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Is "all-body" deodorant necessary? Dermatologists weigh in on latest product trend.

You may have seen it in the drugstore deodorant aisle or in ads populating your social media feeds — a new type of deodorant that goes beyond your armpits and is meant for your whole body. The list of brands capitalizing on the trend keeps growing and already includes Lume, Secret, Dove, Old Spice and Native. Ads claim the products can be used from "head to toe" and even from "pits to bits."

But should you reach for all-body deodorants? 

"It's not necessary at all," says Dr. Karan Lal, a double board certified dermatologist and member of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Dr. Afton Cobb, a dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in Jackson, Wyoming, says she doesn't recommend using deodorants all over your body. Instead, if you have any areas outside your armpits you want to target, you can try — with caution, she advises.

"That's a little bit more appropriate than just like all over the body," she says, acknowledging people may want a deodorant for feet or groin, for example. "I don't agree with just like spraying a deodorant all over your entire body. But in those specific areas, I think there is some merit."

Dr. Samer Jaber, a board-certified dermatologist at Washington Square Dermatology, in New York, agrees there is "certainly no need to use deodorants in areas where you don't have odor," explaining that deodorants are basically perfumes that are sprayed on the body to mask body odor.

In statements to CBS News, Dove and Secret said they saw a demand for a full-body product.

"While some may view whole body deodorants as unnecessary, we at Dove know there is demand for this product. Unilever research found that 15% of Americans were looking for a full-body solution," said Pranav Chandan, U.S. head of deodorants at Unilever. "Our research found that less than 1% of the sweat that our bodies produce comes from the underarm, so why not create a solution designed for use on all the other body parts that produce sweat?"

"We asked nearly 4000 people about their body odor and we found that: 50-60% of people are concerned about groin odor, 20-30% are concerned about chest or underbreast odor and 30-50% of people are concerned about foot odor," said Dr. Maiysha Jones, principal scientist for North America personal care at Procter & Gamble. "Secret Whole Body Deodorant consulted with hundreds of gynecologists and dermatologists to review our formulas and safety research, and we learned that 4 out of 5 of each specialty would recommend whole body deodorant."

CBS News has also reached out to Lume, which offers a range of whole-body deodorants, for comment. 

Is whole-body deodorant safe?

Dermatologists said to be aware of a few things when it comes to these products — first, fragrance. 

"Generally deodorants are very safe," Jaber says. "The biggest issue potentially with deodorants is, if you have sensitive skin, fragrance can result in redness, itch and irritation."

Lal says it's not just skin reactivity from fragrances, but also possible neurological reactivity, like migraines and headaches. 

"There's a lot of fragrance in these things and... a lot of people are more fragrance sensitive than you imagine," he says. "So you have to be very careful about using these types of products around certain people or yourself if you're someone that may be potentially fragrance sensitive." 

Other concerns include where it's being used, particularly in the groin area. 

"For women, for example, if you're using things around the vaginal area, you potentially run the risk of messing up the microbiome in the vagina," Lal says. "You have to be very careful with that, that you're not putting it too close and getting inside, which believe it or not, I'm sure people are doing."

With any skincare product that you apply to an area that has that fine, delicate skin and is subject to moisture, Cobb says you "run a higher risk of getting an irritant contact dermatitis," or dry, itchy, irritated areas on the skin.

Secret, which is owned by Procter & Gamble, says it included gynecologists and dermatologists in safety testing to ensure its collection can be used on the skin around your "most sensitive areas," but notes it's "for external use only."

Why does my sweat smell?

It's actually a misconception that our sweat is what smells, dermatologists say. 

"Our sweat does not smell when it leaves the body, for the most part. Unless you're eating certain foods or spices, it does not smell," Lal explains. "When sweat comes out of your glands, there's certain bacteria on the skin that break the sweat down, which produces that type of odor."

How to make armpits smell better

So, what are the best ways to decrease odor in armpits and elsewhere? There are three options, Jaber says:

  1. Decrease sweat production — antiperspirants (not to be confused with deodorant) work by using mineral salts (aluminum salts, for example) to block the sweat glands and decrease sweat production, he explains.
  2. Decrease the bacteria that breaks down sweat and causes odor — Antibacterial products can help with this, Jaber says, noting some whole-body deodorant brands aim for this by including certain acids. 
  3. Mask the odor with a fragrance — basically, how deodorant works

Dermatologists say you can combat odor at the source by decreasing bacteria. 

"For patients of mine with significant body odor, I recommend using (over-the-counter) antibacterial cleaning washes like Hibiclens or low-potency benzoyl peroxide washes in the shower, which can be very effective to decrease odor," Jaber says. 

Lal says you can also combat body odor in sensitive areas like the armpits, groin, buttock and feet by using bodywashes with salicylic acid or glycolic acid.

"That will, over time, reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin so you don't make that body odor," he explains. 

Topical antibiotics or medicines for certain malodorous conditions or excessive sweating can also be prescribed, Cobb says.

Beyond that, general behavioral measures can also help. 

"Try to shower and rinse off. Try to really pad the areas dry and let them air out a lot so that you're minimizing that moist, occlusive environment. Changing out your shoes, changing out your socks, changing out your clothes, those kinds of things," Cobb suggests.

Dove says its whole-body deodorants are "optimized to tackle odor at its source instead of just covering it up."

"Our product targets odor at its source using a proprietary deodorizing agent to manage bacteria," Chandan said. "Additionally, our creams and sticks help absorb unwanted moisture from sweat, further reducing the opportunity for odor to develop and helping to stop chafe."

Secret says its whole-body deodorant was also designed to prevent odor at the source. "Each form (spray, cream, stick) is made with a unique ingredient that fights odor-causing bacteria over time while being gentle on sensitive skin. The different forms give people flexibility in how and where to protect against body odor," Jones said. 

Still dealing with odor?

Cobb recommends determining where the odor is coming from, as it might not be a result of sweating.

For groin smell, for example, is it actually coming from the surrounding skin? 

"If you did have odor coming more vaginally, that might be a sign that you want to see a gynecologist to make sure there's nothing else going on," she says, warning that you "wouldn't want to use an all-body deodorant in the vagina or vaginal mucosa."

You could also be dealing with a different dermatological condition that causes odor, Lal explains, like hidradenitis suppurativa, where people get boils in their groin, armpits and under their breasts.

Other medical conditions can also be associated with certain odors, such as diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease, Cobb says, encouraging patients to seek professional help for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. 

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