Dr. Nowell Solish, founder of the Sweat Clinics of Canada, has seen it all when it comes to perspiration control. Feminine hygiene pads stuck into the underarms of shirts. Towels sewn into pant pockets for a quick dry of clammy palms before shaking hands. Excessive sweating, known as hyperhidrosis, “is one of the most under-recognized diseases,” says Solish. “It’s a major issue.”
So much so that a slew of super-powerful antiperspirants have hit the marketplace recently, all promising to keep armpits dry and stink-free longer and better than any of their over-the-counter predecessors. The list of new sweat-stoppers includes Degree Clinical Protection, Lady Speed Stick Clinical Proof, Secret and Gillette Clinical Strength and even Old Spice Pro Strength. If the names sound serious, consider the merchandising: the antiperspirants are packaged in boxes and cost up to $10—double or triple the price of standard underarm sticks, sprays and roll-ons. The biggest difference, though, is the application of these products. They go on at bedtime, “when the body is at its most natural temperature and most receptive to forming a strong barrier against perspiration,” reads a Secret pamphlet. The antiperspirants are so potent that you don’t have to reapply the next morning—even if you shower!
In an era in which Brazilian waxing and erectile dysfunction have just about become dinner-conversation material, it seems that armpit talk has finally broken through the cone of silence. David Arquette admitted to enjoying the smell of wife Courteney Cox’s sweaty underarms, a scent he likened to that of a truck driver. Of course, not all the chatter takes such a freakishly positive tone. Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez were lampooned by tabloid media when they were each spotted with, well, sweat spots, at separate events last August. British model Danielle Lloyd got underarm Botox injections to halt perspiration and stave off paparazzi pining for a drippy pits shot. (Solish, a cosmetic dermatologist and professor at the University of Toronto, also offers this popular treatment when antiperspirants don’t work. Results last less than a year.)
The most lurid criticisms invariably relate to one thing: scary, hairy armpits. “Narstifying,” wrote one chat room participant called “Elite_Fashionista” on a Vancouver website when broached. But they aren’t scarce. Beyoncé sported underarm fuzz at the launch of Cadillac Records last December, which sparked sophomoric jokes about her recent hit song If I Were a Boy. Julia Roberts famously arrived at the Notting Hill premiere in 1999 wearing an armpit-hair-revealing red-sequins number. A few weeks ago, a British woman volunteered not to shave for two weeks and kept a diary of the horrified reactions for the Sun newspaper. By day 11 she was “avoiding . . . flagging cabs” and spending an extra 20 minutes in the shower, scrubbing her pits.
As such, it should come as no surprise that just this month, Unilever introduced Sure and Dove hair minimizing deodorants in the U.K. They’re said to work by slowing regrowth and making hair finer via a “pro-epil complex.” Solish says he’s never heard of such a thing, but knows of a prescription cream called Vaniqa that produces similar results by interfering with a hair growth promoter in the body. Unilever estimates the new deodorants will bring in more than $18.4 million in revenue this year and predicts sales of its standard deodorants to plummet by one-third as people try out the new options.
There’s no shortage of consumers for clinical strength antiperspirants either: three per cent of the public is affected by hyperhidrosis, showed a comprehensive 2003 study. And up to 18 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men between the ages of 13 and 64 perceive themselves as “heavy sweaters,” according to a Procter & Gamble survey. The only disincentive may be a common belief that aluminum—the active ingredient that plugs sweat glands temporarily, thus inhibiting perspiration—may contribute to Alzheimer’s or breast cancer. But the Canadian societies for both of these diseases say there is insufficient evidence of such a link.
If nothing else, these new products may help create smart dialogue about the problems people suffer. One exuberant hairstylist who complained about her “sweating issues” in a Degree testimonial swore the antiperspirant changed her life: “Me and my girlfriends take a lot of pictures, we’re like our own paparazzi, and they were like, ‘You’re dry!’ and I was like, ‘I know!’ ” Or maybe not.