Deodorant – keeping body odour at bay
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.
Muhammad Ali working up a sweat in training in 1973
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 World Cup football match involving England.
Your 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.
If maximum protection is important to you opt for a sport antiperspirant (“sport” is byword for strength in the antiperspirant industry) and ones offering 24- or 48-hour protection like Nivea Men Protect & Care 48h Anti-Perspirant Spray or L’Oreal MenExpert Cool Power 48hr Anti-Perspirant Deodorant. (L’Oreal Men Expert even have an Invincible Sport 96hr Anti-Perspirant Deodorant in case you’re dodging soap at a four-day music festival.)
Motion sensitive ones like Sure Motionsense Invisible Ice Fresh 48hr Antiperspirant (which feature tiny micro capsules that burst and deliver their sweat-busting ingredients as you move) are worth thinking about too, as are heat-activated ones like Right Guard Total Defence 5 Sport Anti-Perspirant, which kick in once you start getting hot and bothered.
The downside of aluminium compounds is that they can stain clothing, but if you’re worried about your antiperspirant leaving white marks on your shirts, wait a minute or two after applying before you dress or opt for products like Nivea Men Invisible Black & White Anti-perspirant Deodorant or Dove Men+ Care’s Invisible Dry, whose formulations minimise the risk of staining. (If your shirts do pick up white residues you can help dislodge them with a toothbrush and a little white vinegar before washing as normal.)
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 like Odaban Antiperspirant Spray or Driclor Solution Roll-On Anti-perspirant, both of which are especially formulated to target heavy perspiration.
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 (Triple Dry Advanced Protection has three times the amount of active ingredients found in most regular antiperspirants). 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.
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 (Mancave’s aluminium-free Eucalyptus Deodorant uses bacteria-busting acai fruit oil, for example) and tackle the symptom rather than the cause of underarm sweating. Some deodorants, like David Beckham’s House 99 Cool Off Spray Deodorant, meanwhile, replace aluminium with magnesium oxide – a natural deodorising agent.
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 + Oud Wood eau de parfum = nice smelling man from top-to-toe.
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. Green People’s Sensitive Scent Free Deodorant, PitROCK Crystal Deodorant Spray For Men and Salt Of The Earth’s Totally Natural Deodorant feature it as a key ingredient, while Dr. Organic Dead Sea Mineral Deodorant uses another natural deodoriser, sodium bicarbonate, to help keep pits fresh.
If avoiding chemicals is important to you look out for products like Bulldog’s Original Deodorant – which is free from parabens, aluminium, colourants and swaps synthetic fragrances for essential oils fragrances – and if you’re aiming for a zero waste bathroom, opt for something like Organic Essence’s Relentless All Day Deodorant, which eschews nasty plastics for a bio-degradable dispenser.
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.
Solutions for sensitive skin
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 like Sanex Men Active Men, Sure Men Motionsense Sensitive Roll On or Dove’s Clean Comfort Antiperspirant, which features their 1/4 moisturiser technology to help keep skin feeling comfortable.
Look out, too, for fragrance-free products like Clinique Men’s Antiperspirant deodorant stick and Vichy Homme’s 48hr Antiperspirant Deodorant for Sensitive Skin, 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).
How to get the most out of your underarm protector
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”.