When You Skip Deodorant, This Is What Happens

Applying deodorant is a practically-unquestioned rule of hygiene in the United States. It's right up there with other patriotic icons like baseball, apple pie, and super-sized portions. But a surprising number of health and wellness renegades, including up to 40 percent of youth aged 18 to 24, have dared to buck the trend and go au natural — to mixed reviews from family and friends (via YouGov). Here's what's likely to happen if you decide to join them.

The main purpose of deodorant is to cover up unpleasant odors by killing odor-causing bacteria, using antimicrobial agents or alcohol. Deodorants don't actually reduce the amount of sweat produced, though. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, actually work to prevent sweating by plugging underarm sweat ducts, usually with aluminum salts. Both products work to prevent odor, just in different ways.

Both deodorant and antiperspirant reduce odor

Actual underarm B.O. is caused by a reaction between the sweat (which by itself is unscented) and bacteria on the surface of the skin. As research scientist Daniel Bawdon told The Independent, "Those odorless molecules come out from the underarm, they interact with the active microbiota, and they're broken down inside the bacteria." The bacteria then emit an organosulphur compound which, to the discerning nose, smells like onions, meat, or sulphur.

So what happens if you stop using them? Well, as Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visage Dermatology and Aesthetic Center told Best Life, you'll be "vulnerable to body odor." In other words, you're likely to stink. And what's more, bacteria build-up on the skin can lead to underarm rashes over time — so frequent washing is definitely a must.

Also, you might notice a temporary increase in how much you sweat, especially if you normally wear antiperspirant instead of an aluminum-free option (via Well + Good). That, combined with the fact that bacteria multiply easily in damp, warm environments, means the B.O. might get worse before it gets better.

But taking a break from both may help with your skin

Even though the unpleasant smell of B.O. returns when you skimp on deodorant or antiperspirant, it may not be a bad thing if you're okay with the smell. In fact, skipping antiperspirants in particular can benefit skin health by potentially resetting the skin's microbiome. Certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner points out to Well+Good, "Some people speculate that stopping use will help your skin's natural microbiome reset, though it is unclear whether this has any significant impact on your health." More research is needed to confirm this.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that it's possible for the body to become resistant to certain types of antiperspirants, shares Dr. Lyall Gorenstein, a surgical director at the Columbia University Hyperhidrosis Center (via Well + Good). Factors such as excessive sweating, stress, and aggressive cleaning of your armpits can amplify body odor (per Livestrong). Well+Good adds that if your deodorant no longer works the way it should, perhaps taking a break from that specific brand will do your skin some good.

You may reduce your exposure to parabens

The potential link between antiperspirants and cancer has been well-debated. Since antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds, some people claim that these compounds have the ability to change breast cells and increase the likelihood of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). However, newer research suggests those theories are outdated, points out Medical News Today.

Parabens come into play because these preservatives are also found in deodorants and antiperspirants. According to Medical News Today, when products with parabens permeate the skin, they may enter the bloodstream and mimic the effects of estrogen. For this reason, parabens can potentially support the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancers. Although one 2021 study found that there is minimal evidence that parabens pose a risk to human health, there are accounts of parabens found in breast tumors (via Breastcancer.org).

Keep in mind that most deodorant or antiperspirants do not contain parabens and there is no evidence that parabens lead to breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Believe it or not, this preservative can also be found in other beauty and cosmetics products.

Regardless, if you're skipping deodorant, you may reduce your exposure to parabens via omission.

You may start exploring other underarm care habits

Eliminating body odor with deodorant or antiperspirant isn't the only way to care for your armpits. When it comes to underarm hygiene, there are other healthy habits you may also want to consider to help balance the microbiome of the pits since this area is prone to storing fungal-yeast organisms and bacteria (via Vogue). Dermatologist Alicia Zalka tells Vogue that it's important to cleanse daily and exfoliate the underarm regularly to dislodge the buildup of oil and dead skin cells.

Make sure to wash that area regularly, as it will help kill the bacteria under your arms. Without proper cleaning (and deodorant or antiperspirant), sweat build-up can occur which could lead to bacteria-related rashes (via BestLife).

For those who shave their armpit hair, be mindful when shaving and gently apply a moisturizer afterward. Similar to other parts of your body, underarms crave hydration and moisture. This will also prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, shares certified dermatologist Dr. Julie E. Russak (via Today).

It's important to note these underarm habits promote healthy arm pits, but don't help with B.O. — that's where deodorant comes in.