MARCH 2023 | 5 MINUTE READ
Deodorant vs antiperspirant… the debate has been ongoing on which one is best to use, however they are often confused to be the same product as most people will use the word “deodorant” to refer to the product they use on their underarm to manage odor… and yes, both deodorants and antiperspirants help control odor.
However, they are formulated to perform very differently. Let me clarify the difference between these two products and explain why I’m not only on team deodorant, I’m on team natural deodorant.
Simply put, antiperspirants reduce odor by blocking sweat using aluminum compounds, while deodorants reduce odor without blocking sweat.
Antiperspirants contain aluminum salts such as aluminum chloride, aluminum chloralhydrate and aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex.
Aluminum is a heavy metal that most of us are exposed to daily. It is a naturally occurring element from the earth and is used in the manufacturing of paints, cars, propellant, fuel additives, over the counter medications (like antacids), soda cans, aluminum foil and, of course, antiperspirants.
When these aluminum compounds in antiperspirants combine with sweat, they change the pH of the aluminum salts and form a gel-like plug on the top of the sweat gland. This is what prevents the sweat from exiting to the underarm, keeping it dry.
While this may sound like a good thing, preventing your underarms from sweating traps sweat in the sweat gland causing it to be absorbed into the dermis layer of the skin. Although this amount of sweat in the dermis layer of the skin is probably not harmful it is not the way your body is designed to work.
Clinical strength deodorant is actually clinical strength antiperspirant and is a category of its own. Consumers should really understand the difference. A regular antiperspirant produces a 20% sweat duct plug formation with aluminum, while clinical strength produces a 30% sweat duct plug formation also with aluminum. This is why it is highly effective at keeping sweat at bay, but this increase in aluminum isn’t necessarily a good thing and I’ll get to that in a moment.
For the purposes of this comparison, we will be referring to deodorants made of natural ingredients or that qualify as “natural”.
Deodorants are topical products that are designed to work on the surface of the skin to eliminate bacteria that causes odor. They do not prevent you from sweating, but this is also what is part of the healthy appeal for consumers as deodorants allow your body to function in the way that it was intended (sweating is normal!).
This is sometimes a problem for extra sweaty people, as rashes and irritations are sometimes caused by a natural deodorant. The natural deodorants that are irritating to the skin are often loaded with fragrance and made with ingredients such as baking soda, which is not designed for the skin, and coconut oil, which tends to clog pores. I always suggest a natural deodorant that is formulated with a light level of fragrance and activated charcoal as they are safe for sensitive skin and help control odor.
I know many of you likely shy away from natural deodorants as you’ve either tried them and they didn’t work, or you’ve heard a horror story from someone you know. The key to switching successfully is to know what you’re in for before you begin as you can switch successfully.
Keep in mind, should you decide to make the switch to natural deodorants, there is a temporary period during the switch that I refer to as The Stages of “Detox” . This is not an internal detox, like a liver or kidney detox, but a “withdrawal” effect from the active aluminum ingredients in antiperspirants.
During this period, depending on your body chemistry, you may experience increased levels of odor-causing bacteria in your armpit area. This results in a breakthrough of odor in the beginning weeks of transition to natural deodorant. It may be tough but, don’t stop using your natural deodorant. The key is to reducing odor is to combine your natural deodorant with thorough underarm washing using a natural antibacterial soap during this phase.
Your body odor levels should subside and return to normal after your “Stages of Detox” is complete.
The topic of aluminum in cosmetic products is a controversial one. While there is little scientific evidence that links antiperspirants to breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, these chemicals are still being applied directly on the skin every day. The long-term health effects from aluminum are essentially unknown.
You wouldn’t knowingly ingest a spoonful of toxic cosmetic ingredients, yet so many people would not think twice with applying them to their skin every single day. In some ways, smearing toxins under your arms in the form of deodorant or antiperspirant may be worse than if you were to eat it.
“When you eat something, it’s broken down by your liver and digestive system,” says Heather Patisaul, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University. “But when you put something on your skin, there are times when it can enter your bloodstream without being metabolized.”
Patisaul studies endocrine disruptors — both suspected, as well as known chemicals — that may disrupt your body’s reproductive and developmental hormones. She says rubbing something on your skin doesn’t mean all—or even any—of it will make its way into your bloodstream; it depends on the chemical. Blood tests have the ability to show that many of the substances commonly included in deodorant products can, in fact, worm their way past the epidermis and into the body.
Keep in mind, the underarm area houses fatty tissue that can be susceptible to storing substances — especially if you shave and apply antiperspirant chemicals on the broken skin. The scientific community still does not support the possibility that antiperspirants are a possible danger to your health (that is why they are still on the shelves). It is up to you as a consumer to make the decision if you think this is a risk to your health.
In my opinion, with an ingredient with so little in way of studies for topical application of aluminum, I would take precautionary measures given the suspicious nature of the ingredient.
Deodorant vs antiperspirant… what’s the verdict?
Determining what product is right for you really boils down to your individual needs. Finding which product delivers the performance you are looking for can be a bit of trial and error. Ultimately, it is up to you to do the research and decide on the risk and reward on something you use every day for the majority of your life.
I always suggest taking the natural route and to go with a natural deodorant that will allow your body to sweat (as it is intended to), but controls odor without irritating the delicate skin we call our armpits!
Written by Madame Sweat
Clean beauty industry maven and product developer Madame Sweat (Mary Futher) founded kaia naturals after spending 20 years working for global beauty companies. She now shares weekly modern hygiene etiquette advice and solutions for “unsexy” body taboos, with her social media followers and readers.
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Clean beauty industry maven and product developer Madame Sweat (Mary Futher) founded kaia naturals after spending 20 years working for global beauty companies. She now shares advice on modern hygiene etiquette for grooming, hosting, home and travel on Instagram, TikTok and her popular blog called The House of Hygiene.