What you can do for sweaty armpits
- Before going to bed, wash and dry your armpits thoroughly. If you apply the solution to wet skin, a chemical reaction produces hydrochloric acid, which can irritate skin and tarnish jewellery. If necessary, use a hair dyer to ensure your skin is absolutely dry.
- Apply the solution when you are lying down in bed. This sounds odd, but armpit sweating switches off when you lie flat, and the solution will be more effective if applied then. The solution works by passing into the openings of the sweat glands, causing them to swell up and block, but if sweat is pouring out of the glands when you apply the solution, it will not be able to get in.
- It works best if the area is covered with plastic cling-film (food wrap). Unfortunately, the armpit is an awkward shape. Use tape (such as Micropore, which you can buy from a pharmacy) to hold the plastic wrap in place, then put on a tight-fitting T-shirt to help keep it in position.
- Do not apply the solution directly after shaving, or the skin may become sore.
- Wash off the solution in the morning, and do not reapply until bedtime.
- If it proves effective reduce the application to every other night, and then to once or twice a week. Do not use it every day, because it can irritate the skin.
- If it causes irritation, applying 1% hydrocortisone cream twice a day for not more than 2 weeks can help.
What doctors can do for sweaty armpits
- The injections are painful, but the pain is tolerable. Treatment takes about 30–45 minutes.
- Botulinum toxin works by inactivating the nerves that trigger sweat-gland activity.
- One treatment of about 12 tiny injections stops or substantially reduces armpit sweating for 2–8 months. After that, a repeat session will be needed.
- This is a fairly new treatment, and is not available in all hospitals, but your doctor will be able to find out the location of the nearest specialist treatment centre.
- It does not work for everyone, but about 9 out of 10 people respond (Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 2005;43:77–80).
- People who have had this treatment say that it greatly improves their quality of life (British Journal of Dermatology 2004;151:1115–22).
- As you would expect, this treatment also reduces the smelliness of the armpits (Archives of Dermatology 2003;139:57–9).
- A general anaesthetic is required.
- The sympathetic nerves lie in the chest just under the second, third and fourth ribs on each side. The surgeon operates through an incision in the chest wall and cuts the nerves or destroys them using an electrical current.
- After the operation, you can return to a sedentary job after 1–2 weeks, and to a manual job after 2–3 weeks.
- The immediate success rate is almost 80%, but after a few years only one-third of people who have had the operation are satisfied (Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 2005;43:77–80).
- The main drawback is that the body may compensate by increasing sweating elsewhere – usually the trunk, but sometimes the feet – so you may end up swapping sweaty armpits for a sweaty abdomen. This happens in between one-third and three-quarters of people who have had the operation. In 1 in 100, this ‘compensatory’ sweating is very severe, and they regret they had the operation. Unfortunately, the operation cannot be reversed.
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Tuesday, October 7th 2014
Dr Phil Hammond asks why do we sweat, why do some people smell more than others, and what can we do about it. Find out more by clicking on the video below.
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Each person has 3-4 million sweat glands
At rest in a cool environment, a normal person loses about half a litre of sweat in a day
The sweat glands are capable of producing 12 litres of sweat in 24 hours
Hippopotamus sweat is red. It contains sunscreen and is also antiseptic (Nature 2004;429:363)
We can smell the sweat of a giraffe from a quarter of a mile away. The smell repels ticks (New Scientist 1 February 2003)