Antiperspirant Vs. Deodorant: The Real Differences Between The Products

Wearing freshly laundered clothes or spritzing on perfume are common options for maintaining a pleasant scent on the body throughout the day. However, the most convenient (and probably the most affordable) way to mask body odor is to wear deodorants or antiperspirants. In fact, wearing deodorants or antiperspirants is not so much a choice as it is an essential part of the hygiene routine.

People might not notice the subtle fragrance of your perfume or your clothes. But if you don't wear deodorants or antiperspirants, people will likely know. "People have strong preferences and sensitivities to smell. People, from the beginning of time, have used perfumes (or) colognes to mask odor," Dr. Nina Botto, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of California, tells CNN. Naturally, we can't smell our own body due to olfactory fatigue. But what we know for sure is that we smell nicer and sweat less when wearing commercially formulated deodorants or antiperspirants.

The interesting thing about deodorants and antiperspirants is that although they're used to mask body odor, they serve different purposes. Some people use them interchangeably — but they're actually different. A 2018 CivicScience survey found that 39% of U.S adults used antiperspirants and 39% used deodorants. The remaining respondents either used natural deodorants, prescription deodorants with clinical strength, or none at all. So, what's the difference between an antiperspirant and a deodorant — and which is better for the body?

Antiperspirants are designed to make you sweat less

Antiperspirants are formulated to reduce the amount of sweat you produce by obstructing the sweat pores on your skin's outer layer and curtailing skin-surface perspiration. "Antiperspirant is ideal for those who want to decrease wetness or feel they sweat more than usual," dermatologist Kiran Mian tells Insider. Antiperspirants contain aluminum chloride, an active ingredient that curtails sweat flow and wetness by blocking the upper part of the sweat glands. This helps to inhibit the bacteria that feed on your sweat and cause your body to produce intense odors. Conventional deodorants do not contain aluminum salts, which is why they can't prevent you from perspiring. In other words, antiperspirants help you smell better by making you sweat less.

Antiperspirants can be extremely helpful for those with minor hyperhidrosis, a condition marked by profuse sweating even when there's no heat. Using a prescription-strength antiperspirant might help regulate the unpleasant odor from your sweat. Like any other personal care product, the benefits of antiperspirants are temporary. The product needs to be reapplied regularly to maintain its efficacy.

Caveats concerning antiperspirants

There are fears that aluminum in antiperspirants might increase the risks of breast cancer. Per a 2017 study published in the journal The Lancet Discovery Science involving 460 women, those who had breast cancer reported using antiperspirants often, while those who did not reportedly used antiperspirants less often. Notably, compared to the breast tissues of the healthy control group, those of breast cancer patients reportedly had higher concentrations of aluminum, the main component of antiperspirants. However, more research is needed to determine whether and how much of aluminum exposure can lead to breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society notes that there isn't enough convincing information to support the idea that aluminum can be extensively absorbed via the skin. "The actual amount of aluminum absorbed would be much less than what would be expected to be absorbed from the foods a person eats during the same time," according to the site. Those with kidney diseases also need to be extra careful when using antiperspirants. Malfunctioning kidneys make it difficult for their bodies to eliminate aluminum as fast as they should, which causes the substance to build up. The enhanced aluminum levels in dialysis patients have been linked with increased risks of dementia and adynamic bone disease, per The National Kidney Foundation. Generally, antiperspirants are safe to use by most healthy individuals. However, it's best to consult your doctor first if you have any medical condition that could be exacerbated by aluminum.

Deodorants are specifically made to mask body odor

If antiperspirants help you keep your sweating to a minimum and reduce body odor from wetness, deodorants serve the cosmetic purpose of masking your body odor with fragrance, according to WebMD. Deodorants provide two different types of odor defense. The first defense is its lineup of antibacterial qualities, which are effective in lowering the quantity of bacteria that produce foul odor. The second is the use of a sweet-smelling scent to cover up body stench. If your main concern is not so much about sweating less as smelling like a rose while perspiring naturally, opt for deodorants.

Even while conventional deodorants are still widely used, a growing number of individuals are moving to natural deodorants — which are reportedly gentler on the skin. People who have tried a lot of conventional antiperspirants or deodorants and discovered that their skin is sensitive to the chemical ingredients inside them are good candidates for natural deodorants. According to GoodRx Health, a natural deodorant typically includes natural oils like coconut oil as the base, wetness-absorbent ingredients in the form of powders, and essential oils to provide fragrance and mask odor.

Downsides of deodorants

Deodorants — traditional or natural — are generally safe to use. However, deodorants have been shown to cause allergic reactions in certain individuals — also known as deodorant allergy. "Some people have allergic reactions to deodorants or antiperspirants. Research indicates that this could be caused by ingredients such as propylene glycol (a chemical that gives a deodorant stick its shape), essential oils (frequently used in fragrance), biological additives, parabens, vitamin E, and lanolin" physician Dr. Benjamin Chan shares with Penn Family Medicine. Some skin types are more prone to irritation than others. If you have atopic dermatitis, you might find that specific components in deodorants or antiperspirants cause your skin to react. It is safer for you to use a natural deodorant in this situation.

It's also worth pointing out that discontinuing deodorants or antiperspirants after extended use can make your body emit an intensely unpleasant odor. According to a 2016 study in the journal PeerJ, compared to non-deodorant users, people who regularly use deodorants or antiperspirants produced more staphylococcus hominis when they stopped using them. Staphylococcus hominis is a bacteria that's responsible for producing thioalcohol, which makes body odor smell and can stink immensely when broken down by the skin. Discontinuing deodorants or antiperspirants altogether or switching to natural deodorants is good news for your skin, but it will need some getting used to. 

Other ways to sweat less and smell nice

Stopping the use of antiperspirant or deodorant might cause you to release a strong body odor — which can be uncomfortable at first. However, it is beneficial to your skin health in the long term since it allows your skin to breathe and perspire normally. While you adjust to the lack of these body odor-masking cosmetic goods, there are several strategies you may do to limit body odor. The most effective way to avoid foul body odor is to take a full-body shower every day to rinse off dirt and sweat and keep your body fresh. According to dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner (via CNN), bathing the face, underarms, and genital areas should be a priority since they perspire more than other parts of the body (which may encourage the growth of bacteria and yeast). As long as you're not allergic to fragrances, you can spritz on a little perfume before going out.

Making some tweaks to your diet can help keep your sweating in check while reducing unpleasant body odor. "Dietary changes to minimize these foods can lead to better body temperature regulation and less sweating," dermatologist Tara L. Kaufmann tells Insider. Kaufman also warns against eating foods that can cause excessive sweating, like spicy, salty, and highly processed food. Instead, consume more water-rich fruits such as apricots, blueberries, oranges, strawberries, and pineapples — as well as veggies like celery, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, broccoli, and zucchini to stay hydrated and perspire less.