Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant

a woman sprays deodorant on her underarm

A multibillion-dollar industry has evolved around your fear of smelling bad. In just over a century, humans have become nearly religious about using grooming products to eliminate personal odor. Deodorants and antiperspirants are two of the most popular personal care items on the market. Though many consumers broadly label all products associated with sweating as deodorant, there are notable distinctions between the two. The major discrepancy between deodorant and antiperspirant is in function.

How Do They Work?

If you look closely, you can see that “odor” is the root word of deodorant. This clues you into the purpose behind the stuff you glide onto your underarms every morning. While deodorant will not keep you from sweating, it will help you keep your friends. Deodorants simply mask any smells that result from sweat.

The antiseptic ingredients in deodorant work by creating an acidic environment that kills the bacteria living on your skin. These microorganisms metabolize your sweat and generate odor as a by-product. You don’t want them hanging around. Fragrance, another major component in deodorant, covers up any odor that is produced. Deodorants are marketed based on the promise of keeping you fresh-smelling. Wouldn't you much rather smell like France’s lavender fields or a rugged Rocky Mountain breeze than a high school locker room?

Antiperspirant is just a fancy way of saying “no sweat,” and that is exactly the aim of this product. The active ingredients in antiperspirants move into your sweat glands and plug them. With your pores clogged, they are unable to release the salty fluid known as sweat. These products promise to keep your armpits dry so you don’t have to walk around with your elbows glued to your waist.

Should You Be Concerned?

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) classifies deodorant as a cosmetic. Because of its fragrance component, deodorants rank highly on the list of cosmetics that cause skin rashes. Deodorants have been rumored to be a cause of breast cancer because they contain estrogen-like parabens, which have been associated with the disease. However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) states that researchers have been unable to link parabens with breast cancer. Many personal care products besides deodorants and antiperspirants contain parabens. Other studies have found parabens to exist in the urine of 99% of Americans anyway, according to the ACS. The FDA requires the labeling of parabens, so if you are concerned, check the labels.

For decades now, popular culture has blamed aluminum-based products for causing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. However, the Alzheimer’s Association refutes these claims as myth, stating that no conclusive evidence points to antiperspirants as a culprit. The active ingredients in antiperspirants are aluminum compounds. Since these aluminum and zirconium additives alter your body’s ability to perspire, the FDA regulates them as drugs. While these compounds do have a reputation for causing skin rashes, according to extensive medical research, they do not cause Alzheimer's disease or dementia.