Do You Really Need a Whole Body Deodorant?

To prevent the body odor created by bacteria feasting on yummy sweat, you can reach for a deodorant or an antiperspirant. Sometimes the word “deodorant” is used interchangeably for the two, but they don’t function the same way. “Antiperspirants are regulated by the FDA and contain an aluminum salt to help reduce underarm sweat,” says Dr. Jones. Those aluminum salts form a plug inside sweat glands to slow or stop sweat from being released. Most antiperspirants have only been tested for underarm use and are not intended to be used all over the body.

Deodorant, on the other hand, does nothing to stop sweat. It does, however, contain antimicrobial agents that inhibit the growth of the microorganisms in the armpits that interact with sweat to cause body odor.

The birth of body-odor marketing

The first commercial deodorant, called Mum, was introduced in Philadelphia in 1888 and was marketed solely toward women for use under the arms, on the soles of the feet, and even on sanitary napkins. The name was a play on the saying, “Mum’s the word,” meaning “done in secret.” The first deodorant designed for men, Top Flite, didn’t appear in America until nearly 50 years later, according to Cari Casteel, PhD, a historian at the University of Buffalo. In between, the first product to market itself as specifically an antiperspirant, called Everdry, was launched in 1905, followed by Odorono (get it? Odor! Oh no!) a few years later.

It was Odorono that really changed the game, with advertisements designed to create insecurity around sweat: It’s not just annoying, it will make you undesirable and shunned by your social circle—at least if you’re a woman. Early deodorant and antiperspirant ads targeting men were more likely to caution that they could be passed over for a new job if they didn’t buy something to address their body odor. By this century, for most American women and men, swiping or spraying deodorant or antiperspirant under our arms had become as routine as brushing our teeth.

In 2024, the concept of preventing body odor is being taken further, with the arrival of mass-brand, whole-body deodorants and a new frontier in body-odor marketing. The words “protection,” “freshness,” and “control” appear often, as do themes of confidence and freedom. “All body odor is normal, and while armpit odor is an expected part of being human, odor on other parts of our body has historically been deemed abnormal—and I am determined to change that narrative,” says Shannon Klingman, MD, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, who was a pioneer of the whole-body deodorant category as the founder of Lume. Lume’s marketing leans heavily on first-person perspectives and experiences with body odor, from the videos of satisfied customers on the brand’s Instagram page to a photo of Dr. Klingman herself on the website, smiling from between the legs of a patient in the stirrups.

How whole-body deodorants work

Most whole-body deodorant formulas do not contain aluminum salts—they are true deodorants and will not stop sweat. (Lume Cream Tube Deodorant + Sweat Control is a rare exception. It contains aluminum salts and the brand says the formula is for use on the armpits, privates, underboobs, belly buttons, butt cracks, and more.) What they will do is target odor-causing bacteria, many of them with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like lactic, glycolic, mandelic, and malic. AHAs can reduce the pH of the skin and “higher skin pH has been associated with a higher concentration of odor-causing bacteria,” says cosmetic chemist Kelly A. Dobos. This is how many of the armpit deodorants launched in the last few years—by Nécessaire, Drunk Elephant, and Kosas—are also formulated.

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