Deodorants and antiperspirants: You might’ve heard various opinions about which is better to use or potential benefits and dangers of using either one — but really, using either or comes down to personal preference and skincare or health concerns.
We asked experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab and Lucy Chen, M.D., dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology to break down the key differences between deodorants and antiperspirants and address frequently asked questions. The short? The two serve different purposes, but deodorants fight odor, and antiperspirants prevent sweating (in most cases, while also fighting odor).
What is deodorant?
As the name suggests, deodorants protect the skin against body odor. Bacteria on your skin is what causes sweat to smell, so “deodorants increase the skin’s acidity and kill the bacteria on your skin,” explains Dr. Chen. The acidic film makes the skin less attractive to bacteria. Just note: according to Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D., some fragrances in deodorants can also be designed to mask the malodors without trying to stop the bacterial growth, and deodorants won’t keep underarms dry: just smelling fresh.
What is antiperspirant?
According to Dr. Chen, antiperspirants block sweat pores because they contain aluminum-based compounds. In turn, these compounds form plugs in your sweat ducts, stopping sweat and keeping underarms dry. “This decreases the malodor generation of bacteria,” Aral adds, which means that antiperspirants can also prevent body odor.
Is antiperspirant bad for you?
Many question whether or not antiperspirant is safe. “Antiperspirant myths exist, including that it is a leading cause of breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Chen. But she tells Good Housekeeping that multiple studies have failed to find conclusive evidence linking the use of antiperspirants to either condition and that aluminum is considered a safe skincare ingredient.
If you sweat a lot, antiperspirants can be a good option for you. They’re only not recommended in certain cases, such as having a kidney that functions at 30% or less. “That’s because antiperspirants contain small amounts of aluminum and can harm or pose potential problems for people with advanced kidney disease,” Dr. Chen explains.
Should I use deodorant or antiperspirant?
Dr. Chen says that either product is considered safe for use. That said, your choice will largely depend on your needs: odor-masking (deodorant), or sweat-fighting (antiperspirant). Our pros both personally prefer to use deodorant: “I have switched to a deodorant in the last few years as I have found some that work decently,” Aral says. She notes that she doesn’t generally sweat a lot unless she’s working out, but her current favorite is Dove Refillable Deodorant Starter Kit Cucumber & Green Tea.
“Native deodorant is one of my favorites because it is paraben-free and helps neutralize odor,” says Dr. Chen. She loves that the brand also has fresh tropical scents and is a natural deodorant with no harmful chemicals.
You can even use deodorant and antiperspirant together, as a combo, to reap the benefits of both. Dr. Chen says to just make sure you apply the antiperspirant about two to three hours before applying deodorant so you can get the full effectiveness of the antiperspirant.
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