Understanding the Differences Between Antiperspirants and Deodorants

Many of us use deodorants and antiperspirants on a daily basis, but we may not be aware of the differences between these two products.

We will explore the variations that make them unique and discuss their benefits and potential risks.

But first, here are the highlights:

The Takeaway:

  • Deodorants work by reducing bacteria and masking body odor with fragrance, while antiperspirants block sweat production by temporarily plugging sweat ducts.
  • Benefits of deodorant and antiperspirant use include body odor reduction and moisture reduction.
  • Potential risks include skin reactions and parabens, but these can generally be mitigated by choosing products designed for sensitive skin or labeled paraben-free.
  • Moderation is essential, and it’s important to follow the FDA’s recommendations for antiperspirant use.

The Key Distinctions Between Antiperspirants and Deodorants

While both products are designed to help control body odor and underarm wetness, they work in different ways and have distinct ingredients.


Deodorants work by reducing the bacteria present on the skin and masking body odor with fragrance. They don’t actually prevent sweating. The active ingredients in deodorants will vary. For example, Oars + Alps, which we review here, uses corn starch, aloe vera, and other ingredients to reduce moisture.

Meanwhile, brands like OffCourt, reviewed here, use alcohol, which helps to kill bacteria and dries the skin, reducing the moisture in which bacteria thrive. Other ingredients that you may find when researching deodorants include coconut oil, charcoal, or baking soda to eliminate bacteria.


Antiperspirants, on the other hand, block sweat by temporarily plugging the sweat ducts. This is achieved through the use of active ingredients known as aluminum salts, such as aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum zirconium, or aluminum hydroxybromid. These compounds react with moisture in the sweat glands to form a gel-like plug, preventing perspiration from reaching the skin’s surface. As a result, antiperspirants can be an effective solution for individuals with excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis.

The Advantages of Using Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Both deodorants and antiperspirants offer unique benefits that can improve your daily life:

Body Odor Reduction

  • Deodorants help to control body odor by neutralizing the bacteria that cause unpleasant smells and providing a pleasant fragrance.
  • Antiperspirants, while not specifically designed for odor control, can also reduce body odor by limiting the amount of sweat produced, which in turn reduces the moisture available for bacteria to thrive. Many companies add fragrances to their antiperspirants to further reduce or mask body odor.

Moisture Reduction

  • Antiperspirants are specifically designed to decrease underarm wetness by blocking sweat production.
  • Deodorants don’t block sweat, but certain formulations, such as alcohol-based or powder deodorants, can help to dry the skin and reduce moisture. However, during intense physical activity, the starch or alcohol base will likely be washed away, leaving you with wet underarms.

Potential Risks Associated with Deodorant and Antiperspirant Use

Though these products are generally safe for most people, there are some potential risks to be aware of:

Skin Reactions

  • Some people may experience skin irritation or contact dermatitis after using deodorants or antiperspirants, particularly those with sensitive skin. This can be caused by fragrances, alcohol, or other chemical ingredients present in the products. Worth noting is that many natural deodorants contain essential oils, which as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently stated, can cause skin irritation or contact dermatitis.
  • If you have a history of skin reactions or sensitive skin, look for products labeled for sensitive skin, fragrance-free, or consider trying natural deodorants made with ingredients such as coconut oil or baking soda. Another good solution would be to go with a natural deodorant that relies on mineral salts.


  • Parabens are a class of chemicals used as preservatives in some deodorants and antiperspirants. There has been some concern about the potential link between parabens and an increased risk of breast cancer due to their weak estrogen-mimicking properties, but research has been inconclusive.
  • If you want to avoid parabens, look for products labeled as “paraben-free.”

While antiperspirants and deodorants can help control underarm wetness and odor, it’s essential to be aware of their ingredients and potential risks. Choose a product that suits your personal needs and preferences, and consult your healthcare professional if you have concerns or experience skin irritation.

Yellowing Undershirts

A common issue experienced by those who regularly use antiperspirants or deodorants is the yellowing of undershirts or other clothing. This staining occurs due to a chemical reaction between the aluminum compounds found in antiperspirants and the proteins in sweat.

  • Yellowing can be more pronounced in individuals who excessively sweat or have a higher concentration of proteins in their perspiration.
  • While deodorants without aluminum are less likely to cause yellow stains, they may still contribute to discoloration if they contain other chemicals or fragrances that can react with sweat.

To prevent or minimize the yellowing of undershirts:

  1. Allow your antiperspirant or deodorant to dry completely before putting on your shirt.
  2. Avoid over-applying the product, as excessive amounts can increase the likelihood of stains.
  3. Wash your shirts promptly after wearing them to prevent sweat and product residue from sitting on the fabric for an extended period.
  4. Consider using an aluminum-free deodorant or natural alternatives like baking soda or coconut oil, which may be less likely to cause staining.
  5. When choosing antiperspirants, look for those that are specifically formulated to minimize staining, such as “clear” or “invisible” varieties.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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