Sometimes, in attempting to “cure” a problem, the methods you use can result in a worsening of the problem you’re trying to solve. Many studies have shown that this may be the case in regards to antiperspirants – deodorants that use antimicrobial agents to kill odour-causing bacteria, and other agents such as aluminium that block your sweat glands. According to a recent article in Real Clear Science:
“While most of us might only concern ourselves with the dry, aromatic benefits of antiperspirants and deodorants, researchers and the Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology at the University of Ghent in Belgium are more interested in the effects on bacteria. Billions of bacterial dwell in the “rain forests” under our arms, and the substances we don are mucking with their habitats!”
How Antiperspirants Affect Your Armpits
The study performed at the University of Ghent revealed something significant: every subject in the study ended up altering the bacterial composition of their armpits by using antiperspirants.
While determining the exact changes was a challenge – after all, every person’s microbiome is different – researchers did find a clear trend: the subjects who used antiperspirants saw a marked increase in something called Actinobacteria.
Actinobacteria are largely responsible for what we all recognize as that signature foul-smelling armpit odour. Other bacteria that inhabit the armpit, such as Firmicutes and Staphylococcus, don’t produce odours as quickly or noticeable.
Much like with bacteria that inhabit your stomach, when beneficial bacteria are killed off, more potentially harmful bacteria are allowed to take their place.
In this case, less odour-causing bacteria are killed off by aluminium compounds, which are the active ingredient in most antiperspirants. This allows other bacteria, which produce more noticeable odours, to thrive in that same environment.
The ultimate message the study produced was surprising: while using antiperspirants caused an increase in odour-causing Actinobacteria, quitting the use of antiperspirants did the opposite.
While using antiperspirants can make your personal body odour more pronounced in the long run, not using antiperspirants can eventually mellow the smell.