Allergy to Deodorant

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is an allergy to deodorant?

Allergy to deodorant is a form of contact dermatitis, which is a type of eczema. There are two types of contact dermatitis—allergic (ACD) and irritant (ICD). Both cause a red, itchy rash after contact with a substance. ICD is the more common type, accounting for about 80% of cases. Common irritants include soaps, detergents and solvents. ACD is more likely to occur from contact with cosmetics, fragrances, clothes dyes, and plants, such as poison ivy.

Deodorants are cosmetics people use to mask underarm odor. They generally work in two ways. First, they decrease the number of bacteria that produce odor. Most of them also contain fragrances that cover any odor that develops. These fragrances are often the culprit in an allergic reaction to deodorant. In fact, fragrances are one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis.

ACD reactions can either be acute or chronic. A poison ivy rash is an example of an acute reaction. It typically happens quickly and may result in blisters. A chronic ACD rash, like an allergy to deodorant rash, can take some time to develop. It can also take repetitive exposures before the immune system becomes sensitized and reacts to the substance. So, the rash may not appear the first time you use a product. With repeated use, it can still take a few days before you notice a problem.

A chronic ACD rash tends to look like typical eczema. Along with redness and itching, the area can become thickened or even scaly. The location of the rash is a huge clue to trigger. An axilla—or underarm—rash points to a deodorant allergy, especially if it affects both sides.

It’s unclear why some people develop ACD and others don’t. It’s more common in people who are genetically predisposed to allergic reactions.

Treating ACD rashes involves removing the offending substance. With a deodorant allergy, this can be challenging. Patch testing fragrances and related ingredients can help you find an allergy-free deodorant. You can relieve discomfort while the rash clears with anti-itch creams, antihistamines, cool compresses, and other self-care strategies.

Seek prompt care if you notice a persistent rash or other skin changes affecting your underarms. Allergic contact dermatitis generally isn’t a serious condition. But continued scratching can lead to open sores and a secondary bacterial infection.

What are the symptoms of an allergy to deodorant?

Allergy to deodorant symptoms affect the area where you apply the deodorant—the underarms or axillae. The allergic reaction can take a few hours or days to develop.

Common symptoms of allergy to deodorant

Common symptoms of an allergy to deodorant include a red rash that may have any of the following characteristics:

  • Burning or stinging
  • Dryness or scaliness
  • Itchiness, which can be intense
  • Swelling or warmth

It can be a challenge to avoid scratching the area. Scratching generally won’t relieve the itching. Instead, it creates a cycle of increased inflammation, more intense itching, and harder scratching.

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

A deodorant allergy is rarely a serious condition. However, scratching the area can lead to potentially serious complications, such as a secondary bacterial or fungal infection. Seek prompt medical care if you have an underarm rash with any of these symptoms:

  • Fever higher than 101°F
  • Increased or expanding redness, swelling or warmth
  • Open sores or lesions

If you are self-treating an underarm rash, see your doctor if it isn’t resolving within three weeks.

What causes an allergy to deodorant?

A deodorant allergy occurs when the skin becomes sensitized to an ingredient in the deodorant. The most common culprit is fragrance. Deodorants use fragrance to mask any odors that develop in the underarm area. Other possible deodorant allergy triggers in order of allergic potential include:

  • Propylene glycol, which is a water-soluble solvent with moisturizing, antiseptic and preservative qualities
  • Essential oils and biological additives, which are plant-based substances related to fragrances
  • Parabens, which are preservatives. Examples include methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, butyl paraben, and propyl paraben.
  • Lanolin, which is a natural emollient with conditioning properties derived from secretions from the oil glands of sheep

To find an allergy-free deodorant, look for one with as few of these potential allergens as possible. The ones most likely to elicit an allergic reaction are in the top part of the list. Those at the bottom are the least likely to cause a problem. It can be difficult to find products that do not have any potential allergens in them.

What are the risk factors for an allergy to deodorant?

Anyone can get contact dermatitis, including ACD that manifests as an allergy to deodorant. However, some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing allergies. Having other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, also increases the risk of ACD.

Unlike atopic dermatitis—the most common form of dermatitis—ACD by itself is not associated with the “atopic march.” Doctors use this term to describe a group of conditions that progress from one to another—eczema, food allergies, hay fever, and asthma.

Reducing your risk of an allergy to deodorant

You can’t always predict who will get a deodorant allergy, so it’s hard to prevent. You may be able to lower your risk of a deodorant allergy by using an allergy-free deodorant. The most common allergen in deodorants is fragrance. So, start by finding a fragrance-free or unscented deodorant. Refer to the list of allergens under Causes section to further reduce the allergic potential in your deodorant product.

How do doctors diagnose an allergy to deodorant?

The location of a rash in the underarm area is a main clue to the cause, especially when it involves both sides. To make a connection to deodorant, your doctor may ask questions, such as:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • Are you using any new soaps, detergents, or personal products, such as deodorant? If so, when did you start?
  • Are your symptoms continuous or do they come and go?
  • What, if anything, makes your symptoms better or worse?

Your doctor may also recommend patch testing. Patch testing involves putting potential allergens on an adhesive patch. You wear the patch for a few days to see if a skin reaction develops. Your doctor will check the patches at 48 hours and score the reaction. This reaction is compared to the final check at 72 to 96 hours.

What are the treatments for an allergy to deodorant?

The most important step in treating ACD, including a deodorant allergy, is to avoid the allergen that is causing the reaction. Patch test results will help your doctor identify the problematic deodorant ingredients. Once you know your allergens, you can find a deodorant product that is free of them.

While you wait for the rash to clear, you can use over-the-counter corticosteroid creams and other anti-itch remedies. Oral antihistamines can also help relieve symptoms of itchiness and redness. If your rash is severe, your doctor may recommend prescription medicines to help it clear.

Home remedies for an allergy to deodorant

Try these self-care steps to improve your comfort while the rash clears:

  • Apply cool compresses
  • Avoid scratching
  • Soak in an oatmeal bath at a temperature that is as cool as possible (alternatively, soak a washcloth in the oatmeal bath and apply it to your underarms)

What are the potential complications of an allergy to deodorant?

A deodorant allergy usually doesn’t result in complications as long as you discontinue exposure to the product. In some cases, excessive scratching can lead to a secondary bacterial or fungal infection. These infections can become serious in some cases.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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