Pit stop

Can a $10 Face Wash Prevent BO? We Had to Find Out.

Dermatologists weigh in on using benzoyl peroxide as a “natural deodorant.”
Clip art of a flower covering armpit
Marilini/Adobe Stock

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Summer has unofficially arrived, and while that signals brighter days ahead—sandal seasonoutdoor hangs, intimate moments with frozen desserts—it also means lots and lots of sweat. Nothing makes you feel self-conscious quite like showing up to work or a social event with juicy pit stains seeping through your shirt. Not to mention the special hell that is walking around feeling sticky, clammy, and let’s face it: smelly. 

Of course, you can always reach for deodorant (which neutralizes and masks odor) or antiperspirant (formulated to, yep, reduce perspiration) when a shower is out of the question. But there’s only so much they can do if you’re already dripping in sweat and smelling funky—even the most pleasant of scents can’t fully mask the musk. Plus, who has the time or patience to keep reapplying throughout the day? That’s why people on TikTok are swearing by an alternative product to curb that sweaty stench—and it may already be sitting on your bathroom shelf. 

It’s PanOxyl’s Foaming Wash ($10, Target)—an ultra-popular and affordable acne-fighting cleanser. And turns out, it can also double as a less powdery and crumbly solution for BO, Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Mississippi, tells SELF. That’s because its main ingredient, benzoyl peroxide, kills bacteria on the skin. Not only can these microscopic bugs contribute to zits, whiteheads, and blackheads, but they’re also responsible for that not-so-great scent when it’s a zillion degrees outside. “Sweat on its own doesn’t actually stink,” Dr. Zubritsky says. Rather, “Body odor is the result of your sweat mixing with the existing bacteria on your skin. So benzoyl peroxide won’t stop you from sweating, but it’ll reduce the bacteria load under your arms, or wherever you apply it, and therefore stop the odor.”

For best results, Dr. Zubritsky recommends leaving the white, paste-like cleanser on your underarms (or anywhere you tend to get sweaty and stinky, like, say, your feet or groin area—just never, ever put it in your vagina or around your vaginal opening; stick to the spots where pubic hair grows) for one to two minutes before rinsing it off in the sink or shower, and applying it three to four times a week, max. And if you have sensitive skin or prefer to err on the side of gentle, try using a face wash with around 4% to 5% benzoyl peroxide like CeraVe’s Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser ($16, Target), which Dr. Zubritsky says is generally safe for all skin types. Opting for a stronger percentage (like the 10% in the PanOxyl cleanser) or applying it too frequently could dry out your underarms, she says, and possibly cause irritation or an allergic reaction (a major reason why you should always patch test new products before slathering them on your body—no matter your skin type). 

For the most part, however, benzoyl peroxide is a safe ingredient that might become your next summer staple. Just make sure to rinse it off thoroughly—this skin care holy grail can, unfortunately, bleach your beloved summer tank!

PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash with 10% Benzoyl Peroxide (5.5 oz)