Pee-ew: Getting rid of body odor with benzoyl peroxide

You might have seen the videos on social media: people using benzoyl peroxide face washes on their underarms to prevent body odor. It may leave you wondering, does it work? We asked Dr. Zeena Nawas, an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology, and Dr. Yelena Dokic, a second-year resident in the Department of Dermatology, about this trend.

A person wiping away sweat with a towel.Question: Can benzoyl peroxide prevent body odor?

Answer: Yes, benzoyl peroxide can help prevent body odor. It is a bactericidal agent, meaning that it kills bacteria. The bacteria on the surface of our skin, especially in the armpits and groin, break down sweat and can produce a foul odor. The mechanism of benzoyl peroxide is to kill these bacteria on the surface of the skin, leading to less production of body odor. However, it is important to note that body odor is not solely related to bacteria on the surface of the skin. There are several factors involved in the production of body odor, such as the type of bacteria on the skin, the amount of sweat that is produced and certain medications and food.

Q: If so, how does it do it? Does it get rid of the bacteria that causes the odor or does it eliminate the smell but not the actual bacteria?

A: Benzoyl peroxide oxidizes the bacteria that live on the surface of the skin by damaging the bacteria’s cell wall. With consistent use, benzoyl peroxide can reduce body odor over time by helping to reduce the amount of bacteria present on the skin that contribute to body odor.

Q: Is it safe to use?

A: Benzoyl peroxide is generally safe to use and is available over the counter at low concentrations. However, in some patients and especially at higher concentrations, it can cause side effects such as dry skin, irritation, redness and peeling. If using benzoyl peroxide for the first time, it is best to start with a low concentration and gradually increase the concentration as your skin tolerates it. If higher concentrations are desired, consider making an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss options for their skin.

Q: Does it also stop sweating?

A: No, benzoyl peroxide does not stop sweating. If a person desires to decrease the amount of sweating, then they should consider the use of an antiperspirant, which works by blocking sweat glands. This leads to less moisture in the skin where the antiperspirant is applied. Antiperspirants are available over the counter, however, stronger antiperspirants require prescriptions from a doctor. It is important to note that antiperspirants can sometimes be irritating and drying to the skin, especially for people with sensitive skin.

Q: Should you be using a specific product (like a face wash vs. a gel vs. a body wash)?

A: Benzoyl peroxide exists in a variety of formulations, such as face washes, body washes, gels, etc. The type of product that a person should use depends on where they have the body odor and what their desired treatment goals are. It is also important to consider the sensitivity of one’s skin because sometimes ‘leave on’ products such as gels can be more irritating than ‘wash off’ products such as body washes or face washes.

Q: How often should you wash with it?

A: The frequency of washing with benzoyl peroxide should be followed as instructed on the product label. If washing with benzoyl peroxide daily is too drying, then consider using it every other day or only several times per week.

Q: How does it differ from deodorant and antiperspirant?

A: Deodorants and antiperspirants work by different mechanisms. Deodorants work by masking body odor with another scent. Antiperspirants work by preventing the formation of sweat, and thus the formation of body odor.

Learn about Baylor Medicine Dermatology.

By Anna Kiappes

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