If pit stains are a part of your daily life, no matter the season, you're probably a heavy sweater. When regular antiperspirants fail, doctors and users say clinical-strength deodorants really can make a difference.
First, though, get your timing right: Experts say the best time to apply antiperspirant is at night, right before bed. Since you sweat less while you sleep, the antiperspirant will be able to enter your sweat ducts and stay there. Clinical-strength antiperspirants often tell you specifically to apply at night, but this trick also works with regular antiperspirants.
If you've tried everything to tame your sweat -- and failed -- experts recommend Certain Dri Clinical Strength Roll-on (Est. $8). "Readers call this product 'a lifesaver' ... 'a godsend for anyone with sweating problems,'" says Hayley Mason at TotalBeauty.com.
Certain Dri bills itself as "the most effective anti-perspirant you can buy without a prescription" -- and reviews say that's no joke. Users say it has literally changed their lives: After years of trying to hide embarrassing sweat stains (and throwing away ruined clothing), they say Certain Dri has given them back their confidence.
Certain Dri contains 12 percent aluminum chloride, which has been clinically proved to reduce sweating by up to 45 percent, explains Leslie Baumann, M.D., director of the University of Miami cosmetic group, in an article at MensHealth.com. Standard antiperspirants achieve only a 20 percent reduction.
The major drawback with Certain Dri is that it can irritate your skin -- and that's putting it mildly, users say. Your armpits can sting and burn unbearably if you don't follow Certain Dri's instructions to the letter: Apply sparingly, and never right after shaving or showering. Most users say they don't have any problems, as long as they follow these instructions religiously. Some users find Certain Dri Clinical Strength Solid (Est. $9) less irritating than the roll-on.
For less severe sweat situations, consider a milder clinical-strength antiperspirant. These won't irritate your skin -- and unlike the fragrance-free Certain Dri, they are available with deodorant fragrances.
For women, users prefer Secret Clinical Strength Smooth Solid (Est. $8). Its active ingredient is 20 percent aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex glycine, which is the strongest concentration you can get without a prescription. This "solid" actually goes on creamy; if you use it at bedtime as directed, users say it won't smear all over your clothes the next morning. Secret Clinical Strength Smooth Solid is available in a few different scents, as well as a "sensitive hypoallergenic unscented" version (users point out that it actually contains a masking fragrance that smells faintly like cucumbers). Secret Clinical Strength Smooth Solid gets high marks at every user-review site in Our Sources. However, some users say it doesn't work any better for them than regular antiperspirants.
For men, Gillette Clinical Endurance Clear Gel (Est. $8) gets good user reviews. It uses 20 percent aluminum zirconium octachlorohydrex gly as its active ingredient. Although gel antiperspirants get a bad rap for staying wet and sticky, users say this one dries quickly, and the clear gel doesn't stain shirts (unlike most clinical-strength antiperspirants, this one doesn't have any special instructions about applying at night). Users say Gillette Clinical Endurance Clear Gel doesn't irritate their skin, either -- even those who have a history of skin irritation from antiperspirants. This antiperspirant comes only in a scented version; some men who say that they don't want any scent claim that they use unscented Secret Clinical Strength Smooth Solid instead.
Remember when deodorant was a unisex product, like toothpaste? Husbands and wives happily shared the same stick of their favorite brand, and that was that. Today, companies market deodorants specifically to one gender or another -- tiny pink-packaged deodorants for women, and wide, burly sticks for men, for example. However, strip away the packaging and the marketing, and you'll typically see that they're really the same product. Compare the ingredient lists, and you'll see that they're practically identical. Fragrance and packaging are the main differences.
Those who don't suffer from heavy sweating don't need clinical-strength antiperspirants. Most standard deodorant/antiperspirants also contain aluminum-based compounds to block sweat ducts, although generally at lower doses. For women, Dove Go Fresh (Est. $4) is the runaway favorite of users -- and it beats five other popular deodorants to win The Stir's Ultimate Lady Sweat Test. "It protects me how I expect to be protected, and for the price, it's a total bargain," one tester says.
