Use Deodorant to Prevent Eczema Flare Ups

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Confession: I never used deodorant until last year.

Seriously, it might sound really gross but anti-perspirants and deodorants are not on the top of drug store lists in Asia (that includes Hong Kong and a bunch of other major cities. Seriously, ask any girl). Restricting perspiration goes against the “natural” Chinese way, which would explain why most women don’t do bikini / brazilian / any-kind-of-down-there waxes. Even Traditional Chinese Medicine dictates it’s healthy to sweat; toxins are carried with sweat and thus released from our bodies (hang on, isn’t that very similar to what Western medicine says…?), so it doesn’t cross our minds to cover up the smell either. I’m not one of those hugely sweaty people anyway. I have extremely dry skin because of eczema and I barely soak a shirt unless I’m working out.

Except my pits.

Which are mildly, mildly damp in the sweltering heat of Hong Kong summers – who doesn’t sweat when it’s 36 degrees and 85% humidity? – but the sweat is odorless and so light, I can just wipe it off with my fingertips, so I never gave my sweaty armpits a thought. Besides, they quickly dry up in the subzero, Artic-like air conditioning that’s in any indoor area, so it’s usually not a big deal for me at all.

Except that my sweaty pits triggered eczema!

My sweaty pits led to the patches on my shoulders, the front and back but not on my pits that you’ve seen pictures of. My pits were mildly damp, so what, I figured. It’s never bothered me before. Except that this time it did. The thin sheen of sweat that stayed on my skin for more than five minutes suddenly led to a small itchy patch. Which I unwisely ignored (note to readers: never ignore even a 1cm-wide rash!). I know that layers of sweat left on skin, even dried layers, can trigger eczema flare ups, so I always try to shower or at least rinse off after playing sport. It didn’t occur to me that a few damp patches would trigger an ecezma flare up.

Unfortunately, as with most eczema patches, the rash grew and spread, and now it’s on the front and back of both armpits. It’s mighty embarrassing, as you can see from the pictures and it means for the most part, going strapless in the summer is a no-no.

Since last year, under the advice of Doc Great Derm, I’ve been using deodorant regularly, especially in the summertime. Deodorant, not anti-perspirant (you can read about the difference here) because I didn’t want to completely clog up my pores, especially with harsh chemicals. The deodorant keeps my pits dry just the same and more importantly, it means there’s no sweat to irritate my skin. I’m currently using Dove’s Original Roll-on Deodorant which really works for me. Here are some tips on how to choose a good one:

Go hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.
As with any creams, lotions and potions we put on our skin, make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin. Floral and fruity fragances smell addictingly lovely, but eczema sufferers know the drill. Fragrance-free please!

Use the roll-on version.
The roll-on kind means you’re only putting on the bare minimum while the spray version covers more area. I’m always iffy about putting anything with chemicals on skin, and that includes make-up, pefumes, you-name-its. Anti-perspirants prevent your pores from releasing sweat, which inherently means some chemical is involved. Using the roll-on to dab on only what you need will ensure only the necessary skin area is in contact with the deodorant.

Go with brands you trust.
That’s just a general rule that I stick with. A bigger, better known brand has better resources for R&D to ensure high-quality products. I know that’s not the case 99% of the time anyways, but call it better marketing and consumer confidence – I probably don’t want a product that was tested in a dinky little lab in some small town with a 10-person population.

Wash it off at night.
If you’re not hopping in the shower at night (eww, I know, but some people do that) at least wipe off that anti-perspirant with a warm wash cloth. You need the deodorant to get the job done but it doesn’t need to be on your skin for longer than absolutely necessary. (But really folks, you should be showering every night before you sleep; clean skin means a clean bed which means fewer eczema flare ups.)

Dove’s Original Roll-on has really worked for me and even though it says fragrance-free, there is a fresh, cotton, baby powder kind of smell to it. In case it’s not available in your area, here are a few others I would pull off the rack and try:

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Adidas’ Aluminium Free. Nivea’s Pearl Beauty. Dove’s Clinical Protection.

I’m no doctor, but I think using deodorants should cause no problems if your skin is moderately or mildly sensitive like mine. If you have extremely sensitive skin you might want to try a home-made, all-natural option using baking soda. I would love to test it out but I just don’t have the time to whip it together and so far the commercial kind is working just fine for me.


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