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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 comes on fast, can be hard to control and gives off a foul odor. 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 formulas including:

  • 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. They 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 formula, 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. Here are some of the most common active ingredients you'll find when browsing for antiperspirants in the supermarket:

  • Aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex glycine
  • Aluminum chloride
  • Aluminum chlorohydrate
  • Aluminum hydroxybromide

Most over-the-counter antiperspirants contain between 10 and 20 percent aluminum; FDA restrictions cap the active ingredient level 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. Secret Clinical Strength Antiperspirant/Deodorant Advanced Solid, for example, contains 20 percent aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex glycine.

Although some people think that aluminum, the active ingredient used in antiperspirants, is linked to Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer, both the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say there is nothing to substantiate these claims. Editors at green-living website TheGreenGuide.com note there aren't inherent dangers in using antiperspirant products, though they advocate using natural deodorants because they are not as potentially irritating and don't contain harsh chemical ingredients. Natural deodorant products, however, do not prevent sweat and only provide deodorizing benefits.

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. Almost all of the products we reviewed are available in a hypoallergenic version. 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.

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 Real Simple, Real Beauty, Men's Fitness and more. We also relied heavily on user reviews from Amazon.com, Walgreens.com and Drugstore.com to get consumer perspectives while drawing some of our knowledge from reviews by bloggers.

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Secret Clinical Strength Smooth Solid Women's Antiperspirant & Deodorant Waterproof All Day Fresh Scent 2.6 Ounce
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