In recent years, there’s been a rising revolt against the classic stick deodorants. Fueled by fears about aluminum, there’s been a growing interest in natural alternatives and—for those brave enough during summer—a complete detox altogether.
A relatively new addition to this trend is alternative underarm care. There are masks, detoxes, and even toners. The latter has recently taken off, with skincare enthusiasts on TikTok swearing that using The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution on your underarms will keep away any odor. The hashtag #glycolicacidasdeodorant has racked up over 4 million views.
With rave reviews on TikTok and a growing market for body care in general, should we all be rushing to tone our armpits? Or is it yet another way to convince us we need to replace what we already have with new products?
What is underarm toner?
As with facial toner, toning products work by removing excess dirt, dead skin cells, and oil from your skin. Using a toner on your armpits will then deep-clean the area and help remove odor-causing bacteria. It’s a completely different way to think about fighting underarm odor. It’s different from regular deodorant, says Dermatologist Dr. Fatima Fahs, that instead “masks odors with fragrance” and antiperspirants, “which reduce sweat secretion by forming little plugs within our sweat-producing glands”.
Dr. Fahs says that some people argue that toners reduce our skin’s pH to more acidic, which can kill off bacteria, making it difficult for them to thrive. While our skin has a natural pH of about 5, (which is slightly acidic), armpit sweat causes it to creep up to around 7 (a more neutral level and bacteria breeding ground).
Are there any risks?
Dr. Fahs says there are definitely risks involved. “The axillary skin is prone to irritation and can be quite sensitive so using a toner to this area can result in over-exfoliation and even burning,” she says. As with use on your face, you’ll want to ensure that you’re not overusing it and over-drying this area. You’ll also want to stop if you start to have any adverse side effects and avoid using toner on your armpits directly after shaving. If you experience irritation, Dr. Fahs recommends using an over-the-counter product like Aquaphor Itch Relief Ointment for soothing. There are glycolic products specifically created with the underarms in mind, that offer a more controlled way to try this technique.
Does it work?
Because toner is bacteria-fighting and not an antiperspirant, you can’t expect it to stop you from sweating. Hopefully, you will just not smell when you do sweat. For that reason, many people opt to use toner as part of a two-step underarm care routine that’s followed by natural deodorant, as another means of fighting odor. Toner can, however, help with underarm pigmentation when used correctly, says Dr. Fahs.
“Dark underarms are a common complaint with not a lot of simple solutions,” she told NYLON. “Toners that contain ingredients like glycolic acid can indeed be helpful at brightening this area through exfoliation by sloughing off the top layer of skin cells over time.”
Other natural alternatives to deodorant, like Surface Deep’s Antiodorant Spray, also work to prevent odor and leave the skin with a neutral pH and smooth surface without residue. Alicia Zalka, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist and Founder of Surface Deep, says the product “allows you to smell like you without odor”. Zalka previously that stick-type deodorant wasn’t leaving her feeling clean. She hasn’t used deodorant in six years and says experiences “clean odor-free skin” every day.
How to make the switch
Starting to use toner under your arms is no different from how you would use it on your face, sweeping a small amount of toner from a cotton pad over the area. Then, whether you follow up with antiperspirant deodorant to combat sweating during a hot day or a gym session is entirely up to you. Because results will be different than using a standard antiperspirant or deodorant, you might not want to try this new method on a day you’re counting on smelling powder fresh.
Above all, remember to be gentle while finding an alternative deodorant routine. “Underarms should be treated with love. Do underarm hair removal with care. Never shave without shave gel or lotion. Change razors often,” said Dr. Zalka. Also, remember that underarm toner might not be for everyone and that there are currently no conclusive links between antiperspirant use and the development of breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease (two of the biggest fears around aluminum in deodorant).
Dr. Fahs says that while she can see the possible benefit of using underarm toner if you’re someone struggling with dark underarms, we ultimately “definitely don’t need a 20 step skincare routine for our armpits”. With that in mind, partaking in this new beauty trend is entirely up to you.