Ask Esquire: 'How Do I Avoid Underarm Sweat, Pit Stains, and My Shame?'
It’s a nightmare you wouldn’t wish upon anyone: You walk into a party, easily the best-dressed man in the room (and with the confidence and swagger to pull it off), and you spot someone you know. You raise your arm high in the air to catch their attention and say a bright hello. Then everything stops.
All eyes are on you—and the visibly damp patch that has bloomed on the underarm area of your shirt.
Sounds like a deodorant ad, but many have had the misfortune of experiencing such embarrassment and discomfort, especially during this sweltering season. Sweating serves a practical purpose, however—it’s the body’s natural way of refreshing itself and staving off heat. Still, there are ways to keep your cool (literally and figuratively) without compromising your social status.
Here’s what you need to know.
1| Why do we sweat a lot through the underarms?
The answer is pretty straightforward: There are simply more sweat glands in the underarm area. This spot is also the center for a lot of blood flow, which increases with a higher temperature. As a result, the armpits become the first defense for removing excess heat. That way, it’s more efficient for cooling down the body as a whole.
2| Am I sweating too much?
Perspiration is put into motion by the central nervous system under certain conditions, one of which is physical exertion. The more energy you use, the higher your body temperature, and the more you sweat. You also sweat excessively when you’re stressed or anxious.
Your consumption of food and drink also comes into play. Your coffee habit may be making matters worse, because the heat activates your sweat glands. This is also true for spicy meals, so try not to order hot noodles or chicken tikka masala, and opt for some cold brew instead.
If you can’t pinpoint a particular reason for your underarm sweat, you may be dealing with hyperhidrosis, a dysfunction of the central nervous system that leads to overactive sweat glands.
It occurs even in perfectly healthy people, but a less common type of the condition is caused by certain diseases or neurological disorders. If your sweat starts becoming a problem beyond pit stains and summer woes, check in with your doctor.
3| Should I use deodorant or antiperspirant? (And what’s the difference?)
Sweat isn’t the sole culprit for pesky B.O., but when it combines with bacteria, all bets are off. This can easily be handled with deodorant, which masks the smell by killing the bacteria and putting forth a more fragrant scent.
Antiperspirant, while also useful for dispelling bad odors, also contains aluminum salts that plug the sweat glands and block sweat from exiting through the skin, reducing visible perspiration in that area (and your shame). Stronger and clinical-grade antiperspirants are also available. It’s best to apply the product twice a day, especially at night. Just apply to dry skin and massage it in so it’s most effective.
If you’re wondering where the sweat goes when it can’t exit through the sweat glands in your pits, your body just removes excess heat elsewhere, and it’s hardly a noticeable difference.
4| Wait, I heard antiperspirants are bad for you. Is that true?
It’s a total myth. Who knew there’d be an urban legend related to underarms? Apparently, since antiperspirants prevent the release of sweat and toxins, the aluminum enters the bloodstream and builds up, increasing your risk of developing breast cancer. But even if that were true (it isn’t), there’s no proven scientific correlation between the illness and the element. And you don’t really sweat out toxins, either.
Aluminum was, for a time, also thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease, but to this day, researchers have yet to prove that there is a link between them.
5| I’m still wary of antiperspirants. Is there a natural alternative?
Tawas has had its moments in and out of style, but it’s still typically rubbed onto underarms after showering to whiten skin and prevent body odor. It’s long-lasting and hypoallergenic, and it can eliminate odor while remaining scentless. But the real draw is that it’s made from natural crystals of potassium alum, which means it has the necessary component to reduce sweating.
6| I think I need stronger and longer-lasting solutions. What should I do?
Neurotoxin treatments for underarms have proven to be effective for the long term—definitely more convenient than worrying about having to use hit-or-miss products every day. A neuromodulator, usually botox, is injected into the affected area, which serves to block the signals that activate sweat glands. Without these signals, it becomes impossible for your pits to release sweat.
No worries about possible buildup: The sweat doesn’t have anywhere to go when it’s not actually being produced. The procedure only lasts about six months, though, and could set you back over P50,000.
7| How do I prevent sweat stains on my shirt?
Make sure to change clothes frequently and go for cool and breathable fabrics like cotton, wool, or linen, which help with air circulation and allow the sweat to evaporate more easily. After applying underarm product—don’t use too much—make sure it’s completely dry before dressing.
Also, try different absorbent materials to find out what works for you, including disposable or reusable shields, antiperspirant wipes, undershirts and clothes with sweat-proof material, and even baby powder. You can also look for antiperspirant that’s specifically designed to lessen stains on whatever color you’re wearing and protect your clothes just as much as your skin.