Antiperspirant Versus Deodorant

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

You may have picked up some deodorant at the store only to realize that what you actually picked up was antiperspirant. Although the bottles are similar and they’re located on the same aisle, are antiperspirant and deodorant really the same thing? If not, what’s the difference?

The Science Of Scent

To understand the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant, it’s helpful to know the science behind your scent. Every individual has a unique scent, called an odortype. Odortypes are based on the foods that you eat as well as other genetic and environmental factors. Although you may not be aware of your own odortype, others tend to perceive it as body odor.

That body odor becomes especially noticeable when you sweat. When the secreted fats and proteins from your sweat glands mix with the bacteria on your skin, you get body odor. Your odor will emanate from your sweat glands, which are particularly concentrated in the armpit, also known as the axilla. This is the reason why you can detect an odor coming from under your arms when you sweat. (Interested in reducing the amount of body odor your produce? See 7 Quick Tips On How To Prevent Body Odor.)

Antiperspirant Versus Deodorant

To help prevent body odor from the armpits, people use either deodorant or antiperspirant. So what sets them apart from each other? The names actually say it all.

  • Deodorants deodorize by masking the scent of body odor. Deodorants will also combat bacteria by making the armpit either acidic or salty, conditions in which bacteria cannot live. Of course, without any bacteria, there will be no smell.
  • Antiperspirants work by plugging the sweat glands so that sweat cannot get through to the skin. The active ingredients flow into the cells, taking water with them. Both the ingredients and the water cause the cells to swell, causing the sweat glands to close. In those who sweat profusely, the active ingredients can cause the swelling to last longer and the sweat gland to shrink. Eventually, this process will reverse and the antiperspirant will need to be reapplied.

Active Ingredients

Although there are some basic ingredients that are common in both deodorants and antiperspirants, there are certain active ingredients that are found in either one or the other.

Those active ingredients in deodorant are:

  • Triclosan – Triclosan is the ingredient that will change the pH of the axilla, making it impossible for bacteria to survive. However, triclosan may be carcinogenic and is classified as a pesticide by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Parabens – Parabens have a notorious reputation for their harmful effects and are found in many cosmetics and personal hygiene products. They contain chemicals that can mimic estrogen, which fuels the production of cancer cells. In fact, some researchers have found a link between the parabens in deodorant and breast cancer.
  • Fragrances – Because deodorant is meant to block odor, it contains many chemicals that are labeled as fragrances. These chemicals could cause an allergic reaction in those who have certain skin sensitivities or allergies.

Although the effects of these ingredients may make you want to turn to antiperspirant, the active ingredients in antiperspirant aren’t much better. They include:

  • Aluminum – Aluminum chloride, aluminum hydroxybromide and other aluminum compounds are usually the main ingredient in antiperspirants. These aluminum compounds are what block the sweat from pouring out of the sweat glands. However, studies show that the aluminum in antiperspirants could cause DNA to mutate and can possibly be fatal in large doses for those who have kidney disease.
  • Zirconium – Like aluminum, zirconium will also block sweat from exiting the sweat glands. This in itself has the potential to be harmful as it doesn’t allow sweat to exit the body naturally.

If you are worried about these ingredients and their potential health effects, or if you just prefer to use natural products, there are many natural deodorants and antiperspirants on the market. They work the same way as regular deodorants and antiperspirants, but they contain natural ingredients such as:

  • Witch hazel
  • Mineral salts
  • Baking soda
  • Essential oils

Many natural deodorants and antiperspirants can be found at health food stores or grocery stores.

So Which One Is Better?

In the end, neither deodorant nor antiperspirant is better than the other. While they do differ from each other in the way that they work, the choice between the two of them really comes down to personal preference. If you simply want to block the scent of body odor, go with a deodorant. On the other hand, if you’d rather stay dry, choose an antiperspirant, which will block sweat, thus preventing body odor.


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