Help me get rid of this armpit rash, please
July 6, 2011 8:19 PM   Subscribe

I have had an issue with a bumpy, red, ITCHY rash for the last 7 years when I use certain anti-perspirants/deodorants, and have been changing them up to fix the rash. I am asking for your help because the rash is back, I am clean out of ideas and am holding off the rash only slightly right now. Sorry for the long post, details inside.

So, I use: dye-free scent-free laundry detergent; no dryer sheets; shower gel; no pouf or loofah; and no sharing shower stuff with anyone else.

I used to use anti-perspirant/deodorant solids for women since puberty with no problems. 7 years ago, I started getting the rash. I literally tried all kinds of anti-perspirant/deodorant and finally ended up being able to use Arrid XX Moutain Fresh spray. That worked for a few years. Lately, this spray has started to give me a rash. So, I went back and tried (all of these are anti-persp/deodorant unless otherwise noted): 1. Almay Hypo-Allergenic gel; 2. Dry Idea Unscented solid; 3. Lady Speedstick solid, several scents; 4. Degree solid, several scents; 5. Secret solid; 6. Arrid XX solid; 7. Ban Regular Scent Roll-on; 8. Sure Unscented spray; 9. Secret Scented spray; 10. Degree Scented spray; 11. Soft n Dri Scented spray; 12. Suave Scented spray; 13. Mennen Speed Stick Musk deodorant for men; 14. Arm n Hammer Natural Essentials (this one burned badly after only 1 hour!).

None of the above worked. What I am left with is Sure Unscented solid, which I use and then switch off every 2 days or so with the Arrid XX anti-perspirant/deodorant spray and then switch back. Sometimes I put on hydrocortisone cream to calm the situation down, and that works for a bit. And, sometimes if I can do it for a few hours, I put on hydrocortisone and don't put any anti-perspirant/deodorant on at all. My armpits love me for it, but my nose does not.

So, now I'm between a spray and a hard place. I want to find out if there's another anti-perspirant/deodorant I could try, or do I have some other problem? I read from the hive about fungus in the armpits, but I wonder if this is what I have, since my rash seems to disappear when I don't have anti-perspirant/deodorant on.
posted by minx to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am male but used to suffer the same reactions to deodorants as you describe.

I switched to Crystal Body Deodorant Stick. Hypoallergenic and fragrance free. It has not Aluminum Chlorohydrate.

You dampen the stick and rub underarms. Works perfect for me. Got it at a Rexall Drug Store. But it is probably available at other stores or online. One stick lasts for years.
posted by JayRwv at 8:27 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you tried a non-antiperspirant deodorant? Some people are sensitive to the aluminum salts in antiperspirants and can only use deodorants.

Also, do you shave under your arms? Are you putting on antiperspirant immediately after shaving? This could be an issue too. Try shaving at night, maybe? Or stop shaving altogether for a while and see if it helps.

I'd give those things a try before you go completely crazy. I'm sorry you're having such an issue. I can only imagine.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:28 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait, are you using "unscented" products or products labeled "fragrance free"? I get the red bumps intermittently and have since, well, I started using anything. The only solution that works for me is fragrance free everything and Ivory soap (in bar form.) Sometimes it takes a prescription from a dermatologist to break the cycle, though. It's been ages since the last time, but I think it was a simple steroid cream, just extra-strong.

Also, you have to not shave.
posted by SMPA at 8:29 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've heard good things about the JASON brand natural/organic deoderants (available on Amazon and at Whole Foods and other similar outlets). You may be having a reaction to the parabens and other ingredients that are shared by most if not all of the big brands you've tried.
posted by mauvest at 8:31 PM on July 6, 2011

i have the same reaction to anti-perspirants and deodorants, here are some alternatives to the crystal body deodorant stick that are more like traditional spray deodorants:

crystal body spray deodorant
weleda spray deodorant
burt's bees herbal deodorant

all of the above have worked for me
posted by askmehow at 8:36 PM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the suggestions. I only shave once a week anyway, but I'll try to go a little longer too. I will give the deodorants/crystals that you suggest a try.
posted by minx at 8:49 PM on July 6, 2011

