Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant: Do You Know The Difference?

Do you reach for deodorant or antiperspirant in the morning? Most people probably don't know the difference.

Deodorant is commonly used to describe anything you roll, dab or swipe on your pits. But there’s a big difference between deodorant and antiperspirant — and it’s crucial to know if you're a heavy sweater. Today we're tackling the debate on deodorant vs. antiperspirant, how they’re different and how to choose the best option for you.

The History of Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Deodorant and antiperspirant are relatively new inventions.

The first deodorant ever created was Mums , trademarked in 1888. The first antiperspirant, Everdry, followed shortly in 1903.

Before deodorant, people doused themselves with perfume to keep their stench at bay. They also used sweat pads in hot summer months to stop perspiration from seeping through their clothes.

When it was first introduced, deodorants and antiperspirants were a niche industry. (People didn’t like to talk about sweat.)

Today, deodorant and antiperspirant are an 18-billion-dollar industry.

So what's the difference? And why does it matter?

What's the Difference Between Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant?

We wear deodorant and antiperspirant for two specific reasons — to stop sweat and prevent body odor. But stopping both sweat and odor are two different things, that require different products.

Defining Deodorant

Deodorant was created to combat body odor.

Your actual sweat doesn’t smell. It’s odorless and colorless. Body odor occurs when odorless sweat mixes with bacteria on your skin. Deodorant prevents bacteria buildup (and by default, body odor.) However, it doesn’t protect against perspiration or wetness.

How to Use Deodorant

Deodorant should be applied directly to the underarms. If body odor is your primary concern, deodorant should be your first line of defense.

Some suggest applying deodorant to other odorous areas of the body, like the around the chest area or near the groin, but we advise against doing this. Instead, apply baby powder – a more natural, safer option – to areas outside the underarms that need attention.

It’s okay to re-apply deodorant throughout the day if you’re in need of extra odor protection. 

Deodorant Ingredients

You can tell the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant by looking at the ingredients.

Deodorants contain antibacterials and fragrances to reduce underarm bacteria and mask body odor. Unlike antiperspirants, they do not contain aluminum.

The most commonly used antibacterial agent in deodorant is alcohol, but substances like activated charcoal, baking soda and coconut oil are used in natural deodorants to fight bacteria. (And you can even make your own.)

Here are a few more ingredients found in most over the counter deodorants :

  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Dimethicone
  • Hydrolyzed corn starch
  • Propylene glycol
  • Fragrance
  • Cyclomethicone

Defining Antiperspirant

Antiperspirants reduce sweating. Aluminum is the active ingredient in antiperspirant. It forms a gel when it’s applied that temporarily plugs the sweat glands on your skin, blocking them and reducing the amount of sweat that seeps through.

Because antiperspirants prevent sweat formation, which is a natural, biological body function, the FDA classifies antiperspirant as a drug. 

Clinical or prescription-strength antiperspirants are designed for excessive sweaters. While you’re shopping for antiperspirants, make sure to select the right product and strength based on your sweat levels. 

How to Use Antiperspirant

Antiperspirant is potent, so make sure you’re applying it correctly and carefully. Follow these tips for best results:

  • Apply antiperspirant the night prior (before going to bed). Swiping it on right before you head out the door won’t cut it, because the active ingredients need time to kick in.
  • Antiperspirant can be applied to areas other than the underarms (unlike deodorant). 
  • Most antiperspirants boast 12 to 48-hour protection, so unless you sweat heavily, you likely won’t need to reapply during the day. 

Antiperspirant Ingredients

If your product contains any form of aluminum, it’s an antiperspirant.

Types of aluminum commonly used in antiperspirants are aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex glycine, aluminum hydroxybromid, aluminum sulfate and sodium aluminum chlorohydroxy lactate.

While many natural ingredients like witch hazel, mineral salts, hops, baking soda and talc may reduce sweat, aluminum is the only ingredient recognized by the FDA as an antiperspirant. Anything labeled “aluminum-free antiperspirant” isn't guaranteed to stop sweat. (For a complete list of FDA antiperspirants, click here .)

The bottom line? Aluminum = Antiperspirant.

So What's the Deal With Deodorant-Antiperspirants?

Both prescription and over-the-counter brands use the term deodorant interchangeably in their marketing to describe antiperspirants and deodorant. Antiperspirants that contain fragrance to minimize body odor are called deodorant-antiperspirants.

Take Secret’s Clinical Strength Invisible Solid Deodorant. It sports a deodorant label. But if you read the description, you’ll see one of its primary functions is “wetness protection.” It also contains an active antiperspirant ingredient called aluminum zirconium. By the FDA's definition, this product is an antiperspirant.

Now that you know the difference between deodorant vs. antiperspirant, you're probably wondering which one is best.

Antiperspirant vs. Deodorant: Which Is Right For You?

Deodorant is a cosmetic used to mask or neutralize body odor. Antiperspirant, on the other hand, is a “drug” because it temporarily blocks your sweat glands to reduce perspiration. When it comes to deciding between deodorant vs. antiperspirant, it depends on your personal preferences and sweat levels.

If you’re a light sweater and want to prevent body odor, deodorant is a good option. For those who sweat heavily or get substantial underarm sweat stains day in and day out, antiperspirant is the way to go.

Identify with the latter? Check out our blog post, The Best Deodorants That Stop Underarm Sweat Stains .

Deodorant-antiperspirants combine the best of both worlds, but may not be as effective. Antiperspirants work best when they’re applied the night before, not right before you head out the door. To get the maximum benefits of deodorant and antiperspirant, use an antiperspirant before you go to bed and deodorant in the morning.

But what if you want to avoid aluminum and other chemicals and still need to reduce sweat? Is this possible? The answer is yes. There is another way to manage sweat.

Natural Alternative to Antiperspirant: The Thompson Tee

The Thompson Tee is an all-natural, chemical-free way to stop underarm sweat from getting out of hand.

This sweat proof undershirt is made with patented Hydro-Shield technology that absorbs sweat and releases it as a vapor. Pair it with deodorant and you’ve got a sweat-blocking, odor-stopping combination that’s hard to beat.

Not a heavy sweater but want to put an end to body odor? Try our new Premium undershirt. Built with revolutionary Odor Shield™ technology this undershirt is designed to keep you smelling fresh all day long. 

Try one risk-free today and take 20% off with code TEES20!

Want more information on deodorant vs. antiperspirant, and all things sweat-related? Check out Thompson Tee’s Sweat 101 resource page !

Lawrence Hunt

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