Of all the grooming solutions available to guys, no category is more overwhelming than underarm products. There are whole aisles filled with options that promote a myriad of ingredients and terms. But two of them are especially important to understand: antiperspirant vs. deodorant. Many people think they’re the same thing, but there’s one big difference—and it could affect your skin’s comfort and health.
Deodorants are categorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a cosmetic product, but antiperspirants are actually classified as a drug because they prevent sweat excretion, which is a biological function. Because of this, antiperspirants are more highly regulated.1
In this article, we’ll explain the difference between the two products—and tell you why it’s important to know. Plus, we’ll provide product options with clean ingredients so you can make the best choice for your health.
What is Antiperspirant?
Antiperspirant is a chemical designed to reduce or stop perspiration. The most common antiperspirant chemicals are metallic salts, such as aluminum chloride, aluminum chlorohydrate, and aluminum zirconium. These ingredients may be used at various strengths.2 Antiperspirants can be added to multiple product forms to be applied under the arms, including roll-ons, sprays and powders. Products that contain antiperspirants may also contain deodorant ingredients to fight odor.
What Does Antiperspirant Do?
Your eccrine (a.k.a. sweat) glands release sweat onto your skin to cool your body down. When antiperspirant is applied to the skin, the metallic salt within the formula form plugs in your sweat glands to prevent them from releasing sweat. This keeps the skin dry and keeps sweat from mixing with the bacteria on your skin, which is where body odor comes from.
How Does Antiperspirant Work?
Antiperspirants work when you start sweating. Perspiration emulsifies with the metallic salts, which are then absorbed into your body's eccrine glands.3 This forms a physical plug which prevents the secretion of sweat. Antiperspirant indirectly fights odor by preventing sweat from coming into contact with the bacteria on your skin.4
What is the Difference Between Deodorant and Antiperspirant?
Antiperspirant vs. deodorant is one of the most talked about debates in the grooming industry. The two products might sit next to each other in stores, but they approach underarm sweat and odor in very different ways.
Deodorants contain ingredients to combat body odor, and some have antimicrobial properties that limit the bacteria on your skin from contributing to body odor. Some deodorants (like ours) are made with additional ingredients that absorb sweat after it is released from your sweat glands to prevent sweat stains.
Antiperspirants, on the other hand, plug sweat glands to prevent sweat and the body odor that commonly accompanies sweat.5 Sometimes antiperspirant and deodorant ingredients are combined into one product, but if a product contains metallic salts it is still classified as an antiperspirant. Antiperspirant and deodorant can both be used on skin all over the body, but are most commonly applied to the underarms.
Both products are considered safe for everyday use, although antiperspirants often contain aluminum, alcohol and parabens, a hormone-mimicking preservative. Recently, many brands (like ours) have developed deodorants that fight sweat and odor using clean ingredients instead of aluminum, alcohol or parabens.
Is It Better to Use Deodorant or Antiperspirant?
The answer to the deodorant vs. antiperspirant debate depends on your goal. Those who experience excessive sweat may feel they must use an antiperspirant. Those who tend to have average sweat levels might just need a deodorant to stay dry, curb body odor and smell great—especially considering that a 2005 study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that both deodorants and antiperspirants can control body odor.6,7
Many who prefer not to plug their sweat glands—or who lean toward personal products with better-for-you ingredients—choose aluminum-free deodorants that absorb your body’s sweat but don’t prevent it from happening in the first place. Read more about the top 5 benefits of aluminum-free deodorant.
Is Antiperspirant Bad for You?
Although antiperspirants have been labeled safe for use, a few studies have posited that underarm products containing aluminum may increase the risk for breast cancer. They claim that most breast cancers develop in an area close to the armpit, which is where one applies antiperspirants. These studies suggest that metallic salts may interact negatively with DNA and ultimately lead to cancer in breast cells.8
Other studies from the 1960s found high levels of aluminum in the brains of those with Alzheimer's. These findings put household items like aluminum cans, antacids, and antiperspirants under a microscope. However, since then experts have ruled out aluminum as a cause of Alzheimer's.9
Ultimately, the findings of these studies have not been reproduced in subsequent studies, and antiperspirants are still classified as safe to use by the FDA. However, those who are still wary about the risks of antiperspirant are often turning to aluminum-free deodorant (like the ones from Oars + Alps) with clean ingredients, such as plant starch, to absorb sweat.
Does Antiperspirant Cause Cancer?
The National Cancer Institute has stated that only a few studies have tested theories that the ingredients in antiperspirant products increase your risk of breast cancer.10 Subsequent trials have found no direct relationship between antiperspirants and cancer. A 2002 study found that risks associated with family history are ultimately more significant.11
Try Aluminum Free Deodorant from Oars + Alps
Now that you know the difference between deodorants and antiperspirants, you can make the best decision for yourself. If you find yourself like the many people that prefer clean ingredients and zero metallic salts that plug your sweat glands, consider trying an aluminum-free deodorant from Oars + Alps. Thousands have made the switch and feel better with another option to control sweat and odor.
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