Scrolling through Instagram, you might notice a few “armpit selfies.” It’s usually a wellness blogger flaunting an armpit, covered in what looks like a charcoal face mask. Not sure why we’re suddenly masking our pits? Armpit detoxification is the latest trend taking over the wellness community. It stems from the thought that traditional antiperspirants that block sweat actually clog the sweat ducts, stopping them from secreting. The purpose of armpit detoxification is to rid the body of toxins that build up over time, particularly in the sweat glands. Armpit detoxification may help reduce the amount of sweat and odor these glands produce.
Armpit detoxification becomes necessary thanks to traditional antiperspirants, which often use aluminum-based compounds to clog sweat ducts. This corked-up sweat accomplishes two goals: it stops excessive sweating and the production of odor. But is it actually healthy?
“There have been several scientific studies that show aluminum salts cause obstruction of the distal sweat duct,” says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, dermatologist and author of the book Beyond Soap. “The mechanism is thought to be the precipitation of the metal ions with mucopolysaccharides, which damage the duct and form a plug.”
Armpit detoxing strives to wean a person off of traditional antiperspirants, unclogging the ducts, and essentially, preparing the person for a more natural approach. Detoxification can act as a crossover into botanical-based, all-natural deodorants, which are thought to be healthier because of their non-synthetic ingredients, but arguably, don’t do as much to cork up sweat—or its subsequent odor.
“The most effective [ingredient in blocking sweat glands] is aluminum chloride hexahydrate,” Skotnicki says. “An armpit detox may help decrease the build-up of antiperspirant ingredients, but a cleanser and water scrub would likely do the same or be even better. It does not remove cancer-causing toxins from the lymph nodes.”
But with so much unknown about aluminum’s effects on the body, it begs the question: Is it healthy to clog a part of the body for a mostly cosmetic reason? Skotnicki thinks it’s okay in small doses.
“Yes, in small areas,” Skotnicki says. “You have many more sweat ducts covering your whole body. These sweat or eccrine glands are needed to decrease core body temperature.”
The research is not yet clear; some studies suggest low-level absorption of aluminum has been linked to changes in a woman’s estrogen levels, which could potentially ignite the growth of breast cancer cells. However, the National Cancer Institute says there is no link between antiperspirants and breast cancer.
Still, many believe antiperspirants without aluminum components are less detrimental to the body; after all, botanical-based deodorants don’t “block” the sweat glands, so much as aim to make them smell better.
The main ingredient in an armpit detox is calcium bentonite clay, an absorbent clay that forms after volcanic ash ages over time. This clay absorbs negatively charged ions, proving it’s beneficial to drawing out toxic build-ups in the armpits. It’s also thought to improve digestion and clear skin issues.
“It is also used in traditional masks,” Skotnicki says. “When clay dries, it pulls out debris in pores.”
Because of Bentonite clay’s ability to draw out toxins, it is tailor-made for detoxifications such as these. The clay pulls out left-over ingredients from antiperspirants—namely aluminum—and other impurities. When combined with apple cider vinegar, which has anti-fungal properties that slay odor-causing bacteria in your pits, Bentonite clay armpit detoxes not only rid your body of impurities, but they kill off odor, as well. So, is armpit detoxification actually necessary? Skotnicki says it’s really left up to preference.
“I think washing with cleanser and water is sufficient,” Skotnicki says. “Maybe doing a clay treatment once in a while would not be a bad idea if you use anti-perspirants regularly.”