Antiperspirant vs. Deodorant: What Is the Difference?

When we sweat, it creates unsightly stains on our clothing. That might be fine if you’re working out at the gym, or wrapping up a five-mile run, but it’s not so great if you’re in a business meeting in the office. Sweat also attracts bacteria, which feast on the enzymes in the liquid, and create foul odors. To combat these problems, you can use either a deodorant, or an antiperspirant. What are they, and what’s the difference between the two?

Deodorants

Deodorants are designed to do one thing – mask the smell that’s created when we sweat. They come in solid and spray forms, but they work in the same way most of the time. Really, they’re just masking agents that dumb down your natural body odor and cover it over with a smell that people find more attractive.

Some deodorants work in a different way, though. While they still mask the odor of your armpits, they also target the bacteria that causes the odor in the first place (note that body odor is actually caused by bacteria consuming enzymes in sweat, and not by sweat itself, although diet can change this).

Antiperspirants

Antiperspirants work in a different way from deodorants. Rather than masking the smell of body odor, they are designed to stop the problem from occurring in the first place, by stopping your body from sweating. This happens in a couple of ways.

The first is by the inclusion of aluminum salts in the ingredient list. When aluminum salts come in contact with human skin cells, they migrate into those cells. There, they attract water. As water content in the cells increases, the cells swell. Eventually, they swell to the point that they seal shut the sweat glands in the armpits, keeping them from sweating.

Another way that this works is by including waxes, emollients and other ingredients that mix to create a paste or gel in the armpit. This migrates into the sweat glands and pores, and creates plugs that prevent the release of sweat.

Many types of antiperspirant contain some sort of scent to mask any lingering body odor, but some are unscented.

Antiperspirant Deodorants

Finally, you’ll find that some products combine the functions of both deodorants and antiperspirants. They contain both scented ingredients, as well as aluminum salts to help prevent sweat glands from releasing sweat in the first place.

Are These Products Necessary?

All humans create body odor. The foulness of that odor is affected by several different things. Your bathing routine is one of the most significant, but so is your diet. Those following a vegetarian diet generally have less offensive body odor than meat eaters, but strong herbs like garlic and onions can mitigate that benefit. While using deodorant and/or antiperspirant is not “necessary” per se, they do go a long way toward making life together less taxing.

If you are one of the many people concerned about the potentially harmful ingredients in antiperspirants, consider using only a deodorant, or using a natural antiperspirant that does not include aluminum salts.