Deodorant and Antiperspirant Allergy

Common Causes of Cosmetic Contact Dermatitis

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Underarm deodorants and antiperspirants are some of the most common sources of allergic reactions to cosmetics. They can cause an armpit rash, skin peeling, and more.

Deoderants vs. Antiperspirants

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies deodorants as cosmetic agents. They reduce bacterial growth and include fragrances to mask odors.

The FDA classifies antiperspirants as drugs. They usually contain aluminum, which reduces sweat production.

Deodorants and antiperspirants come in individual and combination products.

This article explains the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of deodorant and antiperspirant allergies.

deodorant ingredients that cause dermatitis

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Symptoms

Deodorants and antiperspirants are generally considered safe products. However, sometimes allergic reactions can occur. Allergies that result from something that your skin comes in contact with are called contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis is often limited to the area that the offending substance touched. With deodorants and antiperspirants, that's usually the armpit.

Allergies to deodorants and antiperspirants can cause the following symptoms:

  • Itching
  • Bumps
  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Flaking
  • Peeling
  • Oozing

How long it takes for symptoms to appear can vary. Symptoms may occur within minutes of applying the product or as long as hours later.

Sometimes the effects resolve quickly—within an hour. But they can last for days and might not clear up until you completely stop using the product.

Causes

Several chemicals can contribute to contact dermatitis from deodorants and antiperspirants. The most common trigger is fragrances.

Fragrance allergy affects between 0.7% to 2.6% of all people.

Since most deodorants and antiperspirants contain fragrances, you'll need to look for products with "fragrance-free" product labels if you have a fragrance allergy. Also, remember 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:

Research About Other Conditions

Some studies have found possible links between deodorants or antiperspirants and an increased risk of specific health conditions. However, currently, there is insufficient evidence to support the claims. They include:

  • Parabens and breast cancer: According to a study, there was some concern that parabens (used as a preservative) in these products were responsible for increasing breast cancer rates. While the link is unproven, most manufacturers no longer use parabens in deodorants and antiperspirants.
  • Aluminum and Alzheimer's disease: While aluminum, found in antiperspirants, has been blamed for an increase in Alzheimer's disease, this idea has largely been debunked. Although aluminum deposits can be seen in brain tissue from people with Alzheimer's disease, little aluminum from antiperspirants is absorbed by the human body. Moreover, even in those with regular industrial exposure to aluminum, increased rates of Alzheimer's disease are not consistently seen. Whether aluminum deposits cause Alzheimer's disease or are a result of Alzheimer's disease is not clear.

Recap

Fragrances are the most common trigger for deodorant and antiperspirant allergies. However, other chemicals in these products can also cause allergic reactions.

While some research has pointed to chemicals in deodorants and antiperspirants as a potential cause of cancer and Alzheimer's disease, there is insufficient evidence to support those claims.

Diagnosis

Allergies aren't the only cause of underarm rashes, so your doctor will want to consider other things that may be contributing to your discomfort. Other causes unrelated to deodorants and antiperspirants include:

Patch Test

Doctors diagnose contact dermatitis from deodorants and antiperspirants by patch testing. The only FDA-approved patch testing system in the United States is the T.R.U.E. test.

Unfortunately, this test doesn't reliably detect allergies to uncommon fragrances and propylene glycol. Therefore, your allergist might do a patch test using your deodorant or antiperspirant if they suspect it may be causing your problem.

Treatment

The treatment for deodorant and antiperspirant allergies involves managing your symptoms and then avoiding the offending products.

Corticosteroids

The immediate treatment of deodorant and antiperspirant allergy is to apply topical corticosteroids to the underarm skin. These products reduce redness, itching, and inflammation.

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

Avoidance

To manage and prevent allergy symptoms, avoid 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 chemical that triggers your allergy, such as:

  • Hypoallergenic products: If the particular component that's causing your contact dermatitis is not known, then you can try using a hypoallergenic deodorant or antiperspirant.
  • Natural products: You might consider products containing zeolite crystals 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.

Recap

If you are allergic to something in deodorant or antiperspirant, avoid products that contain that chemical. If it's unclear which substance triggers your allergy, you may want to try hypoallergenic or natural deodorant products.

Topical corticosteroids can help manage acute symptoms. However, if your symptoms persist, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Prevention

If you develop a rash or irritation in your underarm, try switching to a hypoallergenic product to see if it helps. Some 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)

Summary

Allergies to deodorants and antiperspirants are a form of contact dermatitis. Often these allergies are caused by fragrances, but other chemicals in the product can also cause them.

If you have a deodorant allergy, you may find that hypoallergenic or natural products keep you from reacting. In the meantime, topical corticosteroids can also reduce redness and inflammation.

If your allergies persist, be sure to contact your doctor or see a dermatologist. They will rule out other potential causes and help you with a plan to manage symptoms and avoid triggers.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can cause a rash in your armpit?

    An underarm rash can be caused by contact dermatitis from ingredients in deodorant or antiperspirant, a fungal or yeast infection, psoriasis, and acanthosis nigricans. Shaving can also cause an armpit rash.

  • What ingredients in deodorant and antiperspirants can cause armpit irritation?

    Fragrances are the most common skin irritant in deodorants and antiperspirants. Other potentially irritating ingredients in commercial products include propylene glycol, parabens, vitamin E, and lanolin. 

    Ingredients in natural deodorants can also cause skin irritation. These include baking soda, essential oils, and coconut oil.

  • What type of deodorants or antiperspirants are safe for underarm rashes?

    Look for unscented, fragrance-free, or hypoallergenic antiperspirants and deodorants. You may also find that products containing zeolite crystals don't irritate your skin. Always check the label for potentially irritating ingredients.

  • How do you treat an armpit rash from deodorant or antiperspirant?

    Topical corticosteroids are typically used to treat contact dermatitis. Over-the-counter cortisone creams like Cortizone-10 may help. If your symptoms do not resolve in a week, see a dermatologist, who can prescribe a more potent treatment.

6 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. Reeder MJ. Allergic contact dermatitis to fragrances. Dermatologic Clinics. 2020 Jul;38(3):371-377. doi: ​​10.1016/j.det.2020.02.009

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.