Anti-Perspirants and Deodorants – Which is Better?

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Woman applying deodorant to underarm

Although the first deodorant was introduced in 1888, with an antiperspirant following in 1903, it was only in the 60’s that both of these products became widely used.

What did people do before this?

They would use sweat pads in the summer to prevent perspiration from soaking their clothes, and would cover themselves in perfume to hide any body odor.

Fortunately, there is so much variety today when it comes to deodorants and antiperspirants. In fact, the amount of choice can sometimes make it all a little confusing.

So, which one should you be using; a deodorant or an antiperspirant?

What Exactly is an Anti-Perspirant?

As you can tell from its name, an antiperspirant is a product that stops you from sweating as much. 

How does it do this?

It contains aluminum, and when this is applied to the skin, it forms a gel over the top of your sweat glands. This essentially plugs them up, therefore preventing them from expelling sweat.

The fact that antiperspirants interfere with a biological body function means that the FDA categorizes them as a drug.

Does an antiperspirant have to contain aluminum?

Yes and no…

Aluminum is the only offical FDA-recognized ingredient when it comes to antiperspirants. This means that if a product does not contain aluminum, it cannot be called an antiperspirant.

However, this doesn’t mean that aluminum-free products aren’t able to reduce sweat. There are many natural ingredients that can have this effect, but they are unlikely to be as effective as aluminum.

Many aluminum-free “antiperspirants” are formulated with some of the following ingredients:

  • Witch hazel 
  • Baking soda
  • Talcum powder
  • Hops
  • Mineral salts

What Exactly is a Deodorant?

Deodorants were invented to combat body odor.

Since body odor often increases when a person sweats, this leads many to believe that it is their sweat that smells.

However, sweat is actually odorless.

So, what actually causes body odor?

Well, your skin contains so many different strains of bacteria, and your sweat contains proteins and fats. When you sweat, those proteins and fats end up mixing together with the bacteria, and that is what produces the odor.

Wondering why some parts of the body produce more of an odor than others?

It is due to the concentration of fats and proteins in your sweat. Certain sweat glands, known as apocrine glands, have a very high amount of fats and proteins. These glands can be found underneath the arms and around the groin, which is why those areas can sometimes emit a stronger smell.

Those same parts of your body are also usually home to more bacteria.

Why?

Because they tend to remain quite moist and dark, and this is ideal bacteria breeding ground. This means that there is even more bacteria here to mix in with the sweat.

Back to deodorant…

As mentioned earlier, deodorants combat body odor.

How do they do this?

A deodorant basically kills the bacteria on your skin. This means that, when you sweat, there isn’t much bacteria left for your sweat to mix with, preventing any odors from being created.

You might be thinking…

Doesn’t an antiperspirant help with body odor too?

In a way, yes…

Since an antiperspirant prevents you from sweating, this means that there isn’t much sweat around to mix together with the bacteria on the skin. However, no product can completely eliminate sweating, which is why deodorants can sometimes be required.

Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant Combinations

As you can see, a deodorant and an antiperspirant each have completely separate purposes.

But, of course, there are some products out there that have combined the two, in order to be more multi-functional.

This can actually be quite useful for those who are looking to both prevent sweat while masking their body odor.

However, if your body odor is quite strong, or you are dealing with an excessive amount of sweat, you may find that a single product, rather than a combination product, has a better effect.

Where on the Body Can Deodorants and Anti-Perspirants Be Used? 

When it comes to deodorants, these are designed to be used under the arms.

Why not anywhere else?

Because the skin underneath your arms contains a high number of tiny hairs. These are known for holding on to extra bacteria, as well as sweat. Eradicating the bacteria under the arms, including those on the hairs, goes a long way in preventing body odor.

While you could technically use a deodorant on other parts of your body, you will likely find the product formula too strong for many areas, causing irritations.

This is where antiperspirants differ…

An antiperspirant can be used just about anywhere on the body, including:

  • Under the arms
  • The hands and feet
  • The face
  • The chest and back

Choosing a Deodorant and an Anti-Perspirant 

Woman choosing between two deodorant products

As you likely already know, there are so many different deodorants and antiperspirants out there to choose from.

Which one is best?

Let’s begin with deodorants…

Choosing the Best Deodorant

Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as there being one deodorant that is better than the rest. Your skin, as well as the bacteria that lives on your skin, is unique to you. This means that a deodorant that works well for one person may not work well for another.

Luckily, there is plenty of choice, meaning that it won’t be long before you find the perfect deodorant for you.

Wondering if there are any natural deodorants out there

Yes, but the range is pretty limited.

The way in which those deodorants work are also quite limited. Many natural deodorants are also formulated with baking soda, and this has been known to irritate the skin, causing a burning sensation.

