Whole-Body Deodorants Are Trending – But Are They Necessary?

Experts break down the buzzy product.

by Elise Tabin
whole-body deodorants
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I'll never forget the first time I saw a girl in my freshman high school PE class reach into her gym locker, pull out a bottle of Secret deodorant, and swipe it across the soles of her feet and then under her breasts. I immediately thought, "What the heck is she doing, and why?" She picked up on the utterly confused look on my face and jabbed back with, "I sweat everywhere, and this helps me, OK?" I guess my classmate was onto the concept of whole-body deodorant way back when.

Even though most of us are taught to wear deodorant under our arms, the armpits aren't the only part of the body that gets smelly and sweaty. Other areas are equally susceptible to harboring sweat, including the feet, groin, underboob, stomach folds, thighs, pubic area, chest, butt, and beyond. According to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry, M.D., whole-body deodorants are the answer to head-to-toe sweating. When bacteria on the skin mixes with sweat, there's the potential for not-so-pleasant odor, a.k.a. the dreaded body odor (BO), which can affect self-confidence. And that's where this new breed of products designed to be used on every nook and cranny come into play.

For years, there haven’t been great options for people with body odor issues beyond what’s caused by underarm sweat. Perfume temporarily covers it, body wash provides short-term relief, if any, and medications are reserved for more extreme cases. There's an emotional component to body odor concerns, too, and some experts, including Dr. Karan Lal, D.O., a double-board certified pediatric and cosmetic dermatologist, say there's an association between body odor and a poor quality of life. "For some, it can inhibit them from daily activities," he shares. "For example, a lot of my patients with hidradenitis (a skin condition that causes abscesses and scarring) do not go out at night or go to the gym because of odor from their disease." No matter the cause of unwanted body odor, there's no need to swipe your regular underarm deodorant from head-to-toe to control how you smell, thanks to the new category of whole body deodorants. Ahead, three dermatologists get into everything there is to know about these products. Plus, TZR shares our top odor-neutralizing product picks.


What Is Whole-Body Deodorant?

Of-the-moment whole-body deodorant is exactly what it sounds like: a product that can be used on multiple body parts, in addition to the armpits, like the feet, groin, back of the neck, and even the face to help minimize body odors. "Whole-body deodorants work by limiting the growth of bacteria on the skin surface that contribute to odor formation, absorbing excess moisture, or masking odor with other fragrances," says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D. "Body odor develops when bacteria on the skin surface metabolize sweat and form pungent aromatic compounds. Yet these products, which are a novel take on a skin care product, draw attention to sources of odor that might be otherwise neglected. They contain ingredients that limit the proliferation of those bacteria," he explains.

Whole-body deodorants are available in various formulations, like creams, lotions, powders, sticks, and sprays, making them more compatible with multiple body parts. Most formulas contain odor-absorbing ingredients, like mandelic acid, which Henry explains works to acidify the environment and reduce the proliferation of the bacteria that contribute to unwanted smells. "It's not our sweat that smells but rather the byproducts of the bacteria-eating sweat that creates body odor. That's why it is important to reduce the proliferation of that bacteria," she explains. Other ingredients in whole-body deodorants that may help absorb excess moisture include tapioca starch and sodium bicarbonate.

One caveat of these products is that they're not a stand-in solution for more severe and extreme sweat-induced conditions like hyperhidrosis, fueled by oversensitive nerves. Everyone has a different rate of sweat production, which is why Henry says that for someone with hyperhidrosis, who creates a lot more sweat than the average person, a whole-body deodorant might not be the right fit. Instead, your dermatologist can prescribe medication or drying creams to control it.

But they can be a good solution for anyone who wants to mask body odor. Lal also recommends them for smokers looking to tackle the lingering scent of smoke, those with hidradenitis, and people who frequently work out and want to prevent odor from interfering with their daily activities.


Is Whole-Body Deodorant Safe To Use Everywhere?

All dermatologists agree the areas entirely off limits are any orifice or mucus membrane opening, including the inside of the nose, butt, vaginal opening, and vagina itself. Using whole body-deodorants on these areas can destroy the existing microbiome and worsen the odor. Many formulas also contain essential oils and natural fragrances, which can irritate more sensitive parts of the body, so be cautious about where you apply the product.

If you are new to whole-body deodorant, always patch-test a new product on a small area first, like the inner arm. This way, if there's an allergic or adverse reaction, a rash, or a skin sensitivity, it's contained to a small patch of skin.


Whole Body Deodorants Vs. Traditional Deodorant

The most significant point of differentiation between traditional deodorant worn under the arms and whole-body deodorant is that these use-almost-everywhere formulas do not contain antiperspirant, which is technically classified as a drug and must be FDA-approved. "Antiperspirants target sweat production but not odor," Lal says. "They contain aluminum salts to reduce sweating over time. Aluminum salts are known to clog the pores in the underarm area that produce sweat therefore inhibiting sweat production." Since whole-body deodorants are not antiperspirants, they cannot claim the same sweat-limiting benefits as those worn under the arms.

In traditional underarm deodorants, you will likely find ingredients and fragrances that Henry says are potentially more irritating to delicate areas. "Those deodorants are not generally safe to use in the groin and genital area, whereas whole-body deodorants use ingredients that are safe for the entire body and less likely to cause irritation and inflammation in more sensitive areas," she notes. While traditional deodorants contain fragrance to help mask the odor, body formulas are often formulated with essential oils and mandelic acid, which have antimicrobial properties to kill the bacteria on the skin that produces odor. However, even if you use whole body deodorant on your sweatiest parts, there's the chance that wetness can still ensue since these products tend to focus more on odor than they do sweat.

How To Find The Best Whole-Body Deodorant

Henry recommends looking for easy-to-use whole-body deodorants that aren't aluminum-based and spread onto the skin well. Look for ones with acidifying ingredients such as mandelic acid to help neutralize odor and tapioca starch or sodium bicarbonate to absorb sweat. Essential oils like tea tree, peppermint, and eucalyptus oils are also helpful in warding off body odor, but proceed cautiously since high concentrations of some essential oils can lead to skin irritations. Camp also recommends formulations with moisturizing ingredients and even antioxidants, which promote overall skin health. "For those with sensitive or eczema-prone skin, avoid products with dyes and fragrances," he adds.

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