The Ultimate Guide to Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Learn the benefits and disadvantages of each type of odor-fighting underarm product.

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The Truth About Antiperspirants and Deodorants (3:35)

When choosing a deodorant or antiperspirant, you may reach for a stick boasting the lowest price tag, a roll-on featuring the prettiest packaging, or a spray with the most pleasing scent. But before you toss a bulk-sized pack into your shopping cart, ensure you’re choosing the best product for underarms by considering the following factors.

What causes body odor?

When you sweat, your body’s apocrine glands release a thick, oily liquid that’s rich with fats and proteins. The natural bacteria on your skin feed off of that discharge and leave behind waste that creates that distinct stench.

What’s the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant?

Deodorants are designed to keep your armpits smelling fresh no matter the sweaty situation. To reduce odor, deodorants use antimicrobial agents, ethanol, and fragrances to cover up or kill the bacteria on your skin and cut off its contact with apocrine sweat.

Antiperspirants, on the other hand, work to fight the root cause of the unsavory scents: the sweat itself. They temporarily clog your pores using aluminum salts, which dissolve into your skin’s surface moisture after application and form a sweat-blocking gel. Without any interaction between the sweat and your skin’s bacteria, B.O. can’t be produced.

Some deodorants also have antiperspirant qualities, so if you’re not looking to stop sweat in its tracks and just want odor protection, avoid products that have aluminum listed as an active ingredient.

Should you avoid products with aluminum or parabens?

Some research has suggested that the aluminum in antiperspirants, which prevents sweat from reaching the bacteria on your skin’s surface, could be absorbed into the underarm skin, producing estrogen-like effects and possibly contributing to the development of breast cancer. However, the National Cancer Institute says that there is “no clear evidence showing that the use of aluminum-containing underarm antiperspirants or cosmetics increases the risk of breast cancer.”

Parabens are preservatives used in some deodorants and antiperspirants and have been shown to act similarly to estrogen in the body’s cells, though most U.S. brands don’t currently use them in their products.

What are “natural" deodorants?

As a result of skin sensitivities and these worries about the health impacts of traditional deodorants and antiperspirants, "natural" underarm products have hit the shelves. Unlike their aluminum-containing counterparts, these varieties get the job done by using baking soda, potassium, salt crystals, and essential oils.

Should you use a spray, roll-on, or stick applicator?

Each type of deodorant and antiperspirant applicator has its pros and cons, so choosing a style depends on your personal preference. Sprays tend to dry faster than liquid roll-on varieties and, unlike stick applicators, won’t leave you with noticeable stains all over your dark shirt. Because they don’t produce a cloud of chemicals, non-aerosol deodorants can be used discreetly, and solid stick options are the best choice for frequent jet-setters who like to keep the product in their carry-on.

How should you apply it, and when’s the best time to do so?

To ensure your antiperspirant or deodorant can best get rid of your stench, evenly coat your entire underarm with the product, Janyl Plante, a product research scientist at Old Spice, told the Huffington Post. If you have a thick layer of underarm hair, be sure to apply enough pressure for the product to reach the skin’s surface.

For optimal wetness protection, Plante recommends antiperspirant users swipe it on daily and before bed — when you produce the least amount of sweat — to allow the product to form more effective sweat-stopping plugs. Deodorant users should apply the product after each shower, she says.

Related:

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The Science of Sweat and Stink

Non-Invasive Treatments for Excessive Sweating