February 23, 2024

Understanding Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Deodorant masks odor, while an antiperspirant reduces how much you sweat. Both products work wherever they are applied to your body, most commonly on the underarms. Many times, deodorant and antiperspirant are combined in a single product.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source 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. This means they are subject to policies and procedures and may have expiration dates on the labels.‌


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 offer two forms of protection against odor. The first is antimicrobial properties that reduce the number of bacteria producing odor. The second is a fragrance that masks odor that is produced.


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.

Antiperspirants, meanwhile, block your body’s eccrine glands, which make sweat. This is usually done with an aluminum-based ingredient.

Both antiperspirants and deodorants are approved as products safe for everyday use without posing the risk of harmful side effects. Still, with ingredients like aluminum and parabens, there has been a rise in offering more natural ingredient alternatives. It is important to note that both the FDA and National Cancer Institute released statements that deodorants and antiperspirants are not linked to an increased risk of cancer.

The common bacterium

The common bacterium sets up house in your armpits, along with Staphylococcus, Propionibacterium, and Micrococcus. Corynebacterium produces BO, yes — but it also provides a boost against infections

Using products that kill helpful bacteria could lead to the introduction and growth of new and different bacteria — ones that might cause an even stronger odor, or even affect immune system function.

Difference between Deodorant and Antiperspirant

FunctionMask body odor by killing odor-causing bacteriaReduce sweating by blocking sweat glands
Active IngredientsAntibacterial agents, fragrancesAluminum-based compounds (e.g., aluminum chloride)
Odor ControlYesYes, but to a lesser extent compared to deodorants
Sweat ControlNoYes
ApplicationApplied to clean, dry skinApplied to clean, dry skin; best applied at night
StainingLess likely to cause stainsMay cause yellow stains on clothing due to aluminum
IrritationLess likely to cause skin irritationMay cause irritation, especially for sensitive skin
SuitabilitySuitable for individuals who sweat moderatelySuitable for those who want to control excessive sweating
PurposeTo mask and neutralize body odorTo prevent or reduce sweating and control body odor
Duration of EffectGenerally shorter-lived, needs reapplicationLonger-lasting, may not require frequent reapplication
Difference between Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Benefits of Deodorant And Antiperspirant

Benefits of deodorant. Sweating is your body’s natural response. Even if you can get past the visual of sweat, the odor it produces may embarrass you. Deodorant helps mask this odor and can even make you smell better depending on the fragrance in your deodorant product.

Even better, deodorant may help you feel more confident and less self-conscious. If you’re working out at the gym or participating in a competitive sport, you may be more effective if you’re not thinking about your body odor.

Benefits of antiperspirant. Antiperspirant may have the added benefit of acting as a deodorant because of how the product works. When antiperspirant blocks sweat glands, it also blocks odor from escaping, which reduces how badly you smell when sweating.

Keep in mind that these benefits are temporary and the product may need to be reapplied for continued effectiveness. Taking a bath or washing off your body removes the antiperspirant and restores your ability to release sweat from the affected glands.

Risks of Deodorant and Antiperspirant

There are different risks when weighing antiperspirant versus deodorant. Because concerns about cancer risks have been researched and addressed, they aren’t a major concern when choosing a deodorant or antiperspirant. However, if you have any allergies to fragrances, be sure to read labels carefully.

Using deodorant or antiperspirant with added fragrance leaves you at risk of developing allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). One study showed that deodorants and antiperspirants are near the top of the list for cosmetic products that cause allergic skin reactions.‌‌

Keep in mind that it’s not deodorants and antiperspirants as a whole, but instead the ingredients they use. Reading labels is the best way to find out if you’ll have an allergic reaction or added health risks by using an antiperspirant or deodorant.‌


This antibacterial chemical is used in antiperspirants and deodorants to kill germs on your skin that cause odors. However, it is an endocrine disruptor, so it may also act like hormones your body produces naturally and interfere with your body’s hormonal signaling.

Triclosan is also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The FDA banned its use in hand soaps, but it may still be an ingredient in your deodorant or antiperspirant, so read labels carefully.


These are common across all kinds of cosmetic and skincare products, including deodorant and antiperspirants. It’s a chemical that allows other ingredients to be flexible and also extends the life of any added fragrances.

Phthalates are concerning because they may disrupt your endocrine system, especially in males. Phthalates may also lead to an earlier onset of puberty in young women, which increases your risk of breast cancer later on in life.‌


These preservatives help your antiperspirant and deodorant stay good for longer. However, your skin easily absorbs parabens, and they may mimic estrogen in your body. Too many parabens increase your risk for breast cancer.‌


A single fragrance may have hundreds of microscopic ingredients that add up to a single smell. Because they are often considered proprietary or secret, all of the ingredients aren’t listed on labels. If you tend to have reactions to added fragrances, it’s best to stay away from them.


This may also be listed as DEA on labels and is considered a carcinogenic product. It increases your risk for cancer.

Butane and Isobutane.

These are gases that help propel aerosol spray deodorants from their canisters. They are restricted in the U.K. and Canada because they are linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity. However, they are approved for use in the U.S. If these gases concern you, be sure to look for them on labels before purchasing or choose a non-spray deodorant.


This metal is most commonly used to plug your sweat ducts and prevent sweat from escaping the glands. However, aluminum may increase the likelihood that genes mutate at a cellular level, increasing your risk for tumors.

What are the alternatives for aluminum-free deodorants and antiperspirants

  1. Baking Soda: Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a popular ingredient in aluminum-free deodorants. It helps neutralize odors and absorb moisture, providing a natural and effective solution.
  2. Arrowroot Powder: Arrowroot powder is a starch extracted from the roots of certain plants. It is commonly used in natural deodorants for its ability to absorb moisture and create a smooth texture without the gritty feel.
  3. Cornstarch: Cornstarch is another natural ingredient that helps absorb sweat and moisture. It’s often used as a base in aluminum-free deodorant formulations.
  4. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is known for its moisturizing properties and has natural antibacterial qualities. It helps keep the underarm area hydrated while combating bacteria that cause body odor.
  5. Essential Oils: Many aluminum-free deodorants incorporate essential oils for their pleasant scents and additional antimicrobial properties. Common choices include tea tree oil, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil, and citrus oils.
  6. Shea Butter: Shea butter is a natural fat derived from the nuts of the shea tree. It’s often included in formulations to provide a smooth texture and moisturize the skin.
  7. Magnesium Hydroxide: This mineral compound is sometimes used as a substitute for aluminum compounds. It helps control odor by neutralizing the pH of the skin, creating an environment less conducive to bacterial growth.
  8. Probiotics: Some deodorants contain probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria. These bacteria help maintain a balanced skin microbiome, potentially reducing the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
  9. Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal is known for its absorbent properties. It can help absorb excess moisture and impurities, making it a popular choice in natural deodorants.
  10. Zinc Oxide: Zinc oxide is a mineral often used in sunscreens, and it also has antimicrobial properties. It can contribute to odor control in aluminum-free deodorant formulations.

Suggested readings: