Can You Have an Allergic Reaction to Deodorant?
Your deodorant could be causing you to have an allergic reaction, and you may not even know it.
The UK nonprofit organization AllergyUK did a survey entitled Stolen Lives, and more than 50 percent of respondents said they had symptoms that related to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), which is a reaction to artificial substances like those found in perfumes and deodorants.
Most people in the survey said they didn’t even understand that they had the condition.
While MCS isn’t an allergy, it is a testament to the fact that the human body is very sensitive to chemicals. MCS causes headaches, skin rashes, memory loss, wheezing, and other breathing problems.
An allergy happens when the immune system fights a usually harmless substance. MCS can cause the immune system to weaken, causing further allergies, when toxins enter the blood stream.
When you have an allergic reaction, histamine is produced in the body as the immune system looks for something to fight off, even if it can’t find an infection to defeat.
How Deodorants and Anti-Perspirants Work
To fend off offensive body odor or to prevent perspiration, you may use an anti-perspirant or deodorant, or a combination product.
Sweat from your apocrine glands contains fat, which the natural bacteria on your body consume, producing odor as a byproduct.
Deodorants cut down on the growth of bacteria by making your armpit area more acidic, and they also often contain fragrances that bacteria hate.
Anti-perspirants, on the other hand, usually have aluminum in them, which reacts to reduce how much sweat your body produces.
These products are among the most tested of personal care products for possible causes of allergy.
When you have an allergic reaction to a deodorant or anti-perspirant, you’re likely to have contact dermatitis, which is a skin irritation at the location where you apply the product to your underarm.
You skin may itch, be bumpy and red, and it can peel, flake, blister, and ooze. You may also experience hives.
One reason why you may have this type of reaction to the product is that you’re allergic to the fragrance in it. About 90 percent of deodorants and anti-perspirants have fragrances, so you might have a difficult time finding one without fragrance, but it’s not impossible.
As you read labels and learn the different names for types of fragrances, also be aware that a product may be labeled as unscented, but it could use a fragrance to mask the smells of other chemicals in the product.
According to Matthew J. Zirwas, MD and Jessica Moennich, MD in a 2008 article in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, “[a]bout 3,000 compounds are used in the perfume industry, and individual products may contain anywhere from 10 to 300 of these, making diagnosis and avoidance of the offending agent extremely difficult.”
You may also suffer from contact dermatitis from your deodorant or anti-perspirant because you’re allergic to propylene glycol, which is a carrier for the product’s active ingredients, vitamin E, parabens, and lanolin (which a rather rare ingredient in deodorants and an uncommon general allergen).
If you use a deodorant with essential oils, you may also be allergic to them.
According to GetHolisticHealth.com, “[a] deodorant allergy is not only caused by someone using a new product and in fact is more commonly caused by an existing product and a build up of the allergen over a long period of time.”
To find out if you’re allergic to your deodorant, you need to do a patch test with your own deodorant or antiperspirant that you think may be causing you problems.
An allergist is the type of physician who can do this test. Another patch test, called the T.R.U.E. test, may not detect your allergy to unusual fragrances or propylene glycol.
While an underarm rash could be caused by an allergy to your deodorant or anti-perspirant, make sure you get it further evaluated if it doesn’t respond to treatment, as it could be another problem, like a fungal or yeast infection, or perhaps a type of cancer. A dermatologist can better determine what the problem is.
To treat a deodorant or antiperspirant allergy, your doctor will probably give you a topical corticosteroid, but you may also be given oral or injected forms if you have a severe reaction.
This is just the short-term treatment. In the end, you’ll need to avoid using products that cause your reaction.
A patch test can help identify a specific chemical, and in the future, you can avoid using it. If it can’t be determined what is causing your allergic reaction, then try a hypoallergenic form of deodorant or anti-perspirant.
Zeolite crystals are one alternative to deodorants and antiperspirants, and there are also many other alternatives available on the market.
To use the topical steroid, clean the affected area gently so that it doesn’t contain any of the possible offending deodorant or anti-perspirant.
Use a fragrance-free soap to do this. Allow it to air dry, and avoid using a towel, which could further irritate your skin.
Spread the cortisone medication over the affected area. If you use an oral medication, it will cut back on your body’s production of histamine and help prevent the problem from worsening.
If you use a deodorant, try to avoid a spray deodorant so the chemicals are more contained, which can leave you less likely to have a reaction, suggests Coleman. Also, try a deodorant without any perfumes.
Definitely see your doctor if you’re experiencing weeping of the affected area to prevent infection from setting in, and also see your doctor before you start over-the-counter medication if you have hives.
More severe signs of an allergy to your deodorant include severe swelling, swelling of the tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, racing heart rate, abdominal pain, diarrhea, wheezing or dizziness, which can all be warning signs of potentially deadly anaphylaxis, so definitely seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.
Even with patch testing, it is important to be aware that it can be very difficult to determine what specific ingredient is causing your allergic reaction. You can try crystal products or those with low allergenicity to see if they help alleviate your symptoms. If one type doesn’t work, you can try another.
Also try to remove foods that cause worse odor like garlic and onions from your diet, and bathe more often. Wear clothes that breathe better to help stop sweating as well.
If symptoms persist, visit with a dermatologist to do more detailed testing to help determine the cause of your reaction.