Dove Go Fresh contains the same active ingredient as Secret Clinical Strength (aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly), but only 15.2 percent versus 20 percent. The Stir's five testers give it a perfect score for dryness: "One tester said, 'I wore it eight hours to work, then played hockey, and while it had worn off, it still managed to keep me dry.'" Testers say it swipes on dry, too (no need to wait for it to dry), and it doesn't stain clothing.
Dove Go Fresh contains moisturizers, and users say it's gentle on skin. It comes in four scents (there's no unscented option). Most users say they smell great, light and fresh: The Stir's testers find the Revive pomegranate-and-lemon-verbena scent "refreshing, slightly exotic, and mood-lifting, but not overpowering at all." A few users find the fragrances a bit much, though.
A close runner-up, Secret Outlast Invisible Solid (Est. $7) does come in unscented, as well as four different scents. It's one of the best antiperspirants in TheActiveTimes.com's tough test -- in fact, the reviewer decided to switch from Dove. "She was blown away by how dry it kept her. 'After a long, very brisk walk in a shirt that usually gives me the sweats, this baby kept me desert-dry!' 24 hours after first application, her underarms were still dry and smelled like the deodorant." It contains 19 percent aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly.
Although men's and women's antiperspirants are basically identical, men's products do usually come with wider applicators (the better to cover bigger armpits with) and scents that are -- well, manlier. Degree Men MotionSense (Est. $8 per pack of 2) solid wins first place in TheActiveTimes.com's demanding test, and it's a customer favorite at Amazon.com, making it our top pick among men's antiperspirant/deodorants.
"It 'performs well, goes on dry, has a decent scent and solid performance,' according to our tester," TheActiveTimes.com says. "'All in all, it kept a sweaty man dry during summer.' And what more can you really ask for?" In GQ.com's test, the spray version -- Degree Men MotionSense Dry Spray (Est. $5) wins first place in a woman's "sniff test" after male testers play a sweaty game of basketball. Degree Men MotionSense solid contains aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly (19.2%), while Degree Men MotionSense Dry Spray uses aluminum chlorohydrate (23.3%).
If regular antiperspirants irritate your underarms, try Dove Men+Care solid (Est. $4). It's the resounding favorite of men with sensitive skin at Amazon.com. And it works: "Despite having the lowest amount of active ingredient—15.2% of aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly—this offering from Dove kept our reviewer happy and dry, even on long, hard bike rides," says TheActiveTimes.com.
Interestingly, Old Spice Wild Collection solid deodorant (Est. $7) has become a cult favorite of both sexes. Various Old Spice deodorant/antiperspirant varieties are customer favorites everywhere, but the deodorant-only Wild Collection in particular has quite the female following, if its 4.6 stars (out of 5) on MakeupAlley.com are any indication.
It's such a phenomenon that Bloomberg.com wrote an article on the "gender-bending hit" that Old Spice deodorant has become. There's even an Old Spice for Women Facebook page, started by Sarah Olivieri, a New York woman who started using Old Spice for health reasons after looking for a non-antiperspirant deodorant.
"Its relatively low price and newer scents also appeal to Old Spice's fans," says Bloomberg.com. The Wild collection comes in five scents; Old Spice doesn't attempt to describe how they smell, but MakeupAlley.com users do (Wolfthorn is said to smell like citrus Skittles; Hawkridge, like spicy vanilla; Foxcrest, woodsy; Bearglove, grassy/fruity; and Lionpride, clean and ocean-y.)
Arrid XX Roll-on (Est. $22 per pack of 6) is a throwback unisex antiperspirant/deodorant with a devoted following. It uses a less-common active ingredient -- aluminum chlorohydrate 16 percent -- that some users find simply works better for them, or doesn't cause as much skin irritation as the usual aluminum-based ingredients. Arrid XX Roll-on is a customer favorite at Drugstore.com and Amazon.com, where some users stock up on a year's supply at a time (they say the roll-on version can be hard to find in stores). It's available in only one Regular scent, which Arrid describes as a unisex "blend of light citrus, spring flowers and wood."