I had a problem when I switched from a liquid roll on to a solid stick. I ended up figuring it was the thick pasty consistency blocking up my pores and switched back to the Almay roll on I was using and problem solved. Though now I read the other responses here I wonder if it might just have been an ingredient problem, but its something else you might try.
posted by wwax at 8:51 PM on July 6, 2011

You may have developed an allergic reaction to the aluminum in your antiperspirants (aluminum is what stops the sweating and is not present in plain deodorants, which just stop the bad smell).

Can you switch to plain deodorants for a while? Your armpits will be wet but you won't smell bad. For most people, wet armpits are really embarrassing so this might not work for you. (Actually, for some people, a shower right after a few hours of sweating keeps the smell from developing in the first place - maybe plain deodorant isn't even necessary for you. Just wash a lot. Your armpits may vary, of course.)

This is probably overkill, but Botox injections in the armpit shut down the nerves that tell the sweat glands to start pumping. Pricey and the effect wears off in a few months, but absolute dryness while it lasts.

One last thing: the crystals sold as natural antiperspirants (often billed as deodorants but they prevent sweating, so the marketing is a little misleading) are aluminum salts: ammonium alum. If an aluminum allergy is your problem, these crystals will be just as bad as conventional antiperspirants.
posted by Quietgal at 8:51 PM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, I have tried just men's deodorants that have no anti-perspirant (Speed Stick and Arm n Hammer Natural Essentials). The Speed Stick made me itch a little, but the Arm n Hammer burned my armpits badly!

Oh, and I have a smell problem since I've had kids -- I need a strong deodorant to stop the smell. I hope the natural products are strong enough.

Interesting idea on the Botox, I'll have to think about that.
posted by minx at 8:57 PM on July 6, 2011

I also recommend the crystal deodorant stuff. I think it works better for odor than the anti-persp/deodorant combo stuff. good luck
posted by evening at 9:01 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may be fairly obvious, but have you gone to a dermatologist yet?
posted by sideofwry at 9:03 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you'll find yourself allergic to this as well, but my absolute favorite deodorant, after trying them 'all', is Kiehl's. It's priced as liquid gold, but lasts me forever because I find I only have to use a dab on each underarm. Good luck to you with your issue, underarms are a tricky business.
posted by xiaolongbao at 9:22 PM on July 6, 2011

I had the itchy problem too.

I switched to Toms of Maine unscented deodorant a number of years ago, and that has worked very well for me. (I tried their long-lasting version a couple if months ago, though, and I got the itchy reaction again. So be careful. I think it's the zinc, at least that seemed to be the difference in the ingredients. ) for what it's worth, I shave my pits pretty regularly.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:22 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only thing that doesn't cause this reaction for me is Dove Sensitive Skin deodorant.
posted by overhauser at 9:24 PM on July 6, 2011

burt's bees herbal deodorant

This is available at Whole Foods and other health-foodie shops in the US. The primary ingredients are oil of sage and corn ethanol, which aren't what is currently triggering your rash, so it's worth considering.

It is a 'male' scent - I wear it but my wife 'smelled like a boy' to me when she tried wearing it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:52 PM on July 6, 2011

It could also be your razor. How often do you switch the blade? Depending on where you store it, the razor could be harboring bacteria OR the blade could be dull enough that it's irritating your skin.
posted by wherever, whatever at 10:35 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you sure it's an actual rash and not a problem with ingrown hairs or Keratosis Pilaris?
posted by barnone at 10:39 PM on July 6, 2011

I have a similar problem (one day a few years ago, BAM, I received the Underarm Curse and almost every deodorant now gives me itchy hives within a few hours of applying). I use the Crystal roll-on (liquid, so obviously not a literal crystal) deodorant without antipersperant, also without any scent. So far so good. It's actually pretty hard to find deodorants that are unscented and aren't also antipersperants, in my experience.
posted by hattifattener at 11:07 PM on July 6, 2011

I developed the same problem in college. It was an allergy to solid stick antiperspirants.
Solution: I abandoned all shaving for about 6 weeks, until the rash was 100% completely and totally gone. I used no deodorant for a couple of weeks, and then only an Avon splash on deodorant, liquid, not spray, for a few months. THEN I started using a roll on antiperspirant/ deodorant.