You also need to be wary of natural deodorants if you have sensitive skin…

This surprises many, because they assume that a natural product would be kinder to sensitive skin. However, natural deodorants tend to be scented with essential oils, and many of these are known to cause irritations and reactions when used on sensitive skin.

If you do have sensitive skin and want to use a natural deodorant, your best bet would be going for an unscented one.

Choosing the Best Antiperspirant

Now, back to antiperspirants…

Unlike deodorants, antiperspirants are considered to be a drug, and are available in different strengths.

How do you know which one to go for?

This all depends on how much you sweat…

For light sweating, a drugstore-strength antiperspirant may be all you need.

However, if your sweating is quite severe, you may need something a little stronger, such as:

  • A clinical strength antiperspirant
  • A prescription strength antiperspirant

You should also check out the ingredient list of an antiperspirant if you are dealing with excessive sweating. As mentioned earlier, all antiperspirants contain aluminum, and the label will likely tell you the percentage of aluminum in the product. It goes without saying that the more aluminum, the better.

The aluminum used in antiperspirants comes in different forms, so the specific ingredient to look out for could be one of the following:

  • Aluminum chloride
  • Aluminum zirconium
  • Aluminum chlorohydrate
  • Aluminum sesquichlorohydrate

Just like with deodorants, different antiperspirant formulas will have their own effect on different people. You may need to experiment with a few different brands before you find one that works well for you.

Using Anti-Perspirants and Deodorants

If you use both an antiperspirant and a deodorant, do you tend to apply these one after the other?

If your answer is yes, you’re not alone, but this is something that you really should not be doing.

Why?

Because an antiperspirant requires quite a few hours to activate after it has been applied to the skin. Any interference from a deodorant, as well as from moisture, sweat, cosmetic products, or anything else, can prevent this activation, therefore meaning that your antiperspirant will not really have much of an effect.

For this reason, you should apply your antiperspirant at night, before going to bed. This gives it enough time to activate, and then you can follow up with some deodorant in the morning. 

Are Deodorants and Anti-Perspirants Safe? 

Over the years, a few questions have been raised when it comes to the safety of deodorants and antiperspirants.

Antiperspirants in particular have been placed under the spotlight, with people claiming that they could cause everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer.

It all comes down to the aluminum used in antiperspirants. A couple of studies suggested that the aluminum is absorbed by the skin and then interferes with the DNA in skin cells, resulting in the development of breast cancer.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s, aluminum was blamed again.

However, those studies were actually quite flawed in many ways, and there are several more studies that now prove those theories to be completely wrong

Of course, while the active ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants may be safe to use, that doesn’t mean that the other ingredients used in the formula are any good…

Many deodorants and antiperspirants contain parabens. These preservatives have been strongly linked with different cancers, and are also a known allergen. Whichever product you end up purchasing, make sure that you opt for one that is paraben-free.

So, are deodorants and antiperspirants completely free of any side effects?

No. Just like with any other cosmetic product, skin irritations are always going to be a side effect. Your skin will react in its own individual way to different products, which is why it is important to always perform a patch test first, even with something as common as a deodorant or antiperspirant.

Wondering what a patch test is?

It refers to applying a product to a small area of your skin and then waiting for 24 to 48 hours. This is how long it can sometimes take for your skin to react to a product.

If, after 48 hours, your skin seems to be fine, then a skin irritation from that product is unlikely.

What happens if your skin reacts to the product?

You can calm any redness with an anti-inflammatory gel or lotion

It goes without saying that you should definitely not use that product on your skin any more, and would be best off trying out an alternative. Again, make sure you perform a patch test!

Help! My Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant is Leaving Stains on My Clothing! 

White deodorant shirt stain

Finding antiperspirant or deodorant stains on clothing is extremely common, and very frustrating.

Fortunately, there are a few steps that you can take to prevent this:

  • Opt for an invisible formula, or one that has been designed to prevent staining
  • Leave your antiperspirant or deodorant to fully dry before getting dressed, even if this means that you may need to adjust your morning routine
  • When pulling an item of clothing over your head, fold the hem over. This way, if the garment does happen to rub on your antiperspirant or deodorant and end up with a stain, it will be on the inside, meaning that nobody else will see it
  • Don’t apply more than a thin layer of antiperspirant or deodorant. A little goes a long way, and applying too much extra will only increase the chances of the product staining

If you do happen to get caught out and need a quick way to remove an antiperspirant or deodorant stain…

Try using a damp washcloth, or even another garment made from nylon, as the fibers can help to diffuse the stain. Rub these over the stain until you have managed to remove it.

Alternatively, you could give baby wipes a try. However, with these, make sure that you only pat the wipes on the stain, as rubbing could make the problem so much worse.

Antiperspirants and deodorants each serve a different purpose, meaning that one is not necessarily better than the other. It all comes down to what you and your body need from the product, so spend some time taking a look at, and trying out, all of the many options out there.

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