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Do I Need Whole-Body Deodorant?

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Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

If you’ve seen whole-body deodorants from brands such as Lume, Megababe, Native, Dove, and others and wondered, Do I really need this? or thought, sanctimoniously, No one needs this!, then these products probably aren’t for you. But many people have been thrilled that there are now long-lasting deodorants that work on all types of body odor — and, in some cases, absorb or reduce sweat — without irritating areas of skin that may be more sensitive than underarms. “I had patients who would try to use antiperspirants and/or deodorants on other parts of their body,” says board-certified dermatologist DiAnne Davis, MD. “At times, they would find some products too irritating for skin areas such as under the breasts or between the thighs.”

Does whole-body deodorant … work?

The short answer is yes. It does. The long answer is whether or not it’s right for you depends on where you plan to apply it and why you think you need it. (Not everyone needs it.)

Native Whole Body Deodorant

Native Whole Body Deodorant

$14 at Amazon

$13 at Native

Lume Deodorant Cream Tube Deodorant + Sweat Control

Lume Deodorant Cream Tube Deodorant + Sweat Control

$21 at Amazon

Who needs whole-body deodorant?

Not everyone (like it is marketed). People who sweat excessively may be inclined to try whole-body deodorant (more sweat means more fuel for odor-producing bacteria). This group includes more than 15 million Americans with primary hyperhidrosis. But it also includes people with diabetes, anxiety, or any of the other medical conditions that can cause excessive sweating, as well as those who have skin folds, experience hot flashes, or take medications that can cause excess perspiration, such as some antidepressants and NSAIDs.

All-over deo may also be right for people who don’t sweat excessively but are self-conscious about their body odor. If you’re one of them, it’s important to recognize that how you approach your body odor is a choice, says board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist Shieva Ghofrany, MD. “There may be cultural norms in some places, like here in the United States, but other cultures will treat these things completely differently,” she says. “So I really want to stress that you don’t have to do anything.”

Where and how do you apply whole-body deodorant?

These products “should only be used on areas that someone is concerned about body odor,” says board-certified dermatologist Carmen Castilla, MD. “They are not meant to be used as an all-over body lotion.” You can use them on your underarms, hands, chest, butt, feet, or wherever you sweat the most. If you use them between skin folds, on your inner thighs, under your breasts, or on your vulva, you may want to test the area first to ensure the product doesn’t cause irritation. (Don’t use these products internally, in your vagina, or where they might migrate into your urethra or rectum.) And make sure to read the directions! Some whole-body deodorants are meant to be misted on, others need to be rubbed in, and the amount you should apply varies based on the format and formula.

Are whole-body deodorants different from regular deodorant?

Body odor is produced by the plethora of bacteria that populates our skin. Most scented and unscented whole-body deodorants contain ingredients, such as magnesium hydroxide or mandelic or lactic acids, that slow the growth of odor-causing microbes and/or lower skin pH slightly, making it less hospitable to bacteria. These sprays, sticks, and creams work differently from traditional (scented and unscented) deodorants, which have ingredients like starches and clays that temporarily absorb some sweat and may be irritating. Baking soda, for example, is often used in traditional deodorants: “It’s very alkaline, so the concern is that it will disrupt the skin barrier and lead to irritation,” says board-certified dermatologist Carmen Castilla, MD. Whole-body deodorants also work differently from antiperspirants, which have ingredients like aluminum salts that temporarily block sweat from being released.

That said, there’s no regulation of the terms all-over deodorant and whole-body deodorant, so you won’t know exactly what you’re getting unless you look at ingredients lists and read how the products work. Confusingly, there are now whole-body deodorizing creams, like Lume Cream Tube Deodorant + Sweat Control, that also contain sweat-blocking aluminum salts. And then there are products, like Native Deodorant & Body Sprays, that don’t contain sweat blockers or bacteria disruptors; they’re basically just alcohol-based fragranced body sprays (think: Axe) dressed up with a new name. These sprays may mask odor, and some will work well for sensitive skin, but they probably won’t be able to claim anything like “72 hour odor protection,” which seems to be the new norm in the all-over deo category.

Where did whole-body deodorant come from?

One of the first of these products was probably Lume, which was marketed as a “deodorant for underarms and private parts” when it launched in 2017. The brand’s founder, Shannon Klingman, MD, is an obstetrics-and-gynecology specialist, and her pitch for the product was that because it controlled body odor differently than traditional deodorants, its odor-reducing abilities lasted longer and it wouldn’t irritate sensitive skin, making it safe for use all over. (She thought some women were being misdiagnosed with bacterial vaginosis, which causes an internal vaginal odor, when they really had body odor caused by bacteria present on their external skin.) Lume’s popularity was likely aided by a societal self-consciousness that bloomed after the pandemic, when we returned to crowded subway cars and close quarters with strangers. (An influx of marketing cash when the company was acquired in 2021 probably didn’t hurt either.) As the whole-body deo category took off, more companies launched their own versions of the product.

And if you’ve read this far and think one reason some people may be self-conscious about their body odor is because they’re seeing so many ads for whole-body deodorant, I’d say you’re not giving them enough credit. There are hundreds of products that were designed to solve or treat “problems” that were wholly created by marketers responding to cultural conventions, and people who buy whole-body deodorant know this just as well as you do. They’re simply making a different choice than you would.

Native Whole Body Deodorant Spray

Native Whole Body Deodorant Spray

$14 at Native

Send your questions to AskABeautyEditor@nymag.com. (By emailing, you agree to the terms here.)

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Jennifer G. Sullivan , 2024-05-08 20:55:23

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