Deodorant and Antiperspirant Allergy

Common Causes of Cosmetic Contact Dermatitis

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Underarm deodorants and antiperspirants are among the most common sources of cosmetic allergies. They can cause an armpit rash, skin peeling, and more.

  • Deodorants are classified as cosmetic agents by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They have antimicrobial activities to reduce bacterial growth, as well as fragrances to mask odors.
  • Antiperspirants are classified as drugs by the FDA, and usually contain aluminum, which acts to reduce the production of sweat by the sweat glands. They are available as individual or combination products.
deodorant ingredients that cause dermatitis
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Symptoms

Deodorants and antiperspirants are generally considered to be safe products. Allergic reactions to deodorants and antiperspirants often result in contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis that develops as a result of deodorants and antiperspirants is usually limited to the site of application, namely the underarm area.

You can experience:

  • Itchiness
  • Bumpiness
  • Redness
  • Blistering
  • Flakiness
  • Peeling
  • Oozing

The timing of your symptoms can vary. You can develop these effects within minutes of applying the product, or you can develop the symptoms hours later. Sometimes the effects resolve quickly—within an hour. But they can last for days, and might not resolve until you stop using the product.

Causes

A number of chemicals can contribute to contact dermatitis from deodorants and antiperspirants, the most common of which are fragrances.

Fragrance allergy is very common, affecting up to 4% of all people. Since 90% of deodorants and antiperspirants contain fragrances, you need to specifically use products with "fragrance-free" product labels if you have a fragrance allergy. Keep in mind that "unscented products," which usually do not have a particular smell, may contain masking fragrances that could trigger your allergies.

Other causes of contact dermatitis from deodorants and antiperspirants include propylene glycol (a vehicle agent used as a "carrier" for active ingredients), parabens, vitamin E (as an antioxidant and moisturizer), and lanolin.

Research About Other Conditions

According to a study, there was some concern that parabens (used as a preservative) in these products were responsible for the increase in breast cancer rates in women. While such a link has not been proved, most manufacturers no longer use parabens in deodorants and antiperspirants.

While aluminum, found in antiperspirants, has been blamed for an increase in Alzheimer’s disease, this idea has largely been debunked. Aluminum deposits can be seen in brain tissue from individuals suffering from Alzheimer's disease, but aluminum found in antiperspirant applied under the arms is not considerably absorbed by the human body. Moreover, even in those individuals with regular industrial exposure to aluminum, increased rates of Alzheimer's disease are not consistently seen. Whether aluminum deposits are a cause of Alzheimer's disease or a result of Alzheimer's disease has not yet been determined.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of contact dermatitis from deodorants and antiperspirants is made by patch testing. The only FDA approved patch testing system in the United States is the T.R.U.E test, which doesn't reliably detect allergies to uncommon fragrances and propylene glycol. Therefore, your allergist would patch test your own deodorant or antiperspirant if that is suspected to be causing your problem.

Other causes of underarm rashes that aren't caused by deodorants and antiperspirants include fungal and yeast infections (such as tinea corporis and candidiasis), inverse psoriasis, acanthosis nigricans, certain forms of cancer, and more.

Treatment

The immediate treatment of deodorant and antiperspirant allergy is usually direct application of topical corticosteroids to the underarm skin.

Topical corticosteroids are the treatment of choice for mild to moderate contact dermatitis involving limited areas of the body. Severe forms may require oral or injected corticosteroids.

Management and prevention of deodorant and antiperspirant allergy is based on avoiding the chemical that's responsible for the reaction. If patch testing identifies the specific chemical, then you can select products that don't contain the causative chemical.

If the specific component that's causing your contact dermatitis is not known, then you can try using a hypoallergenic deodorant or antiperspirant. You might consider products containing zeolite crystals, which are available commercially as natural alternatives to deodorants and antiperspirants. These include Crystal Body Deodorant, which is available at drugstores nationwide.

If avoidance and corticosteroid treatments are not effective for treating your rash, then you should be evaluated by a dermatologist, who might do a skin biopsy.

Prevention

Hypoallergenic deodorants and antiperspirants include:

  • Almay Hypo-Allergenic Fragrance-Free Roll On (deodorant and antiperspirant)
  • Mitchum Roll-On Unscented (deodorant and antiperspirant)
  • Stiefel B-Drier (deodorant and antiperspirant)
  • Certain Dri (antiperspirant)
  • Crystal Roll-On Body Deodorant for Sensitive Skin (deodorant)
  • Crystal Stick Body Deodorant for Sensitive Skin (deodorant)
  • Secret Soft Solid Platinum Deodorant Unscented (deodorant)
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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Heisterberg MV, Menné T, Andersen KE, et al. Deodorants are the leading cause of allergic contact dermatitis to fragrance ingredients. Contact Derm. 2011;64(5):258-64. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.2011.01889.x

  3. Pan S, Yuan C, Tagmount A, et al. Parabens and Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Ligand Cross-Talk in Breast Cancer Cells. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124(5):563-9. doi:10.1289/ehp.1409200

  4. Klotz K, Weistenhöfer W, Neff F, Hartwig A, Van thriel C, Drexler H. The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017;114(39):653-659. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2017.0653

  5. Brasch J, Becker D, Aberer W, et al. Guideline contact dermatitis. S1-Guidelines of the German Contact Allergy Group (DKG) of the German Dermatology Society. Allergo J Int. 2014;23(4):126-138. doi:10.1007/s40629-014-0013-5

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