What everybody ought to know about antiperspirants


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Perspiring is our body’s natural cooling mechanism and natural way of regulating temperature. Most people would associate sweat with odor as we tend to smell when we perspire, but the reality is it’s not the sweat causing odor – it’s the bacteria living on our skin and breaking down the sweat into ‘scented’ fatty acids that are responsible for our B.O.

Antiperspirants and deodorants are products used to address this issue, and they come in different forms like aerosols, sprays, roll-ons, sticks, creams, and gels. But what exactly do they do to keep us smelling pleasant?

What is an antiperspirant used for?

An antiperspirant is used to inhibit excessive sweating in areas like the underarms, hands, and feet. This in turn prevents the development of body odor since there’s no sweat for bacteria on our skin to break down which causes odor. It is considered the first line of treatment and is classified by the Food and Drugs Administration as an over-the-counter (OTC) drug.

How do antiperspirants work?

Antiperspirants have aluminum-based compounds as their active ingredient. They block the sweat glands after precipitating from the skin due to the pH rise resulting from its topical application. They then form a temporary plug within these ducts to stop the flow of sweat to the skin’s surface. 

This doesn’t mean they stop the production of sweat on our sweat glands nor do they impact thermoregulation or the process of our body regulating its temperature. They simply reduce the amount of sweat that is secreted to the skin.

Are antiperspirants harmful?

Just like any other treatment, some people may not respond well to antiperspirants due to its accompanying fragrance or active ingredient such as alcohol and aluminum-based compounds, and they may suffer from irritation or rash particularly in the armpit area. So it depends on the person using the product. They can try fragrance-free antiperspirants and see if it makes a difference.

Generally, antiperspirants are effective and are put through rigorous tests to make it safe for use. No ingredients used in their production are damaging to your health as far as scientific research is concerned.

Here are the common misconceptions about antiperspirants:

Antiperspirants or deodorants cause cancer

Stories have circulated around the internet that antiperspirants and deodorants contain harmful substances that the skin absorbs causing breast cancer. However, health experts and authorities worldwide find no credible evidence supporting these claims. 

Antiperspirants or deodorants cause Alzheimer’s disease

Several studies have proved the inauthenticity of the claims of aluminum being a potential cause for Alzheimer’s disease which started circulating in the 1960s. According the U.S. FDA, there is insufficient evidence linking aluminum to the said illness. 

Antiperspirants or deodorants prevent the release of harmful toxins in the body 

The lymph nodes in our underarms have a role in eliminating toxins from our body by clearing out bacteria, viruses, and other potential threats, but they are not connected to our sweat glands which are located on our skin, and they are not responsible for the release of toxins through the process of sweating. We don’t “sweat out” the toxins, therefore to say that antiperspirant or deodorant stops the natural process of releasing harmful toxins through sweating is simply not true.


Most frequent questions and answers

An antiperspirant is used to reduce sweating and odors and freshen your underarm. It is a topical treatment, so it is applied to the top of the skin so they can form superficial plugs on our sweat ducts which stop the flow of sweat.

After your skin is completely dry, apply a discreet amount of the product on your underarms for whole-day protection since the plugs tend to stay for 24 hours. You can put some on after your evening shower for better efficacy.  If you are using this under prescription, follow the doctor’s orders, and stop using when irritation occurs.

A deodorant is a typically alcohol-based cosmetic product that works by fighting the bacteria on our skin that is responsible for the smell on our underarms when we sweat. They turn our skin acidic when applied, making it less conducive for bacteria to thrive. They do not stop perspiration as antiperspirants do, and they mask the odor with fragrance. 

It is important to determine what our preferences are so we can have an informed choice on which products to search and use. They work in different ways, so here’s a comparison to better understand how they work and meet your needs.


  • have aluminum as the active ingredient
  • reduce the sweat by forming plugs on our sweat glands
  • are classified by FDA as a drug which treats or prevents illness, or affects bodily functions or structure
  • are ideal for heavy sweaters or those with substantial underarm sweat stains


  • can be formulated with substances that have anti-microbial or odor-neutralizing properties 
  • mask body odor with fragrance
  • kill the bacteria on our skin responsible for our body odor by increasing skin acidity
  • are classified by FDA as cosmetics which either cleanses or beautifies
  • are ideal for light sweaters who wish to prevent body odor

Antiperspirants can prevent both odor and sweat since it prevents sweat from reaching the skin’s surface, which means our skin’s bacteria have nothing to break down. When the bacteria are unable to break down sweat, there is no body odor. However, since antiperspirants are drugs, you have to know how to use them the right way so you can maximize its effect. 

Antiperspirants would be the more practical choice, but if you want to smell good, you can use both an antiperspirant and a deodorant at the same time.

Antiperspirants come in many application methods like sticks, roll-ons, aerosol, creams, or gel. All of them achieve the same effect, but it all boils down on your preferences and the ingredients which you are comfortable with and will have no allergic reactions to.

When you purchase an antiperspirant, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much do you sweat? Is it mild, moderate, high, or extreme?
  • How would you evaluate your lifestyle? It matters what physical activities you do as it is a factor in how much you perspire.
  • What is the severity of your body odor? If you have to apply antiperspirants more than twice a day to stop your body odor, then you better stop what you’re using and find a better product or couple it with deodorant.
  • Will you need clinical or prescription-strength antiperspirants? This might be more than the average sweat levels and you might need medical intervention.
  • Is there any ingredient of the product that you are allergic to? Check the active ingredients and see if you might have an allergic response to them.
  • What is the strength of the product? The clinical-strength and prescription-strength ones are the strongest you will find over the counter. The active ingredients and their percentage also determine the strength of the product. 
  • Does the product have social proof of its efficacy? It is best to see receipts of its efficacy by and checking good reviews on the internet. Make sure it is FDA-approved, and avoid unknown brands with little feedback.

Bottom line

Antiperspirants and deodorants work differently to address body odor from sweat. You can use one over the other, or you can use both. You can also use aluminum-free antiperspirants.

As to the concern on antiperspirants causing cancer, there is no extensive medical literature at this point in time that will support this claim. However, further research is necessary to establish a link between breast cancer and antiperspirants.

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