Should you change deodorants so your body doesn't get used to them?

girl smelling her armpit
Personal Hygiene ­Image Gallery We've all done it before. See more personal hygiene pictures.

We're probably all guilty of the occasional surreptitious "pit check" to make sure that our deodorant is working, especially when we're outside in hot weather or in a really stressful situation. The mere thought that somebody might catch a whiff of our body odor is enough to embarrass us. Some of us are loyal to specific brands of deodorant, while others buy whatever's on sale and apply it without much thought. But what if your deodorant doesn't seem to be working quite the way that it used to? Is it possible that your body can adjust to a specific deodorant, necessitating a switch?

When we say "deodorant," we're often talking about a single product that contains both a deodorant and an antiperspirant, although there are also products that are just deodorants. Deodorants contain ingredients to make the skin hostile to the sweat-eating bacteria that create odor, as well as perfumes to mask any smell that still gets produced. Antiperspirants are supposed to keep us from sweating, or perspiring, entirely. Essentially, they plug up the pores through which sweat is excreted, typically with an aluminum compound (to learn more, check out What is it in antiperspirant that stops sweat?). We'll just use "deodorant" here to mean deodorant/antiperspirant.


The argument that you should switch deodorants might stem from a similar one about shampoos. While some experts believe that occasionally changing your shampoo is necessary for healthy hair, others don't think it makes a bit of difference. However, there's no definitive proof that your hair "gets used to" a specific hair product. The same holds true for deodorants -- no one has proven that your body can actually adjust to it over time.

Your regular brand of deodorant might be failing you for other reasons that have nothing to do with your body getting used to it. Next, we'll look at some possible causes and what to do about it.


What Affects Body Odor: Explaining that Smell

It's not likely that you need to switch deodorants because your body has simply gotten used to your deodorant, but there are several different reasons why your deodorant might not be working as well anymore.

During our lives, we experience hormonal changes that can also impact how much we sweat and how much bacteria that gets produced. If you experience big changes in your body's hormones, such as getting pregnant, breastfeeding, going through menopause or just aging, your sweat output and odor might also change. Some medications and medical conditions also cause you to sweat more.


Dietary choices can also affect your sweat production or your body odor. These include increasing or decreasing your intake of foods like garlic, curry, cumin, caffeine and sugar. Similarly, if you go from being a couch potato to hitting the gym every day, you're going to get sweatier. Big life changes can bring about increased stress levels, which also can mean an increase in sweat output.

We typically sweat more in hotter times of the year or in hotter climates, so a single deodorant might not work for you year-round. For example, you might be able to use just a deodorant in the winter but need a deodorant/antiperspirant in the summer. You might also need a stronger product when you're working out, but use a different one when you're just going back and forth to work.

There are some things you can do to improve your deodorant's staying power. Some antiperspirants are designed to be applied at night, which gives them more time to be absorbed into the pores. These typically contain aluminum chloride, which is often found in prescription strength deodorants. Making sure to apply deodorants to clean, dry armpits will also help, and so will shaving or trimming armpit hair, which can hold in bacteria.

If you've tried a lot of different deodorants and nothing seems to work, or you sweat excessively in places other than your armpits, consider visiting a doctor. Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, affects about 3 percent of the world's population and there are many treatment options available [source: International Hyperhidrosis Society].

For lots more information on sweating, deodorant and related topics, check out the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Bowman, J.P., et al. "A comparison of females and males for antiperspirant efficacy and sweat output." Journal of Cosmetic Science. Vol. 60. Issue 1. January/February 2009.
  • Boyer, P. "Sweat Success." Prevention. Vol. 43. Issue 8. August 1991.
  • Brandt, Marianne. "Influence of climatic conditions on antiperspirant efficacydetermined at different test areas." Skin Research and Technology. Vol. 14. Issue 2. May 2008. EBSCO Host Medline with Full Text.
  • Coad, Tanya. "Pit Stop." Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition. June 2003. EBSCO Host Academic Search Complete.
  • Consumer Reports. "Apply antiperspirant at night and sleep tight." Consumer Reports. Vol. 74. Issue 7. July 2009. EBSCO Host Master File Premier.
  • Gittleman, Anne Louise. "Beating the Body Odor Blues." Better Nutrition. Vol 62. Issue 7. July 2000. EBSCO Host Academic Search Complete.
  • International Hyperhidrosis Society. "About Hyperhidrosis." IHS.
  • Killian, Bob. "Lessons from Armpits." Killian & Company. 2009.
  • Levine, Joshua. "Eliminate Body Odor For Good." Ask Men. 2008.
  • Paulsen, Barbara. "Sweat." Health. Vol. 8. Issue 4. July/August 1994. EBSCO Host Academic Search Complete.
  • WebMD. "Preventing Body Odor." WebMD. July 8, 2009.