Of all the male grooming challenges a man faces, avoiding body odour is probably the most pressing. Just as well, then, that techniques for deodorising have advanced somewhat since Victorian times, when the favoured way for a man to combat body odour was to sponge his armpits with sulphuric acid. (You might want to remember this next time you’re feeling the burn from that deodorant you picked up in the supermarket.)
Thankfully, these days there’s a plethora of products to keep your armpits smelling sweet – from hardcore antiperspirants designed to tackle the most excessive of sweating to more delicate deodorants to help keep body odour at bay.
Antiperspirant v Deodorant
Sweat itself isn’t our enemy of course: it’s not smelly in itself – it’s only when odour-causing bacteria chow down on its constituent components (urea, lactic acid, assorted mineral salts and fatty acids) that it becomes toxic to the nostrils.
Modern-day products deal with the problem in one of two ways: by temporarily preventing sweat production by blocking sweat glands, which is how antiperspirant works, or by neutralising bacteria and masking any odour they’ve caused with a pleasant fragrance, which is what deodorant does. To put it another way, antiperspirant puts your armpits in flight mode; deodorant just acts like the volume control on your phone. Antiperspirant deodorant, meanwhile, prevents sweat production and keep pits smelling sweet too. A hybrid if you will.
Although it’s tempting to ignore deodorant as an inferior product, if you’re sensible you’ll have both in your anti-odour arsenal. A decent antiperspirant for when you need extra protection (for interviews, hot dates, the daily commute and when you’re playing poker) and a nice-smelling deodorant for those times when you’re kicking back, hanging out around the house or for when you’re not expecting to work up a sweat but still want to smell good. This combo minimises the amount of chemicals you’re placing on your skin.
If excessive sweating – a medical condition known as hyperhidrosis – is a problem, though, you’ll need a specialist antiperspirant that offers amped-up protection.
Which Kind Of Sweat Are You Dealing With?
Keep in mind, too, when choosing your product, that there are two kinds of sweat: thermoregulatory or ‘eccrine’ sweat, which is designed to keep us cool and is the type most commonly associated with hot weather and vigorous work outs; and emotional or ‘apocrine’ sweat, which happens when you’re under pressure or you boss sees through your latest excuse for being late.
The former tends not to be all that odorous (unless it’s left on the skin for hours) but the latter stinks to high heaven and there’s a reason for this. Apocrine sweat is mainly produced by glands in the armpits, groin and around the nipples and, unlike the thermoregulatory stuff, contains a heady cocktail of fats, proteins and other chemicals.
It’s primarily produced when we’re sexually aroused or under extreme stress (or both) and acts as a pheromone, warning signal and territorial marker all at once. This is why it’s worth investing in a powerful antiperspirant rather than a deodorant if you know you’re heading into a stressful situation like an interview, hot date, packed commute home or any football match involving England.
Your Core Underarm Options
With so many different products on offer, finding just the right armpit protector for your specific needs can be a nightmare – but here are a few tips to help you sniff out the best.
Antiperspirant blocks sweat ducts with the help of chemical salts like aluminium chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate or aluminium zirconium, which swell inside the ducts to prevent sweat coming out (think of it as putting a cork back into a bottle of wine).
Whether you use a rollerball, spray or stick is up to you – they all do the same job but sprays tend to dry faster so are better when you’re in a hurry and don’t want your antiperspirant all over your shirt. Rollerballs and sticks, however, tend to ensure better contact with the skin (it’s why specialist products for excessive sweating usually come as rollerballs) and, let’s face it, tend to be a bit more discreet in the changing room.
Sure Men Active Dry
The MotionSense technology in Sure’s Active Dry antiperspirant activates when you move. It releases bursts of fragrance when you need it most and keeps problem areas dry and fresh. Plus, it’s the work of the UK’s number-one deodorant brand, so you know you’re getting a reliable product that won’t let you down. Even when the going gets sweaty.
ClarinsMen Antiperspirant Stick
At just shy of £20, this stick from ClarinsMen is fairly pricey as far as antiperspirants go. Still, it’s long lasting, smells great and neutralises odours with ease. It’s also alcohol free, gentle enough to use on sensitive skin and keeps underarms fresh with orange, lemon and grapefruit extracts.
