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Is It Really True That Your Deodorant ‘Stops Working’ When It Gets Used to Your Stench?

Is it really necessary to switch up your brand? Experts say this myth doesn’t quite pass the smell test

Robert Herbst, a 61-year-old personal trainer and world-champion powerlifter, hasn’t changed his deodorant brand in 43 years. 

“I was 18 when a girl told me she liked the scent,” he says, and he’s never looked back. “I haven’t seen the girl in more than 40 years, but the deodorant is working just fine.” 

A “simple man,” Herbst says he simply likes the scent of his Brut Classic and sees no reason to change it. “It’s not overpowering and it seems to work,” he argues. “So I’ve never had a reason to change brands.” 

But unlike Herbst, some guys swear their body “gets used to” the chemicals in deodorant after a while, as if they’re building up a tolerance to the anti-perspirant effects. Thus, they’re constantly switching up brands and scents of different deodorants. 

Much like using the pool to bathe, there’s plenty of purely anecdotal evidence out there that suggests your body builds a tolerance to deodorant. “I have had this experience. I used Axe for around 10 years and just recently (last summer) I started to smell like B.O. all the time,” writes Reddit user Quercusgarryana in a post about whether the theory is true — that you need to change up the deodorant brands. “I thought it had something to do with not working out as much or eating differently, but I kept adjusting variables and the smell didn’t go away. Then I just bought a new deodorant, and within a week, the smell went away.” 

Unless you’re part of the group allegedly giving up on deodorant altogether, buying new Old Spice isn’t the biggest pain, and who doesn’t like to switch up their scents every now and then (besides guys like Herbst)? 

ELI5: How deodorant works and why it "stops working" after a bit from explainlikeimfive

I consulted some experts to get to the bottom of this deodorant myth. Is it really necessary to switch up your brand every once in a while? 

First, in order to understand exactly what makes your pits stink, dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey begins by explaining that sweat glands in your armpits and groin are actually different from the sweat glands found all over the rest of your body.

These glands, called apocrine glands, produce “a more milky sweat, [which empties] into hair follicles prior to reaching the skin surface.” This is where the stink is produced. 

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“All sweat is odorless until it combines with bacteria found on the skin surface,” Frey explains. “Bacteria breaks down various sweat components, which creates the smell we perceive as body odor.” 

So when it comes to antiperspirants, they’re not doing anything to kill the smell; rather, they’re blocking the sweat glands with their aluminum-based compounds. “By creating a temporary plug within the sweat duct, sweat is prevented from reaching the skin surface,” she says.

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According to Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, these theories about needing to change brands are on the rise thanks to beauty YouTubers, social media influencers and multilevel marketers needing to sell products. If they can convince you your body grows immune to your current brand, chances are you’ll buy theirs. However, the doctor asserts, “no one has proven that your body can actually adjust to it over time.”  

In fact, the idea that your body grows immune to the deodorant’s antibacterial effects is basically nonsense. While there technically are some antibacterial properties in the metal salts contained in antiperspirant deodorants, Frey says she’s unaware of any over-the-counter antiperspirants that contain outright antibacterial ingredients. And there’s no reason why they would, she adds, because “the effects of antiperspirants are due to a mechanical blockage of sweat from the gland itself onto the skin.”

In other words, the work of antiperspirant deodorant is to physically block sweat ducts. It has nothing to do with a chemical reaction. 

Still, Djordjevic says, it’s not crazy to think your deodorant has stopped working. You might suddenly notice your body odor when you hadn’t before. But that’s due to a few other reasons. 

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First and foremost may be a change in hormones, Djordjevic says. Hormonal changes can happen for a number of reasons outside puberty, and hormones “play a big role in how much we sweat and how many bacteria will be produced.” If you’re producing more sweat, there’s a good chance you’ll suddenly catch a whiff of your own stank. 

The same goes for working out more than usual or changing your diet to include spicy foods or caffeine. In that case, you might need a deodorant change. Not only are you sweating more, but your hormones can change when you shift to a healthier and more active lifestyle, which in turn can tweak how your sweat smells. 

As for changes in diet, health and lifestyle blogs often float the idea that your diet can alter the way you smell. But the research on this is largely inconsistent.

“I know that many claim to experience body odor changes with diet variation,” Frey tells MEL. “But I am unaware of any studies that prove body odor changes with diet.” 

She’s right. According to a review published in New Research in Food Habits, researchers concluded that the available research shows there isn’t much evidence to back up the idea that your diet changes your body odor. And the idea itself might be more based in xenophobia than in science.

“We can only speculate about the effects of specific dietetic compounds on subjective perceptions of human bodily odors,” the study concludes. Unfortunately, this is a perception that can “contribute to xenophobic beliefs that individuals of other cultures smell bad, although much of the aversive effect of some odors is likely to be a simple effect of unfamiliarity.” 

“Sweat is odorless,” Frey asserts. “Until certain bacteria on the skin breaks down sweat contents… there is no body odor.” So if your current brand of deodorant just doesn’t smell right, by all means, change it — but it has nothing to do with your body getting “used to” the makeup of the product. 

Dr. Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, a dermatologist in Kansas City, argues you should actually do the opposite. Use only one brand of deodorant until you’re dead, he says. “I am in the camp of stay-with-the-same-deodorant,” he tells MEL. “If deodorant is working just fine, there is no reason to change it at all. If you change it, you are just exposing your skin to more different chemicals increasing the chance of allergic reaction.” 

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Tonkovic-Capin says he’s seen “quite a few” instances of people thinking they need to change their deodorant and ending up “miserable” because of an unexpected allergic reaction.  

“If you really need or want to change your deodorant,” he advises, “test the new one on your inner forearm twice daily for a week to see if you will develop any kind of irritation before you start using it on other parts of the body.”  

Herbst might not know the medical benefits of sticking with the same deodorant for 43 years, but he knows he’s a Brut Classic man through and through. As an athlete, he’s kept a pretty steady and basic diet, which might be why he’s never noticed any real change in body odor. Besides, he says, “the Brut seems to blend in well.” 

“That long-ago girl liked it, and no one has complained since that I stink,” he concludes. But if Brut ever discontinues its product, Herbst says, he “would be truly bummed to have to find a new brand.”