Though many people use the terms “deodorant” and “antiperspirant” interchangeably, these two products have different functions. Deodorants help mask body odor, while antiperspirants help block sweat production

The products contain different ingredients and have different regulations.

This article reviews the similarities and differences between deodorants and antiperspirants.

A person spraying deodorant or an antiperspirant.Share on Pinterest
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The purpose of deodorant is to eliminate or mask odors.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies deodorant as a cosmetic. This means the product’s primary use is to cleanse or beautify.

Companies do not need FDA premarket approval for these products in most cases. However, companies are legally responsible for the safety of the ingredients and the final products.

Many deodorants contain perfume to help mask odor. Like the deodorant itself, perfumes do not require premarket FDA approval.

Antiperspirants reduce sweat or perspiration on the skin. They can come in a variety of forms, such as:

  • creams
  • sprays
  • powders
  • roll-ons
  • towels

Nonprescription forms contain low concentrations of different types of aluminum salts, such as:

  • aluminum zirconium
  • aluminum chlorohydrate
  • aluminum chloride

A person may need prescription-strength antiperspirants if they have hyperhidrosis, or excessive perspiration.

Prescription antiperspirants contain higher concentrations of aluminum chloride or a stronger variant called aluminum hexahydrate.

The FDA considers antiperspirants a type of drug because they affect the function of the body. As a result, companies need to seek FDA approval before releasing a new antiperspirant for purchase.

How do they work?

Antiperspirants that contain aluminum salts react with cells on the skin and in the sweat ducts called mucopolysaccharides.

This damages the surface skin cells and blocks the sweat glands.

Deodorants and antiperspirants have different functions, although a person often applies them to the same areas, such as the underarms.

Deodorants help prevent or mask body odor. They have no active ingredients and do not prevent sweating.

Antiperspirants help prevent sweating. They typically contain aluminum as an active ingredient.

Deodorant and antiperspirant have two functions: preventing body odor and reducing moisture.

In many cases, a person does not need to choose between the two, as many products function as both deodorant and antiperspirant.

Wearing antiperspirant or deodorant can have the following benefits:

Body odor reduction

Deodorant’s purpose is to cover or mask the body’s natural odors. Deodorants may contain perfumes, alcohols, or other cosmetic ingredients.

Antiperspirants may also reduce body odor, although this is not their primary purpose. According to a 2018 study, bacteria and other substances in sweat can contribute to body odor. Therefore, by preventing sweating, antiperspirants may help reduce body odor.

Moisture reduction

The active ingredients in antiperspirants prevent sweating. This reduces moisture that can result from activities, such as walking; excessive heat; or potentially stressful situations, such as public speaking.

Deodorants do not provide the same benefit.

Deodorants and antiperspirants can carry the following risks:

Skin reactions

Products applied to the skin may cause irritant or contact dermatitis.

This is more likely if a person applies the products to thinner areas of skin, such as the underarms. It is also more likely in those with sensitive skin or a history of irritant and contact dermatitis.

A person should consult a doctor or an allergist if they experience an allergic reaction when using a deodorant or antiperspirant. An allergist may be able to check for allergies or recommend products that are more suitable.

Long-term antiperspirant use can increase the risk of cysts due to the continual blocking of the sweat glands.

To help reduce the risk of cyst formation, people should wash and exfoliate the area of skin regularly.

People with hidradenitis suppurativa should avoid using antiperspirants that contain aluminum salts. Hidradenitis suppurativa is a skin condition that causes scarring and abscesses on the skin.

Parabens

Parabens are a group of chemicals that help prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, or yeast in cosmetics. Though many deodorants do not contain these preservatives, some may.

Parabens can enter the body through the skin. While some people believe that parabens may cause cancer or other harm in the body, the FDA has not found sufficient scientific evidence to suggest that they cause harm.

The FDA requires companies to clearly list all ingredients on product labels. If people are concerned about the use of parabens, they should look for deodorants that do not contain these ingredients.

Aluminum salts and kidney disease

Antiperspirants often contain aluminum salts that prevent sweating. Using antiperspirants that contain aluminum salts may not be safe for people with kidney issues.

The FDA requires antiperspirant manufacturers to include the following statement on labels: “Ask a doctor before use if you have kidney disease.”

A person with kidney disease or other conditions involving the kidneys should consult a doctor about safe options to help prevent sweating.

People may be concerned that antiperspirants can cause breast cancer because the products contain aluminum and other potentially harmful ingredients.

The theory revolves around the idea that the skin near the breasts absorbs the potentially harmful ingredients. People speculate that the aluminum salts can enter the skin and affect the estrogen receptors of breast cells.

The American Cancer Society states that no clear connection exists between aluminum and breast cancer. Only small amounts of aluminum enter the skin, and breast cancer cells do not contain more aluminum than regular breast cells.

According to a 2016 review of breast cancer studies, researchers have not established a clear connection between aluminum absorption and breast cancer. However, the author notes that further studies are necessary.

A 2021 study found no significant connection between aluminum-containing antiperspirant or hair coloring products and breast cancer.

Some deodorants may contain an antimicrobial substance called triclosan.

Over the years, some people have raised concerns about its safety. According to the FDA, there are concerns that triclosan can:

  • affect levels of thyroid hormones
  • contribute to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics
  • increase the risk of skin cancer

However, studies have yet to show significant harm from using products containing triclosan.

A 2019 review notes that, in the United States, the maximum level of triclosan in deodorants is 0.3%. For now, the use of triclosan in consumer products is not a threat to people’s health.

Products that contain triclosan should clearly list the ingredient on a label, so people can avoid it if they prefer.

Deodorants help eliminate or mask odors. Antiperspirants help prevent sweating.

The FDA classifies deodorants as cosmetics but considers antiperspirants drugs because they contain active ingredients that alter the function of the body. This means the FDA regulates them differently.

While both types of products can cause side effects, such as skin reactions, there is little to no evidence that they can cause larger health issues.