Deodorants, which are classified as cosmetic agents by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have antimicrobial activities to reduce the growth of bacteria, as well as fragrances to mask any odors that are produced by the bacteria. Antiperspirants are classified as drugs by the FDA, and usually contain aluminum, which acts to reduce the production of sweat by the sweat glands.
Reactions to Deodorants and AntiperspirantsDeodorants and antiperspirants are generally considered to be safe products. In the past, there was concern that parabens (used as a preservative) in these products were responsible for the increase in breast cancer rates in women. While this has been disproven in a number of studies, most manufacturers no longer use parabens in deodorants and antiperspirants. Aluminum, found in antiperspirants, has been blamed on the increase in Alzheimer’s disease. While somewhat controversial, a few studies do show a slight increase in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease from the use of aluminum containing cosmetic products, such as antiperspirants.
Allergic reactions to deodorants and antiperspirants are known to occur, which most often result in contact dermatitis of the underarm area. The rash that occurs is itchy, bumpy, and red and can blister, peel, flake and ooze. Contact dermatitis to deodorants and antiperspirants is usually limited to the site of application, namely the underarm area.
Causes of Contact Dermatitis to Deodorants and AntiperspirantsThere are a number of chemicals responsible for contact dermatitis from deodorants and antiperspirants, the most common of which are fragrances. Fragrance allergy is very common, affecting up to 4% of all people. Since 90% deodorants and antiperspirants contain fragrances, people with fragrance allergy may have a difficult time finding a product that doesn’t cause a rash.
Other common causes of contact dermatitis to deodorants and antiperspirants include propylene glycol (a vehicle agent used as a "carrier" for active ingredients), parabens, vitamin E (as an antioxidant and moisturizer) and lanolin.
Diagnosis of Deodorant and Antiperspirant AllergyThe diagnosis of contact dermatitis to deodorants and antiperspirants is made by patch testing. The only FDA approved patch testing system in the United States is the T.R.U.E test, which can fail to detect an allergy to uncommon fragrances and propylene glycol. Therefore, it is important that an allergist patch tests a patient's own deodorant or antiperspirant that is suspected of causing the problem.
There are other causes of underarm rashes not caused by contact dermatitis to deodorants and antiperspirants. These include (but are not limited to) fungal and yeast infections (such as tinea corporis and candidiasis), inverse psoriasis, acanthosis nigricans, and certain forms of cancer. If treatments are ineffective, then a person with a persistent underarm rash should be evaluated by a dermatologist, with the consideration for a skin biopsy.
Treatment of Deodorant and Antiperspirant AllergyThe immediate treatment of deodorant and antiperspirant allergy is the use of topical corticosteroids on the underarm skin. Topical corticosteroids are the treatment of choice for mild to moderate contact dermatitis involving limited areas of the body. Severe forms may require oral or injected corticosteroids.
The long-term treatment of deodorant and antiperspirant allergy involves the avoidance of the chemical responsible for the reaction. If patch testing identifies the specific chemical, then that chemical can be avoided. If the cause of the contact dermatitis is not known, then a hypoallergenic formula of a deodorant or antiperspirant can be tried. Alternatively, naturally available zeolite crystals are available commercially as natural alternatives to deodorants and antiperspirants. These include the Crystal Body Deodorant, which is available at common drugstores nationwide.
Examples of Hypoallergenic Deodorants and Antiperspirants
- Almay Hypo-Allergenic Fragrance Free Roll On (Deodorant and Antiperspirant)
- Mitchum Roll-On Unscented (Deodorant and Antiperspirant)
- Stiefel B-Drier (Deodorant and Antiperspirant)
- Certain Dri (Antiperspirant)
- Crystal Roll-On Body Deodorant for Sensitive Skin (Deodorant)
- Crystal Stick Body Deodorant for Sensitive Skin (Deodorant)
- Secret Soft Solid Platinum Deodorant Unscented
Read more about cosmetic allergies.
Zirwas MJ, Moennich J. Antiperspirant and Deodorant Allergy. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2008; 3: 38-43.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.