Deodorant vs Antiperspirant: Are They Actually Different? We Ask a Derm to Find Out

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When it comes to combating odor and/or sweat, the terms deodorant and antiperspirant have become interchangeable (with some brands even selling a combo of the two). But did you know that they are actually completely different? They both hold distinct benefits and properties that might make you do a double take the next time you’re using your go-to stick. So, we tapped Dr. Michelle Henry, dermatologist and Secret Ambassador, to explain once and for all the difference between deodorant vs antiperspirant—plus how to pick the right one for you.

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What Is Deodorant?

A deodorant masks body odor and keeps you fresh all day. A swipe (or two) in the underarm area, and you can expect a reduction of any unwanted smells, but it won’t stop you from sweating in the first place. Dr. Henry recommends finding gentle deodorants “that go on smooth and provide up to 48-hour odor-fighting protection to keep you feeling fresh and confident.”

What Is Antiperspirant?

An antiperspirant, on the other hand, controls both odor and sweat. But mainly it blocks sweat glands and keeps you dry all day. “I recommend antiperspirants that are gentle while still providing great sweat protection that has skincare benefits,” Dr. Henry expressed.

Deodorant Vs Antiperspirant: What’s The Difference?

There’s a clear distinction between deodorant vs antiperspirant, and which one you need all comes down to one question: Are you sweating, or are you dealing with serious BO? Here are key differences between the two:

  • They have different goals. Deodorant fights against odor while antiperspirant fights against sweat. The goal of deodorant is to keep you fresh (aka smelling good) while antiperspirant wants to keep you dry (aka bye-bye wet pits).
  • They have different ingredients. Deodorant’s ingredients are usually alcohol-based to fight bacteria (the culprit for BO) and provide a fragrance to conceal the smell. However, there’s an exception with natural deodorants which usually have key ingredients like baking soda, coconut oil and activated charcoal. When it comes to antiperspirant, the main ingredient is aluminum. The active component (along with zirconium salts) is the reason why it can control the amount of sweat you produce, and prevent sweat from reaching the surface.
  • They are scientifically distinct. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains that deodorant is considered a cosmetic product because its properties are “intended to cleanse and beautify.” However, antiperspirants are labeled an over-the-counter (OTC) drug because they can “treat or prevent disease, or affect the structure or function of the body.”
  • They aren’t applied at the same time. Antiperspirant should be applied at night when your sweat glands are less active and your body temperature is low. That way, when the morning comes, you’re less likely to deal with a lot of sweat. You don’t (and shouldn’t) reapply antiperspirant multiple times. However, deodorant should be applied in the morning and can be OK to reapply.

OK, but do they have similarities?

The only similarities between the two (and the reason why they are used interchangeably) is because they both provide body odor protection, freshness and overall care. It makes sense that people are confused, and that more products are becoming hybrids of the two. It brings up the question, “What the heck is a deodorant-antiperspirants then?”

Um...what about deodorant-antiperspirants?

You’ve probably reached for a deodorant and found that it’s also an antiperspirant (or vice versa). For some, sweat and odor are an issue, so looking for a two-in-one is key. However, be sure to look closer at the ingredients to see if they are truly a combination of the two. Often, it will have antiperspirant’s key ingredient—aluminum—but just a small fraction of fragrance to categorize it as a deodorant too. You’ll want to find equal amounts of both properties to get double the benefits.

What is safer, deodorant or antiperspirant?

FYI, both are safe. The main reason why some people navigate towards deodorants is that antiperspirant’s key ingredient—aluminum—has previously been linked to breast cancer. However, Dr. Henry put those myths to rest. “There are myths floating around about aluminum and negative health effects and that using aluminum-free products are ‘better’ for women. However, the FDA, the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association and the National Cancer Institute have all refuted claims that link products containing aluminum to negative health outcomes. In fact, aluminum-based materials are the only ingredients approved by the FDA as safe and effective for the reduction of underarm sweat.”

How do I choose the best one for me?

“Each of us has different needs. Some people sweat more than others, and for some people, odor is their main concern,” said Dr. Henry. “So when choosing an antiperspirant or deodorant, it’s important to first identify what your needs are.” Ask yourself, “How much do I actually sweat? Or “Is sweat the issue, or odor?” FYI, we all sweat. The difference between normal sweat vs odor is that sweat (which starts as being odorless and clear) can mix with bacteria (due to fat and protein production) and create a stench.

So, if you simply want to freshen up and prevent any BO, a deodorant might be for you. And if you’re more inclined to use natural products, reach for a deodorant (since there are alternatives out there with no aluminum or chemical ingredients included). But if the thought of sweat or wet stains on your clothes is not your thing, an antiperspirant may be the way to go. This can be great before an intense workout to stay fresh and dry for the rest of the day. Some also suffer from excessive sweating (which is a medical condition called hyperhidrosis), so a clinical antiperspirant might work for you. However, it’s best to consult with your doctor before making the switch.

Now, I’ll let you in on a secret: You can use both (meaning, have a separate deodorant and antiperspirant). If this is the case, you’ll want to apply antiperspirant after showering and toweling off until dry. Then, in a few hours, if needed, you can apply deodorant on top. Or, you can use antiperspirant at night and deodorant the next morning. At the end of the day, it’s entirely up to you and what needs you want to focus on—sweat or odor.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that both have a distinct purpose, but they can also work together to care for your underarms. Just know what your goals are when picking one out. It’s all about looking at ingredients, fragrance components and overall need. Here’s to fresh and healthy pits!

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