Vichy Homme Extreme Control Antiperspirant
This roll-on from Vichy claims to offer protection of up to 72 hours. Chances are you’re going to be having a shower or two and reapplying it at some point during that time frame but it’s nice to have peace of mind. Plus, it’s hypoallergenic and doesn’t use alcohol or parabens. Even better.
If excessive sweating (a condition known as hyperhidrosis) is a problem and you’re struggling to find an antiperspirant that holds back the tsunami of sweat you’re suffering from, it’s probably time you were using products that pack a bit more punch.
As well as being effective at preventing excessive pit sweat, these specialist antiperspirants can also be used on other areas of the body where perspiration is a problem, like the soles of the feet, palms of the hand or your expertly manscaped groin area.
Like regular antiperspirants they work by plugging sweat glands but a higher concentration of ingredients makes them more effective. The sweat is then redirected to other sweat glands across the skin where it can evaporate.
If you think you might be suffering from hyperhidrosis and it’s interfering with your daily life, though, make an appointment to see your GP. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatments range from prescription medication to reduce the sweating to armpit Botox and removing the offending sweat glands altogether.
Odaban is a spray-on antiperspirant specifically formulated for people who sweat excessively. It doesn’t stop sweat glands from working, but it does dry sweat up and eliminate unpleasant odours. The bottle is small enough to carry around meaning it can be used when most needed and can even be used on other problem areas, such as sweaty hands.
Mitchum has the same end goal as Odaban – to stop excessive sweating – but goes about it slightly differently. It works by forming a gel matrix in the affected glands which stops the flow of sweat, redirecting it and disposing of it in the normal way. After a few weeks, the excessive sweating should be a thing of the past.
What it lacks in a snappy name, Anhydrol Forte more than makes up for in its ability to combat excessive sweating. The odorless roll-on antiperspirant is designed to be applied at night and washed off in the morning. It contains an active ingredient which blocks sweat glands, keeping perspiration to a minimum.
Deodorant is perfect for freshening your pits and while it offers less protection than antiperspirant it’s ideal if you’re a light sweater or are sensitive to ingredients like aluminium chlorohydrate. Most feature a fragrance alongside ingredients that act as antibacterial agents to keep the odour-causing nasties at bay and tackle the symptom rather than the cause of underarm sweating.
Worth considering, if you’re worried about fragrance clashes (a very real problem with some of today’s highly-scented products), are deodorants from the ancillary range of your favourite scent. Great if you’re heading for a night out, they allow you to build up your fragrance in layers so you can leave a more powerful and longer-lasting olfactory impression. For example, Tom Ford Oud Wood Shower Gel + Oud Wood Deodorant Stick + Oud Wood Eau De Parfum = great smelling man from top-to-toe.
Tom Ford Oud Wood Deodorant
Oud wood is one of the rarest, most expensive and most precious ingredients in a perfumer’s arsenal – and now you can put it all over your underarms. This deodorant takes one of Tom Ford’s most popular fragrances and delivers it back to us in stick form. Ideal for anyone looking to add a dash of extravagance to their morning routine.
In typical Aesop style, this pocket-sized spray-on deodorant is simple and smells amazing. It masks underarm odour with a mix of vetiver root, zinc ricinoleate and coriander seed and it’s aluminium free so you don’t have to worry about any nasty skin irritation.
Molton Brown Bushukan Deodorant
With vibrant bushukan, black pepper and herby aromas of tolu absolute, Molton Brown’s Bushukan deodorant smells better than most colognes. It’s also completely paraben-free, gluten-free, cruelty-free and vegan, meaning you can spray away with a clear conscience.
As more and more of us become as conscious of what we put on our bodies as what we put in them, the market for natural deodorants has grown exponentially.
The most common natural alternative to chemical-laden products are crystal deodorants that feature alum – a naturally occurring mineral salt that has been used as a natural deodorant for hundreds of years thanks to its antibacterial qualities.
Just bear in mind that there’s yet to be a more effective solution to body odour than the duct-blocking aluminium compounds found in mainstream antiperspirants. However, if you’re not a heavy sweater these natural alternatives are well worth a punt.
