Antiperspirants and deodorants work in different ways to reduce body odor. Antiperspirants work by reducing sweat. Deodorants work by increasing the skin’s acidity.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers deodorants to be cosmetic: a product intended to cleanse or beautify. It considers antiperspirants to be a drug: a product intended to treat or prevent disease, or affect the structure or function of the body.
Keep reading to learn more about the differences between these two forms of odor control, and whether one is better for you than the other.
Deodorants are formulated to eliminate armpit odor but not perspiration. They’re typically alcohol-based. When applied, they turn your skin acidic, which makes it less attractive to bacteria.
Deodorants also commonly contain perfume to mask odor.
The active ingredients in antiperspirants usually include aluminum-based compounds that temporarily block sweat pores. Blocking sweat pores reduces the amount of perspiration that reaches your skin.
If over-the-counter (OTC) antiperspirants are unable to control your sweating, prescription antiperspirants are available.
There are two primary reasons to use deodorants and antiperspirants: moisture and smell.
Sweat is a cooling mechanism that helps us shed excess heat. Armpits have a higher density of sweat glands than other areas of the body. Some people wish to reduce their sweating, since armpit sweat can sometimes soak through clothing.
Sweat can also contribute to body odor.
Your sweat itself doesn’t have a strong odor. It’s the bacteria on your skin breaking down sweat that produce an odor. The damp warmth of your armpits is an ideal environment for bacteria.
The sweat from your apocrine glands — located in the armpits, groin, and the nipple area — is high in protein, which is easy for bacteria to break down.
The aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants — their active ingredients — keep sweat from getting to the surface of the skin by blocking the sweat glands.
There’s a concern that if the skin absorbs these aluminum compounds, they can affect the estrogen receptors of breast cells.
However, according to the American Cancer Society, there’s no clear link between cancer and the aluminum in antiperspirants because:
- Breast cancer tissue doesn’t appear to have more aluminum than normal tissue.
- Only a tiny amount of aluminum is absorbed (0.0012 percent) based on research on antiperspirants containing aluminum chlorohydrate.
Other research indicating that there’s no connection between breast cancer and underarm products includes the following:
- A 2002 study of 793 women with no history of breast cancer and 813 women with breast cancer showed no increased breast cancer rate for those women who used deodorants and antiperspirants in their armpit area.
- A smaller-scale 2006 study supported the findings of the 2002 study.
- A 2016 systematic review concluded that there’s no link between increased breast cancer risk and antiperspirant, but the study also suggested there’s a strong need for further research.
Antiperspirants and deodorants work in different ways to reduce body odor. Antiperspirants reduce sweat, and deodorants increase skin acidity, which odor-causing bacteria don’t like.
While there are rumors linking antiperspirants to cancer, research suggests that antiperspirants don’t cause cancer.
However, studies also recommend that further research is needed to study the potential link between breast cancer and antiperspirants.