This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Deodorants and antiperspirants may be good for our social lives, but they change the makeup of our underarm microbial community. A study finds they eradicate odor-causing bacteria, which makes room for the growth of other bacterial strains.
In recent years, the microbiome within the gut has been a hot topic for research, as scientists have found that these microbes have far-reaching effects on many aspects of health. But what about the bacteria under your arm? Do they offer some benefit to wellness? Moreover, will altering this community have any adverse effects?
At this point, the answers to these questions aren’t known. Yet, the coauthor of the study seems to hint that the disturbance of the underarm microbiome isn’t desirable. “When you have all these microbes on your skin, most of them are potentially beneficial, or at least benign,” said Julie Horvath, an evolutionary geneticist at North Carolina Central University. She explains that the bacteria use up body oils and sweat, which makes it harder for pathogenic strains to survive.
Underarm Products Reverse Proportions of Bacterial Strains
In the research published in PeerJ, the underarm bacterial community of people who use deodorants and antiperspirants was compared with that of people who don’t use the products. After a baseline assessment, a group of 17 participants was asked to abstain from wearing underarm products on the second through sixth day of the experiment. On the seventh and eighth day, they were required to wear an antiperspirant. The scientists found the products caused different strains of bacteria to dominate.
The microbiome of those who didn’t use underarm products contained 62 percent Corynebacterium, which is the strain that causes most body odor, and 21 percent Staphylococcaceae. It also had less than 10 percent of unidentifiable bacterial strains.
Contrastingly, the proportions of the two main types of bacteria was reversed in the groups who used the products, with the population of Corynebacterium much lower and the population of Staphylococcaceae much higher. In addition, antiperspirant users had 20 percent unidentifiable bacteria, while deodorant user had 5 percent.
When all of the participants were required to use antiperspirants, most of the bacterial strains died. The unidentifiable strains grew back the fastest in those who typically used the products.
Health Risks Associated with Underarm Products
Perhaps further studies may reveal the health effects of the changes in the underarm microbiome. However, earlier research suggests deodorants and antiperspirants carry a risk unconnected to bacterial disruption — the products contain aluminum and paraben, which are linked to breast cancer. Another possible health risk of underarm products is Alzheimer’s, as patients with this disease have elevated levels of aluminum in their brain.
Furthermore, the action of blocking the excretion of perspiration from sweat glands prevents one of the body’s means of getting rid of toxins. When toxins aren’t eliminated, they remain inside the body and can cause damage.