This alcohol and aluminium-free deodorant from Horace promises to keep underarms fresh and shirts free of unsightly yellow stains. It uses diatomaceous earth to neutralise bacteria, clary sage essential oil to control sebum levels and tea tree essential oil to reduce unpleasant odours. As a result, you’ll be clean, healthy and stain-free all day long.
Wild Natural Deodorant
Wild is a subscription service that offers a more sustainable alternative to the plastic waste created by conventional deodorant. Simply pick a fragrance and you’ll receive a reusable metal case with refills delivered to your door when you need them. Plus, it’s all natural – no parabens or aluminium in sight.
You’ve heard of roll-ons, sticks and sprays, but premium natural deodorant brand Akt takes a slightly different approach. This is a deodorant balm – a thick cream that you apply to your underarms. It’s about as environmentally friendly as deodorants get and the apothecary style packaging is chic enough to appease even the most discerning of ‘shelfie’ aficionados.
Whenever there’s a skin fold there’s friction – and wherever there’s friction there’s the chance of irritation. Add to that sweat and a product that contains potential irritants (aluminium chlorohydrate, certain fragrances and the propellants used in aerosols can all inflame skin) and you can see why underarm irritation can be a very real problem.
If you have sensitive skin the golden rule is less is more: the less ingredients in a product the less the potential to irritate skin.
To minimise irritation, avoid super-strength antiperspirants and look for ones that are alcohol free and are specially formulated for sensitive skin. Look out, too, for fragrance-free products and apply to dry skin (skin can be more sensitive when it’s been exposed to hot water and its pores are open so wait several minutes after showering before applying).
Nivea Men Sensitive Protect
Nivea Men’s Sensitive Protect deodorant has been specially formulated for skin that’s prone to irritation. The gentle formula keeps you protected for up to 48 hours and chamomile extract helps to soothe sensitive skin. It’s available in either a spray or a roll on, neither of which contain ethyl alcohol and both of which boast the same soothing properties.
Sanex Men Active Control
Sufferers of sensitive skin have long sworn by Sanex’s products and this deodorant is no different. It’s dermatologically tested, contains 0% alcohol and restores the natural PH balance of your skin. Plus, it’ll work non-stop for 48 hours, keeping you fresh, dry and comfortable throughout.
Dove Men+Care Clean Comfort
Designed with your comfort in mind, this soothing antiperspirant from Dove uses one-quarter moisturiser to keep sensitive skin happy. It wards off dry skin, protects against irritation and keeps perspiration to a minimum. If you’re looking for something that’s going to be tough on sweat but easy on your skin, this could be a good option.
When & How To Apply Underarm Protection
To maximise the performance of your deodorant or antiperspirant follow the application instructions carefully (spray products are best applied from 10-15cm away from the skin – any closer and the ingredients tend to pool in one place) and think about trimming your pit hair – that way the product will have a better chance of making contact with the skin. To minimise irritation you should always avoid using antiperspirants and deodorants on broken, damaged or freshly-shaven skin.
If you’re using an antiperspirant it’s worth thinking about when you apply it too because timing is everything when it comes to preventing body odour. To work properly, antiperspirants need to be applied to skin that’s dry and not actively sweating – which is why the best time to apply them is just before bed rather than straight after a shower when skin is still slightly damp (it’s why instructions for specialist products for excessive sweating always suggest applying last thing at night). The antiperspirant will still work the following day, even after you shower, though you can always re-apply as an extra insurance policy.
Find Your Own Sweet Spot
As with moisturisers, hair products and eau de toilettes, it takes time and a little experimentation to find the perfect deodorant or antiperspirant. Everyone’s skin – and level of sweat production – is different, so experiment with brands and products until you find one that suits your skin and stick to it. (Ignore the myth that your skin can become addicted to one type of antiperspirant after a while, there’s no definitive proof that this is the case.)
There is proof, however, that body odour is a major turn off for most people out there. So unless you’re one of the lucky 2% of the population who, thanks to genetics, are blessed with odourless armpits, at least use something to prevent your pits from becoming, you know, “the pits”.