Sweat & Odor Protection: Deodorant or Antiperspirant?

When most people think of deodorants, they think of deodorants and antiperspirants that are applied under the armpit to address sweat and odor. Antiperspirant and deodorant are two different things that are sometimes mixed together. One is meant to hide body odor, and the other helps to reduce sweating. When it comes to sweat and odor protection, which one—deodorant or antiperspirant—is better?

Deodorant vs antiperspirant

People often think that deodorant and antiperspirant are the same thing, but they are not. They are used for two separate purposes. An item may be both a deodorant and an antiperspirant, or it may be two different items. Each has a different set of ingredients. Although people use their names to refer to the same thing, they are not the same thing.

For sweating

Antiperspirant is used to address sweating and is considered a drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Companies that sell antiperspirant products must get approval from the FDA in order to sell their products. It has specific ingredients in it that are meant to prevent sweating from happening. The main ingredient to address sweating is aluminum salt.

Antiperspirants come in:

  • Roll-ons
  • Powders
  • Sprays
  • Creams

Prescription-strength antiperspirants are available with higher quantities of aluminum salts for people who have hyperhidrosis (excess sweating). Aluminum salts block sweat glands, help address sweat from forming on the skin.

The main benefit of antiperspirant products is that they reduce moisture where applied, usually to the armpit.

For odor

Deodorant is used to address or mask body odors. Deodorant products are considered cosmetic, meaning that they are used as beauty products. The FDA does not regulate cosmetic products and do not require approval to sell deodorant as a product.

It usually contains ingredients such as perfumes to mask smells. Some deodorants may contain alcohol, causing the area to be more acidic and addressing bacteria from growing in the armpit. Deodorant does not contain any active ingredients to avoid sweating.

The main benefit of deodorant products is to reduce body odor where they are applied, usually the armpits.

Risks of using deodorant/antiperspirant

Using a deodorant or an antiperspirant may come with risks, as with any product that you apply to the skin.

  1. Any product applied to the skin may cause some form of irritation. The armpits are a sensitive area and can develop irritation.
  2. Antiperspirant may cause the development of cysts from the constant blocking of sweat glands in the armpits.
  3. Antiperspirants labels have a warning from the FDA to speak with you doctor before use if you have kidney disease due to the aluminum salts in the product.
  4. Deodorants and antiperspirants may contain some parabens that may cause a disruption of hormones in the body. Parabens are chemicals that are used in cosmetics as a preservative to address bacteria and yeast from growing.
  5. Deodorants may contain triclosan, which is a type of antibacterial chemical. Triclosan in very minimal quantities (0.3%) are considered to be safe, however, in excessive might have carcinogenic properties.

Debunking myths

Many health-conscious people are hesitant to use antiperspirants because of the claimed risks of cancer from aluminum salt-based ingredients. The main type of cancer aluminum salts are thought to be associated with is breast cancer due to the proximity of the breasts and armpits.

Some aluminum salts may include:

  • Aluminum chlorohydrate
  • Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrate
  • Aluminum chloride hexahydrate
  • Potassium alum

Research currently does not show any connection between using aluminum-based antiperspirants and developing cancer or breast cancer.

Aluminum salt-based antiperspirants have also been theorized to be a cause of Alzheimer's disease. Some early studies from the 1960s have shown that high amounts of aluminum in the brain have been associated with people with Alzheimer's disease.

However, newer research has ruled out aluminum based products as a cause of Alzheimer's disease. This is because the amount that is absorbed is minimal and is now thought to not have an affect on the body.

Other ways to protect body from sweating and bad odor

The best way to protect yourself from developing body odor is to shower or bathe with soap and water every day, making sure to cleanse the armpits and other private areas well. When deodorant or antiperspirant is not available, there are other substitutes you may be able to use to curb that smell:

  1. Choose fabrics that are loose-fitting and breathable.
  2. Apply witch hazel to your armpits.
  3. Shave or trim your armpit hair.
  4. Wash your armpits regularly.
  5. Eat a healthy diet.

DIY deodorant and antiperspirant

There are many DIY recipes you can find online to make your own deodorant at home. Ingredients include things like coconut oil, shea butter, starch, baking soda, and essential oils.

When making your own aluminum-free antiperspirant, you can use aluminum-free baking soda, arrowroot powder, or cornstarch powder. Deodorant can be scented with skin-safe essential oils to mask body odor.

Most online recipes have more of a cream-like consistency, but others may include substances such as bee’s wax to help solidify the deodorant into a solid stick material. Typically, the ingredients are melted down, mixed with each other, and then poured into a separate container.

Kids: Sweat and odor protection

Deodorant and antiperspirants are both considered safe to use for children. Children do not start developing body odor until they start puberty and their hormones start to change. For females, this is around 8 to 13 years old, and for males, it is around 9 to 14 years old. During this time, children may be self-conscious about their body odors and sometimes they may not even notice.

There is no minimum age recommendation for children to start using deodorant products, but a younger child may have an easier time using a deodorant stick or roll-on rather than an aerosol spray.

When picking out a deodorant or antiperspirant product for your child, perform a skin test first to make sure there is no skin irritation or allergic reaction that may occur. Some children may have sensitive skin that does not tolerate scented products, and a non-scented deodorant may need to be used.

Deodorant and antiperspirants have their own uses but can be combined into one product. Each may also have its own risks when used regularly:

  • Deodorants are made for odor protection,
  • Antiperspirants are made to block sweat and keep your armpits dry

There are natural ways you can address body odor and sweat at home that are more natural, and you should explore different options to see which is best for you.

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