strategist investigates

Do You Really Need Masks, Toners, and Exfoliators for Your Armpits?

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Even though almost everyone stopped shaving during the pandemic, leading to an apparent increase in underarm-hair acceptance, armpit care is very much having a moment right now. On top of organic, refillable, all-natural deodorants popping up everywhere, there are now detoxes, exfoliants, soaps, creams, and even toners formulated (or, at the very least, marketed) specifically for your pits. But do your underarms really need a skin-care routine that rivals your face? I reached out to dermatologists and trend experts to find out.

At the top of my list was Melissa Hago, VP and creative director of beauty and wellness at trend forecaster Fashion Snoops, to get a sense of the changing landscape. “The main shift that we’re seeing in the armpit category is that consumers are demanding cleaner, less toxic ingredients alongside more sustainable products that are better for the environment,” says Hago. Generally speaking, the body care conversation is changing and growing as people give more time and attention to often neglected areas of the body with the same pampering care they usually save for their face. “The body-gratitude movement is about prioritizing self-acceptance and working to destigmatize and normalize all parts of the body,” says Hago. “We are seeing all parts of the body being catered to, and brands are creating products that cater specifically to the skin in these areas, from underarms and breasts to butt care and backne.”

The underarm category has been stagnant for some time, Hago says, and it’s exciting to see innovation in this space. New York–based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., feels similarly. “The underarms are the new frontier in skin care,” he says. As for whether these products are actually necessary, well, it depends. “Necessary is a relative term,” says Zeichner. “The only truly necessary products in the underarm area are cleansers to maintain basic hygiene, but these products offer benefits that improve people’s quality of life and daily comfort.”

Hago also thinks the product category is ultimately beneficial. “While it’s true that not every consumer will adopt an extensive underarm routine, I think these new products are definitely worth it to consumers who have struggled with underarm issues and discomfort,” she says. Hago thinks it’s great that we’re not only talking about these issues more but that there are specific solutions on the market. “Consumers who don’t experience underarm issues may view these products as gimmicky or unnecessary,” but for people looking for solutions to specific underarm problems, there are real merits to these products, she says. “If you’re struggling with excess underarm oil, discoloration, acne, ingrown hairs, or irritation, a product specifically designed to alleviate that issue is a real boost to one’s confidence — in addition to addressing the underarm issue itself,” Hago explains.

Regular masks, toners, or oils could work for your underarms, but Hago says they have the potential to throw off the balance of underarm skin, resulting in dryness, odor, and excess sweat or oil production. “Formulas that are pH adjusted and balanced to the acid mantle of delicate underarm skin ensure minimal disruption, while probiotic-, prebiotic-, and postbiotic-rich underarm products all help to support the underarm microbiome, which ultimately helps to regulate sebum and odor levels,” she explains.

But for most people, says Dr. Muneeb Shah, a dermatologist who has made a name for himself on TikTok, less is more when it comes to underarm care. “I don’t think the average person needs a special armpit routine anytime soon,” he tells me. In fact, too many products — especially exfoliants — can cause more irritation. “It is an intertriginous area that is at higher risk for irritation than other parts of the body, similar to the groin,” he explains. Hago agrees, warning that for people with no underarm issues, “excessive additions to their underarm routines” could lead to irritation or disruption to the underarm microbiome and pH balance.

If you are curious about experimenting with underarm beauty products — and understand that you need to introduce new things slowly in order to give your skin time to adjust, just like you’d do with your facial skin-care routine — here, a few of the formulas name-checked by our experts.

Hago says AKT is a great innovator in this space. The founders dealt with the same issues most consumers do: stained clothes, natural deodorants that didn’t work, and toxic ingredients, so they created their own deodorant balm with no aluminum. It uses unique active botanicals to not only protect but also to moisturize the skin. The packaging is plastic free and comes housed in aluminum tubes.

Another brand innovating in the underarm category, according to Hago, is Surface Deep. “The Anti-Odorant pads essentially replace typical deodorant use with 100 percent biodegradable cleansing pads made of clean ingredients.” They’re “anti-odorant,” meaning they rely on exfoliating acids, probiotics, and soothing botanicals to regulate underarm bacteria, wetness, and odor, and they help to improve underarm appearance.

Underarm masks are aplenty, but Flaunt Body’s Ingrown-Hair Mask stands out because it specifically tackles ingrown-hair concerns, something that hasn’t really been addressed in the armpit area. The brand says it moisturizes skin to reduce ingrown hairs, razor bumps, and hyperpigmentation around the areas where ingrown hairs and irritation may occur.

We’ve even seen this category adapt to touchless applications, like Lululemon’s Anti-Stink Deodorant, which comes in spray form for a germ-free application. “There’s a very clear connection to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, in that we’re definitely seeing people wanting more protection and hygienic products,” says Hago.

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Do You Really Need Masks and Toners for Your Armpits?