Whole-body deodorant is trending, but do we need it — or are we being scent-shamed?

Sweat beads are seen on the back of a woman on Dec. 9, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. A new wave of whole-body deodorants swear they can help with sweat and smell — everywhere. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images - image credit)
Sweat beads are seen on the back of a woman on Dec. 9, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. A new wave of whole-body deodorants swear they can help with sweat and smell — everywhere. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images - image credit)

Deodorant for your armpits? Sure. Deodorant for your butt crack? Well ... it exists, and it's trending.

Big brands like Secret, DoveNative and Old Spice have recently started selling whole-body deodorants, advertising sticks, sprays and creams that promise to combat stink everywhere from your "pits, privates, underboobs and feet" to your chest, hands and "even down below."

These more mainstream brands join companies such as Undercarriage and Lume that have been marketing whole-body deodorants for years. Lume, in particular, doesn't hold back punches, providing online tips on how to prevent "swamp ass" and videos suggesting its cream deodorant for your "butt crack."

"Body odour outside of the armpits is normal and something many women notice at some point in their lives, but is not often discussed," Kate DiCarlo, senior communications director for the personal care portfolio at Procter & Gamble, said in a news release announcing Secret's new whole-body line in February.

LISTEN | Do you need whole-body deodorant? 

But as deodorants for every body part are being promoted by influencers on TikTok, and ads pose questions like "have you ever sat down and smelled that smell," some experts say this push to control all our body odours may be marketable, but that's not necessarily positive.

People want to control their image and how they present themselves, and these products hone in that insecurity, Sarah Everts, an associate professor of journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa and author of The Joy of Sweat, told CBC Radio last week.

"Sweating is one of those areas where we're completely out of control, and as a result, people try to overcompensate."

Diane Bondareff/The Associated Press for Secret Whole Body Deodorant
Diane Bondareff/The Associated Press for Secret Whole Body Deodorant

Researchers have also noted that an overall focus on feminine hygiene, with advertisers using tactics to shame women about vaginal odour, is particularly troublesome.

"By capitalizing on cultural constructions of women's bodies as dirty [vaginal cleansing product companies] set an unhealthy and even dangerous precedent for how women should take care of their vaginal hygiene and health," says a 2022 study published in SSM Qualitative Research in Health.

The big business of BO

Americans started being obsessed with cleanliness during the Civil War of the early to mid-1860s, when good hygiene was seen as patriotic, according to the New York Times. Body soap became widely available in the late 19th century.

The first deodorant, called Mum, was trademarked in 1888, notes Smithsonian Magazine.

"It's a century of cosmetic care companies telling us that body odours are bad and are going to lead to social exclusion," Everts said.

WATCH | A deodorant commercial from 1952: 

Today, deodorant is big business. The global deodorant market was worth $25.61 billion US in 2023, according to Fortune Business Insights, and was predicted to grow to $42.18 billion by 2032. Sprays, in particular, dominated the market, Fortune Business Insight's report noted.

The growing demand for natural deodorants is a major driver of the market growth, noted another report by Maximize Marketing Research. Meanwhile, a 2023 Mintel report on the growing U.S. antiperspirant/deodorant market said there's an "opportunity" with multipurpose products, and that younger adults are more likely to use whole-body antiperspirants and deodorant.

And according to Google Trends, Canadian searches for "whole-body deodorant" started climbing this year, along with more specific searches for brands such as Lume and Secret.

"Consumers are looking for ways to feel protected in spots where deodorant isn't normally used," Kristen Denega, associate director of marketing performance and operations for deodorants at Unilever, said in an April news release announcing Dove's launch of its whole-body products.

Moving into whole-body deodorant is a smart business move, Everts said, because it requires a lot more product to be used over a larger surface area.

"If you can convince people to put your product over all of your body, then effectively you're going to have to buy that product again real soon."

Native Whole Body Deodorant
Native Whole Body Deodorant

Does it even work?

But then there's the matter of whether whole-body deodorants are necessary, or even effective, which, according to Dr. Jaggi Rao, a dermatologist and clinical professor with the University of Alberta, they aren't.

"I would suggest only using deodorants on areas where odour is specific and not pleasant ...  such as the armpits," Rao told CBC News.

These products can be irritating, he added, especially in areas of the body with thinner skin, such as the face and eyelids. People who are sensitive or allergic to specific ingredients in these products may experience skin reactions, Rao said.

If someone is experience excessive odour or sweating beyond the armpits, Rao says a good topical moisturizer can sometimes help by diluting and reducing the natural oils that may be causing the smell. Over-the-counter anti-bacterial washes can also help, he added.

"If more is needed, I suggest evaluation by a skin expert."

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The problem of 'intimate areas'

Some of the whole-body deodorants either allude or specifically state they can be used to mask genital odour.

Secret, for instance, advertises its Aluminum Free Whole Body Deodorant Invisible Cream as "ideal for use in intimate areas." Dove, too, says its products can be used in "intimate areas." Lume is more forthright, explaining on its company blog that its hypoallergenic deodorant "can be rubbed onto the clitoral hood, labia majora and continue back further to the perineum."

On its website, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that a certain amount of vaginal odour is normal.

"If you feel that you need to cover up the odour, you may have a medical condition that needs treatment. Sprays, deodorants and douches are not recommended and may make things worse," the association says.

A 2018 study from the University of Guelph in southern Ontario found that women who use feminine hygiene products such as creams, moisturizers and wipes are three times more likely to have experienced some type of vaginal infection. This may be because these products disrupt the growth of healthy bacteria, psychology professor Kieran O'Doherty said in a news release at the time.

WATCH | The truth about vaginal detoxing:

"Our society has constructed female genitalia as unclean, and the marketing of vaginal hygiene products as something women need to attain the ideal is contributing to the problem," O'Doherty said.

In the 2022 study published in SSM Qualitiative Research in Health, researchers seeking to understand why women use vaginal hygiene products despite the adverse health affects found that women experience "societal pressures to attain an idealized vagina."

But it's not just female body parts being scent-shamed. Dove's men's line of whole-body deodorants are also advertised for use on "privates," and its parent company, Unilever, claims that searches for "What is the best deodorant for b-lls?' is one of the most-searched deodorant-related trends on Google.

Everts, author of The Joy of Sweat, said she wishes the body positivity movement would extend to include smell.

"Why make this so taboo? We all have our own unique odour."