Acid in the Arm Pits? why glycolic acid is the new natural deodorant

One of the things I am most afraid of after a long day smells like I have been working on a farm and my go-to product is SURE invisible cotton Yes, I use the anti-perspiring for men because it is much stronger and I don’t want to take any chances.

In recent times there has been a shift from the regular anti-perspirant which contain aluminium salts to those without aluminium. The main reasons cited apart from the fact it is a clean marketing strategy are

  1. Aluminium Deodorant and Alzheimer’s Disease – there were a series of studies in the ’70s and ’80s which linked aluminium to Alzheimer’s disease which has since been discredited
  2.  Aluminium Deodorant and Breast Cancer – The link here is tenuous at best and is due to the proximity of the armpit to the breast. In addition, because antiperspirant prevents sweating it is believed that it prevents the body from getting rid of toxins which in turn may lead to cancer. This has also been proven false.

Key definitions

  • Antiperspirant: contain aluminium salts that prevent you from sweating  as much as protecting  against sweat and odour
  • Deodorant: this only prevents odour by using odour masking or absorbing chemicals

Why people are looking for alternatives

Despite the marketing push behind them, a lot of aluminium free antiperspirants do not live up to expectations, this means more and more people are looking for alternatives and enter glycolic acid to the rescue.

Before I discuss whey glycolic acid works both as an antiperspirant and a deodorant we need to understand the science behind smell and how each of them work

The science of body odour

The human body has two main types of glands that produce sweat: eccrine and apocrine sweat glands. The eccrine sweat glands found all over the body produce watery salty sweat while the apocrine sweat glands (armpits & genital) produce malodorous sweat.

Body odour is a result of two components:

  1. Odour-forming chemicals in certain types of sweat
  2. Bacteria

This means the chemicals in your sweat only become smelly when bacteria act on them. There are a few things that can influence your armpit bacteria.

How does glycolic acid work as an antiperspirant?  

Armpit skin usually has a pH of around 5.5-6.5, which is generally higher (less acidic) than other parts of your skin. Acid exfoliants generally have a pH of 3-4, lower than normal armpit ph.

‘’Glycolic Acid makes the surface of the skin inhospitable to odour-causing bacteria in places where they thrive — hot, moist environments like your underarms. By depriving them of the nourishment they need to proliferate, bacteria cannot survive where Glycolic Acid is present on the skin. If they can’t thrive, they can’t create odour. You see, its simple science!’’


Acid Exfoliants as Deodorants

So do acid exfoliants work as deodorants? Anecdotally, it’s worked for lots of skincare addicts.

How to use

To use them, you can

  • Splash a little acid exfoliant on your armpits after showering with your hands
  • Use a cotton pad like you would on your face
  • Use pre-soaked pads



  • Acids can be irritating so may cause sensitivity in that area
  • Some acid products are sticky.
  • Some products might contain “food” for bacteria, making the smell even worse
  • Acid exfoliants don’t block your sweat pores, so  are not helpful if excessive sweat is your problem
  • The application can be messy

What to look out for when choosing a toner

The first thing is the concentration, since this is for daily use a concentration of between 5-10% works best. Another thing to look out for are soothing extracts which reduce the likelihood of irritation so ingredients like rose water, aloe Vera and chamomile are a plus..

A glycolic acid with a high level of plant oils will not work as an antiperspirant it tends to ‘’feed ‘’ the odour causing bacteria so look for one with plant extracts instead. Below are some of the glycolic acids which have worked well for others.


Would I use a glycolic acid toner as an antiperspirant? My honest answer is no. It seems like too much work for a problem that has been solved, there is no link between aluminium salts causing Alzheimer’s or cancer.

While I am happy to have it as an option in my back pocket just in case I run out I prefer to stick with my trusty SURE which has served me well for over 20 years. To learn more about how to use glycolic acid for your face read this ABC of acid toners part 1 , if you have oily acne-prone skin then part 2 of ABC of acid Toners is for you, to read my reviews of some of the more popular toners on the market THE ORDINARY 30% AHA &BHA SOLUTION, REVIEW: SUNDAY RIELY GOOD GENES.

For more information on the science of smell check out Lab Muffin

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  1. George Feeny
    2021-01-04 / 3:12 am

    “Would I use a glycolic acid toner as an antiperspirant? My honest answer is no. It seems like too much work for a problem that has been solved, there is no link between aluminium salts causing Alzheimer’s or cancer.”

    An antiperspirant blocks your sweat glands so you can’t use glycolic acid as one even if you wanted to.

    • 2021-01-04 / 4:13 pm

      I agree with you its way too much work and yes antiperspirants are fine. But there are a host of people who want alternatives and glycolic acid works by neutralising the odour causing bacteria. So while it doesn’t prevent perspiration it stops the smell

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