The key for me was to just stop everything for a while, then test carefully with the mildest stuff I could find. Also, deodorant and anti perspirant are not synonymous. Build up to the antiperspirant. I think that if you keep trying new things while your rash is still flaring up, you will just develop sensitivity to everything.

I had to avoid the solid sticks. I tried them occasionally for years and years, and developed a rash every time. I eventually found one that works-I think it is a Dove product.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:40 PM on July 6, 2011

I swipe a little witch hazel on my skin where it gets irritated.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:54 PM on July 6, 2011

if you can afford it, I'd recommend seeing a dermatologist just to make sure it's what you think it is and get the latest medical scoop on products.

if you're sensitive to the aluminum, the crystal antiperspirant may cause the same problem.

some of the herbal deodorants have ingredients that overpower sensitive skin, since they're more intended for people trying to go "all natural" rather than those who need a hypo-allergenic experience, so try them sparingly and cautiously.
posted by batmonkey at 1:52 AM on July 7, 2011

I don't use any form of underarm product; nor do I shave my armpits; nor do I smell offensive.

I wash under my arms with a washcloth when I shower. I don't use soap. If I've just washed my pits and I stick my nose in there and smell anything but clean skin, I'll wash them again after squirting a little blob of a zinc pyrithione based anti-dandruff shampoo on the washcloth (it's an effective degreaser and a mild antiseptic).

I also won't wear anything but pure cotton next to my skin, as I'm allergic to wool, and cotton/polyester blends give me stinky pits within a couple of hours if the day is even slightly warm.
posted by flabdablet at 2:06 AM on July 7, 2011

I'm with overhauser on this, Dove Sensitive Skin deodorant is great.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:31 AM on July 7, 2011

You probably have a metal allergy; I've been told there are trace metals in most commercial deodorants. Don't know if it's actually true, but I know that switching to Tom's of Maine worked wonders for me after years of horribly itchy red armpits. I have zero problems and it works well.

You can tell if you have a metal allergy by going to a doctor or just looking at your tummy after several hours of wearing a belt buckle, or at your wrist where a metal clasp rubs. Armpit rash? Metal allergy.
posted by motsque at 3:59 AM on July 7, 2011

I have to second the Botox. It works miracles for the sweatiness and rashes. Some perfume or cologne to cover up how you smell is all that you need. Also, get thee to a doctor. With any recurring rash, a dermatologist would definitely be able to help out and push you in the right direction.
posted by Nackt at 4:40 AM on July 7, 2011

For the short term, can you shower all deodorant off at night and cortisone-up before bed? That'd give your pits a good eight hours to recover from whatever is causing the problem during the day.
posted by citands at 5:26 AM on July 7, 2011

Two things that may be useful if you create an alternate system:

I have a friend who hasn't used commercial deodorant/anti-persperent for years. She keeps alcohol preps on hand and wipes down her armpits a couple times a day, and then applies a drop or two of fragrant essential oil. I've never noticed her smelling.

