The difference between antiperspirant and deodorant
Antiperspirant. The name is pretty long and most of us probably just say deodorant, but the two are very different. Antiperspirants use aluminum-based ingredients to create temporary plugs in the sweat ducts, reducing underarm sweating; however, they don't mask or reduce odor. Deodorants, on the other hand, hinder odor-causing bacteria that grow on the skin but don't affect how much you sweat. Most, but not all, mass-produced products include both antiperspirant and deodorant ingredients for maximum odor- and sweat-fighting protection.
Sweaty -- and stinky -- pits at the gym are commonplace, but sweaty situations can occur anytime and anyplace, whether you like it or not. Believe it or not, perspiration is actually good for you; it's a natural function that cools the body down. Although it is blamed for foul body odor (B.O.), normal perspiration itself doesn't have much scent at all. Bad odors are usually produced by bacteria living on the surface of the skin, which thrives on sweat.
However, sweat from stress is a different matter. It comes on fast, can be hard to control and does give off a foul odor. That's because, when you're nervous or excited, you sweat from apocrine glands located in your underarms and pubic region. Secretions from normal sweat glands (eccrine glands) are watery and mostly odorless, but apocrine secretions contain 20 percent fat and protein; bacteria thrive on the stuff, and you're left dealing with the pungent odor.
Using deodorant to mask odors isn't a new concept for most, but hundreds of years ago, before regular bathing became commonplace, people used heavy colognes to mask B.O. It wasn't until the early 1800s that chemists began making products that could prevent body odor and sweating. The earliest manufacturers of antiperspirants made extremely messy pastes and creams that were difficult to apply. Mass-produced aluminum-based products came about more than 100 years ago. They came in the form of creams, solids, pads, dabbers, roll-ons and powders. Over time, the popularity of some of the application types waned. Today deodorants come in a variety of forms and formulas:
- Solid sticks are the most popular form of deodorant/antiperspirants. They typically don't leave the skin wet after application, and usually come in a solid white or clear formula. Some solid sticks tend to leave white residue behind on clothing.
- Gels are applied in a similar way to solid sticks, but they go on clear. The gel formula is generally pushed up through holes or slits in the applicator. Gels are wet when applied and require a few minutes to dry.
- Roll-ons feature a ball at the top of the bottle that can be rolled to evenly distribute the product, which is usually light and gel-like.
- Creams and lotions must be applied with the fingertips to the underarms, although some lotions come in spray bottles. These usually require a few minutes of drying.
- Deodorant sprays come in aerosol cans and typically go on dry.
There are two key factors that affect people's favorability when it comes to deodorant: One is performance, and the other is feel and smell. Most over-the-counter antiperspirants/deodorants contain an aluminum-based active ingredient that blocks the pores to stop sweat. Some of the most common active ingredients you'll find when browsing for antiperspirants in the supermarket include:
- Aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex glycine
- Aluminum zirconium octachlorohydrex glycine
- Aluminum chloride
- Aluminum chlorohydrate
- Aluminum hydroxybromide
Most over-the-counter antiperspirants contain between 10 and 20 percent of their active ingredient; FDA restrictions cap that level to between 15 and 25 percent, depending on the specific type of active ingredient. Clinical strength formulas stay within over-the-counter guidelines but aim to provide comparable wetness protection to prescription products. Certain Dri Clinical Strength Roll-on, for example, contains 12 percent aluminum chloride.
Although some people think that the aluminum-based active ingredients used in antiperspirants are linked to Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer, both the American Cancer Society and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say there is little evidence that this is true. In fact, the American Cancer Society notes that one study showed that the amount of aluminum the body absorbs from antiperspirant (0.012 percent) is actually less than you'd expect to absorb from the food you eat each day. Still, some people prefer to use aluminum-free natural deodorants; these can reduce odor, but they don't prevent sweat.
Most of the deodorant/antiperspirant lines we reviewed come in a wide range of scents; there is usually more variety among women's deodorants than men's. It's important to note the distinction between "unscented" and "fragrance-free": unscented products do contain fragrance additives (to mask the chemical smell of other ingredients), while fragrance-free products do not.
Finding the best deodorants
To find the best deodorants, we evaluated hundreds of user and expert sources, analyzing their reviews based on each deodorant/antiperspirant's performance and feel and smell. We turned to experts from men's and women's interest publications, such as MensHealth.com, GQ.com, Lululemon.com and more. We also relied heavily on user reviews from Amazon.com, Target.com and Drugstore.com to get consumer perspectives.