Cheap! Effective! Portable!
The Covid-19 pandemic gave humanity a new appreciation for hand sanitizers. They are now in every store, hospital, office, and household.
But hand sanitizers do more than reduce the spread of infection. Take, for example, smelly armpits. Fact: if you eliminate the bacteria, you eliminate the odor. Soap and water will always be a mainstay, but not always convenient. Hand sanitizers prevent the odor and are highly effective substitutes when washing is not possible.
A little background: Sweat in our armpits—called apocrine sweat—becomes smelly only after resident skin bacteria called Corynebacterium break it down. The higher bacteria count in your armpits, the stronger the smell. This does not happen with normal perspiration on your body (‘eccrine’ sweat) from heat or exercise.
The good news is that ordinary hand sanitizer, when rubbed into your armpits and allowed to air-dry, kills most of the germs so that the sweat does not become smelly. You can apply it daily, after washing, or whenever needed.
Hand sanitizers are usually 60 to 70% alcohol (ethanol), inexpensive, easy to apply, portable and well tolerated even in the sensitive skin of the axilla (armpit). Irritation is rare with intact skin. Unscented is always best.
How about the established alternatives? Ordinary deodorants are mostly made of fragrance that masks the smell temporarily. ‘Antiperspirant’ deodorants block sweat pores and are highly effective but are more expensive and the active ingredients (aluminum salts) can cause skin reactions. Disinfectant cleansers (iodine or chlorhexidine) are effective but can irritate the skin and are costly. Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) would be a good alternative, though less convenient and can irritate skin. Finally, some studies have tried to replace the Corynebacterium bacteria that causes the smell, with Lactobacillus species, but this would be costly and temporary. More studies are needed.