I Put Glycolic Acid On My Armpits Because TikTok Told Me To
It was all in the name of banishing B.O.
From deodorant soaps to armpit Botox injections, people are willing to go to great lengths to eliminate body odors and reduce sweat. Sometimes traditional deodorants just don’t cut it for those extremely sweaty days, but finding a natural antiperspirant that’ll keep you feeling fresh feels like an impossible task.
So when TikTok users started raiding their bathroom cabinets and swiping glycolic acid on their underarms as a deodorant substitute, I knew that I needed to put it to the test.
Can Glycolic Acid Be Used As Deodorant?
The trend was kickstarted by TikTok influencers like @4complexion sharing the hack in videos, applying toners (The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is the go-to product for many on the platform) as a DIY deodorant. Here are the basics: Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from organic sugar cane. Its small molecular size means it can penetrate deep into the skin, breaking the bonds between dead cells to smooth and refine the skin’s surface.
Its ability to brighten the complexion, improve the appearance of fine lines, and reduce discoloration has made glycolic acid a staple ingredient in cleansers, facial peels, and toners since the ’90s. According to Dr. Rachel Maiman, M.D., a certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York, this AHA also “increases skin thickness by stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin.”
Straight off the bat, let’s address the biggest misconception: Putting glycolic acid on your armpits won’t actually stop you from sweating. As disappointing as that may be, Maiman clarified the science: “In order to be considered an antiperspirant, the product must block sweat by containing an aluminum-based compound that forms a plug to block the sweat gland.” Since there’s no aluminum in sight of these toners, it’s safe to say that you’ll still be perspiring.
Don’t be entirely disheartened, however, as there’s still evidence that glycolic acid keeps odors at bay. “[Glycolic acid] makes the pH of the skin more acidic and speeds cellular turnover,” says Maiman, noting that this creates an unfavorable environment for bacteria to grow. “It can also reduce the propensity to develop ingrown hairs and speed resolution of hyperpigmentation that they tend to leave behind.”
Here’s My Take
When I first tested this hack, I was instantly impressed. Of course I was still sweating as usual, but the odor seemed to be under control. After more rigorous testing, I noticed that glycolic acid wasn’t as great at eliminating odor as I initially thought. While the smell wasn’t as prominent, it was definitely still lingering so my take is that using a glycolic acid-based toner in lieu of deodorant would do the job for a chill day at home. Would I put my faith in it for a gym session or night out on the dance floor? Absolutely not.
The Overall Verdict
As much as I want to get on board with this trend, I’m putting my glycolic acid back in the bathroom cabinet and returning to a traditional deodorant. Maiman agrees. “Personally, I would recommend avoiding the use of a glycolic acid product specifically with the intention of it acting as a deodorant,” she says.
It’s also important to note that your underarm skin is tender and sensitive. “Because the skin is somewhat thinner than other areas of the body and is prone to friction, irritation can definitely be a risk of using glycolic acid in this area,” Maiman warns. Symptoms like itching, redness, or even burning sensations can result. Be extra, extra careful if you’re shaving your armpits or undergoing laser hair removal.
“If you’re really committed to trying this trend, I think you’d be better served choosing a deodorizing product that incorporates glycolic acid, rather than it being the star ingredient,” she adds. If you go that route, a B.O.-buster like Kosas Chemistry Deodorant uses AHAs alongside other ingredients to give you the best of both worlds.
Dr. Rachel Maiman, M.D., a certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York