Almost every inch of every human body sweats so why do sweat stains only show up under arms? Sweat stains ruin clothing and can be embarrassing– learn what causes them and how to prevent them.
When I was a teenager I thought something was terribly wrong with me. I made sure not to lift my arms in photos or raise my hand too high in class. No matter what I did within a few weeks of owning a shirt it would develop nasty yellow sweat stains. The television seemed to know my pain; it advertised clinical strength antiperspirants that were “strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.” I bought it. In fact, bought a few and kept them at home, in my school locker, and in my backpack. But nothing worked. The stains kept returning and I was still sweating. Stain removers had no effect.
Then one day while I was in college, having ditched disposable menstrual products for cloth, I decided to ditch conventional antiperspirant too. If switching to cloth made my period lighter, or so I figured, maybe switching to this strange salt rock would reduce my sweating.
It did not.
At least at first. I was fortunate that I was too poor to immediately switch back to conventional antiperspirant. For a week (between meager paychecks) I had to suffer through the waterfalls under my arms. I brought extra clothes to class with me to change, stuffed paper towels into my bra strap, and wore flowy cardigans. I was soaked multiple times a day for seven days. And then, it stopped.
Just like that. I stopped sweating. For my entire post-pubescent life I believed that I had a problem with excessive sweating destroying my clothes and requiring stronger and stronger antiperspirants to stop it. I had been put on powerful anti-anxiety medications and when those didn’t do anything (except make me violently ill), I was told that I could have surgery to remove sweat ducts. But all I really needed was to stop using antiperspirants altogether (and give my body a minute to sweat everything out).
I learned that the stains I had dealt with for so long had nothing to do with my body and everything to do with the antiperspirants. The base clung to clothing fibers and then oxidized into a yellowy permanent stain. When using the salt crystal, even if I was working out really hard, drenched in sweat, my workout clothes wouldn’t develop sweat stains and I wouldn’t get smelly.
How does it work?
Antiperspirants are considered a drug by the FDA. The most common chemical compound found in modern antiperspirants is “aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex glyand” which combines with sweat to plug the sweat ducts in the skin. It is this substance, the goop created from sweat and “aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex glyand” (what a mouthful— phrasing!) that was staining my clothes, leaving a nasty film in the fabric that couldn’t be removed. And likely, the reason my armpits went into monsoon season when I suddenly stopped using it. The active ingredient in antiperspirants has been linked to kidney damage and may be linked with breast cancer and lymphomas (there is a lot of industry push back on research into this area for about two billion reasons a year).
The salt crystal that I have been using now for over fifteen years is a deodorant, not an antiperspirant. It doesn’t have anything in it that prevents my sweat ducts from doing what they do, but it does inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause body odor. Unlike conventional deodorants that contain fragrance and talc to leave a silky feeling behind (which can also cause sweat stains), the salt crystal doesn’t add any scent or residue. How do I use it? I get it wet, then rub the wet rock under my armpits after showering. It leaves a thin (imperceptible) layer of salt on my skin, though it is important to wash your skin between applications so that you don’t get a build up of salt which could be irritating. As a bonus, it can be used anywhere on the body that a person has problems with body odors, such as feet (though I would recommend keeping separate stones for each).
Pros and Cons of Deodorant Stones
There have been a few downsides to using the salt crystal. When left damp it starts to grow little crystal babies which are sharp. Speaking of sharp, if you knick yourself shaving or have just used an epilator (any kind of broken skin) and you swipe on the salt crystal it is going to sting like a MF. Dropping the rock is a problem too because if it gets a sharp edge on it you’ll need to be careful. I can’t decide whether I prefer the rock alone or the version in the plastic screw-up base. The stand-alone rock can be hard to grip but I can actually hold it, whereas the crystal in the plastic case can come loose from the base and you’ll be left holding the case as the crystal flies across the room. The alternative is the roll-on applicator which contains the salt-water, which doesn’t require you to have access to water to apply.
There are more benefits than downsides, including the obvious lack of sweat stains and harmful chemical compounds, including how long a salt crystal lasts. I buy one every two years or so and it’s around $1.15/ounce. Though I try to find them on sale and stock up since they won’t go bad. Whereas most antiperspirants are $2-3 or more per ounce and they will expire if not used in a timely manner. The crystal also looks nice, albeit a fairly trivial issue considering, but who doesn’t want more functional and beautiful things in their life?