My teenaged niece recently came for a visit and forgot deodorant -- when I 'discovered' this (14 and hormonal, she was pretty 'stinky' ;o), I told her to wipe her armpits with peroxide and then go ahead and use my deodorant. She said the peroxide took the smell away completely.
posted by MeiraV at 7:14 AM on July 7, 2011

See, that's the thing. Armpit sweat, in and of itself, doesn't smell bad. What it does do is nurture a whole microbial ecosystem, and that does smell. If you use any kind of mild antiseptic in your pits on a regular basis, that ecosystem never gets overgrown enough to be problematic. Reason I like the anti-dandruff shampoo is because its intended use is to keep skin with hair growing out of it happy - it's much, much gentler on sensitive pit skin than alcohol or peroxide.
posted by flabdablet at 8:08 AM on July 7, 2011

I just went to the doctor's about skin allergies and she suggested (which seems so obvious to me now) to apply a little bit of whatever potential allergy-producing substance to an inconspicuous place for a couple days to test whether I was allergic to it. Now, this is an expensive test because you can't get trial-sized bottles of everything (in my case moisturizer, shampoo, make-up) but it's better than having my whole body break out in ichy-ness. In your case, if it is an allergy, you should get the reaction on your belly, leg or where ever you test. If it's not an allergy (dull blades are the worst), it won't react.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2011

You sound just like me. (In fact I've asked several AskMe's on similar subjects).

Different people are allergic to different ingredients in personal products. For me, it's almost exclusively anything that falls under "fragrance" or "parfum." Unfortunately, almost everything today is scented - even products that claim to be hypoallergenic! Follow the "bucket theory" of allergies - try to reduce your exposure to as many allergens as possible. Switch all your products to gentle/unscented.

I got some good recommendations here. I also ended up just trying a bunch from the drugstore. I really like Sure Unscented.

Definitely try "patch testing" products if you can. When I was looking for a new haircare product I discreetly swiped a dab of a couple contenders on my face and inside of elbow (both sensitive areas) and then walked around and did the rest of my shopping. Also did the same another day with sunscreen.

The underarm area is particularly fussy. For me it gets irritated after I shave but also irritated (prickly!) if I go too long without shaving! I have gotten some good products and suggestions from the dermatologist - you may want to go see one yourself. After shaving I use Hibiclens (a surgical-quality antibacterial soap) to get rid of any bacteria, and then I also have an antibacterial lotion to put on there after the shower.

Actually, 7 years is a really long time to deal with this. Go to a derm! If you tell us where you are located, someone on here can probably recommend one.
posted by radioamy at 9:40 AM on July 7, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I will try some of the natural deodorants first, then go to a dermatologist if that doesn't work. I'm comforted to know there are other options too, and that I'm not the only one with this issue! :-)
posted by minx at 5:17 PM on July 7, 2011

I know I am a little late to the party, but I have a few suggestions. The crystal deo works really well for me, so nthing that. Also, you can try mixing equal amounts of cornstarch and baking soda, then adding enough coconut oil to make a paste. You an also add essential oils if you like a scent, but know that ome can be skin irritants. Put it in the fridge for a bit until it hardens up. Use a pea sized amount under each arm. I stow mine in the fridge always, but you can leave it out (I live where it's hot and the oil tends to separate).

Another place to look for deodorants is Lush Cosmetics. They have two or three different options, all natural and good smelling. I really like the Happy Hippy Patchouli Pits. Like I said, I live where it is hot an have yet to notice any odor. I think it's harmful to stop perspiration, so none of my suggestions are anti-perspirants, just deodorants.
posted by LyndsayMW at 10:20 PM on July 8, 2011

People who are sensitive to scents and not already aware of Lush should know that their products are among the most strongly scented available, "natural" though they may be. I personally have difficulty staying in the same room as somebody who has used Lush soap.
posted by flabdablet at 11:17 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I tried a Lotrimin (anti-fungal, 1% clotrimzaole) / hydro-cortisone cream with Sarna lotion (anti-itch) for 2 weeks, morning and night, with no deodorants at all. Sarna acts like a mild deodorant because of the camphor/menthol.

No, I don't seem to have an itching problem, even with regular, solid anti-perspirants/deodorants.

Either it was a fungal situation, or I just gave my body time off of all products and calmed the itch long enough to break the cycle.
posted by minx at 9:32 AM on August 13, 2011

Response by poster: I mean, "Now, I don't seem to have an itching problem."
posted by minx at 9:34 AM on August 13, 2011

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