impediment. That said, the jury’s out on whether your body (let alone a mask treatment) can truly detoxify all of these impurities. According to Kim, lots of toxins can only be filtered through our kidneys and liver. “But there is some evidence that heavy metals and ingredients from plastic, such as phthalates and BPA, can be filtered out through our sweat as well,” she tells Bustle.
The ever-popular DIY armpit detox mask that’s all over TikTok typically contains just two ingredients that purportedly speed up the sweat-out-the-toxin process: clay and ACV. The ACV is mildly acidic, which could add an extra exfoliating effect. It’s also antimicrobial, Kim says, which has a helpful function in regards to B.O. “Since the odor from sweat really comes from the bacteria on our skin's surface reacting to the molecules in our sweat, a natural and skin-safe microbial like apple cider vinegar could reduce odor,” she says.
Clay, on the other hand, works to remove gunk from your skin. “Clay masks encourage the pores to open and begin producing sweat to push out what has been trapped in the sweat gland, which can shorten the length of time you experience an increased odor,” says Kim.
Do You *Need* To Detox Your Armpits?
If body odor is your main concern, an armpit detox could make you less smelly as your body adjusts to a natural deodorant. “Switching from an antiperspirant to a deodorant creates more humidity, and suddenly these [odor-causing] bacteria can thrive where they haven't before,” says Dr. Beth Goldstein, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist.
Underarm masks come to the rescue because they encourage you to spend a little more time in the shower, which in turn cleanses the skin and removes stinky bacterial populations so less smelly ones can take their place, says Goldstein. Hint: You can also do this the old-fashioned way with soap and water, or with a pumice or loofah.
There’s also the psychological benefit that comes from pampering yourself, Goldstein says. Whether you’re applying a mask to your face or your armpits, a self-care ritual is never a bad thing.
How To Detox Your Armpits
If you’re interested in trying the practice for yourself, simply smooth the clay and ACV mixture onto your pits, just like you see in the TikTok below. Let it dry for 10 to 20 minutes, thoroughly wash the area in the shower, and then do sniff tests throughout the day to see how your B.O. is holding up. You can always carry your deodorant around with you and reapply as needed, or simply bask in your natural scent.
Just remember to be gentle and go slow when trying anything new. “Armpit skin is uniquely sensitive because it's thin, soft, and usually occluded,” Goldstein says. To make sure your skin doesn’t have an adverse reaction to the mask, she recommends applying a small amount of any new product or ingredient mixture to your underarms, waiting a full two days (that’s usually how long it takes for a rash to develop), and seeing how you feel. Who knows? You might end up loving the results.
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Dr. Daniel P. Friedmann, M.D., FAAD, board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Beth Goldstein, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Jenelle Kim, DACM, L.Ac., doctor of Chinese Medicine