I Used AHA & BHA Instead of Deodorant—and It Actually Worked

Photo: Rômulo Carolino / Pexels

The internet is full of beauty hacks, some handy (bar soap as brow gel) and some not so much (baking soda facial scrubs—please just don’t). So when I saw that intrepid skincare sleuths were swapping their deodorant for AHA toners and other chemical exfoliants, I was skeptical but intrigued. I’m not a huge fan of traditional deodorants—they often smell too sickly sweet, leave stains on my clothes, or irritate my delicate armpit skin. And that’s if they even work at all (I’m side-eyeing you, natural deodorant.) Given my mixed feelings about deodorant, it didn’t take much to convince me to give this hack a try.

The science

According to this very informative post by LabMuffin about the science of sweaty armpits, exfoliating acids like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid may work to control body odor by altering the pH of your skin. Normal human armpits have a pH of 5.5-6.5, which is the perfect environment for stink-causing bacteria to flourish. AHAs and BHAs, on the other hand, usually have a lower pH (around 3-4). By using a chemical exfoliant to lower the pH of your pits, you can theoretically neutralize the pesky bacteria behind your B.O.

The test

To put this theory to the test, I retired my deodorant and turned to my go-to serum for cheap, effective exfoliation: Good Molecules Overnight Exfoliating Treatment, which has 10% AHA and BHA and a pH of 3.5. For a week, I applied a half-dropper to my armpits after showering and went about my day. (A quick note, for test purposes: As far as my personal armpit stink goes, I’d say I’m moderately smelly. Smack-dab in the middle of the funk spectrum. If I work out or have to make awkward small talk with a cute barista, you can definitely tell if I forgot deodorant.)

The results

I’m not going to draw this out: I was floored at how well the acid worked. At the end of a normal day spent working and running a few errands, I couldn’t detect even the faintest whiff of B.O. The effect lasted for a little over 24 hours before I started giving off a bit of funk (but even then, my pits weren’t nearly as stinky as they would be.) It even seemed to work just as well as regular deodorant during a brisk walk-jog in humid, 90-degree weather. One thing I want to stress: Acids aren’t antiperspirants, so my armpits still produced the same amount of sweat that they usually do. But it didn’t smell bad, which is a win in my book.

The final verdict

This is one beauty hack I’ll be sticking with. I’m a huge fan of multitasking products, so I like the idea of using one serum to brighten and smooth my face and to de-stink my pits. I also like the added skincare benefits of an acid deodorant. As someone who often gets weird armpit rashes, hyperpigmentation, and ingrown hairs when I shave, this is major. If you’re curious, try it out with a low-pH exfoliating toner or serum you may already have in your stash. Be careful when applying to freshly shaven skin (it may sting!) and, as always, make sure to patch-test before you go slathering something new all over your pits. If you notice signs of irritation (redness, stinging, sensitivity, peeling, etc.), acid deodorant may not be right for you.