You’re likely familiar with the routine: You dry off after a shower and apply a layer of deodorant to your underarms, or perhaps you use an antiperspirant, or a combination of both.
There’s actually a key difference between the two, with one being much more controversial than the other.
“Antiperspirant is a skin care product that controls sweat and consists of aluminum salts,” explained Dr. Janice Johnston, the chief medical officer at Redirect Health. “Deodorant is a cosmetic product that controls and reduces body odor by minimizing bacterial growth from body parts, especially the armpits.”
Simply put, antiperspirants stop sweat and deodorants improve your overall smell. Many underarm products will contain both. But some people may prefer to stay away from products containing antiperspirants.
Why? The safety of antiperspirants has been controversial for almost 60 years.
“Many worry that the aluminum found in antiperspirant can be linked to Alzheimer’s due to a few studies conducted in the ’60s and ’70s, as well as pose a risk for breast cancer due to the proximity of the armpits to your lymph nodes and breasts,” Johnston said.
While aluminum has been found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease, scientists are still unclear whether this is from exposure to too much aluminum or a result of the disease.
All of us are exposed to aluminum daily ― it’s found naturally in the soil and water, and can be found in food. Using an antiperspirant would not lead to excessive aluminum exposure ― you’d need something like a job as an aluminum welder for that.
What is clear is that recent studies agree there is no link between Alzheimer’s disease and antiperspirant use. Numerous studies also have explored whether antiperspirants cause breast cancer, and have failed to find a connection.
Another concern about antiperspirants stems from the fact that they literally clog your pores to reduce sweat. Some people say this means toxins are staying in your body. But that isn’t true.
“The body excretes harmful toxins and chemicals by the filtration system in the kidneys and the liver, not by sweat glands,” said Michelle Henry, a New York-based dermatologist.
That being said, you don’t have to sweat about breast cancer, toxin buildup or Alzheimer’s disease when you roll on your antiperspirant. However, like any skin care product, there is the possibility of allergies, which may not be attributed to the antiperspirant itself.
“Allergies to the product may and do develop, which may be due to different offending ingredients such as fragrance, lanolin, vitamin E or others,“ explained Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, double-board certified facial plastic surgeon and founder of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa. “If this becomes the case, one should stop using the product in question and ask a health professional for advice.”
Natural ways to cut back on your body odor
Although antiperspirants are safe, some may prefer to go with a more natural method and leave unnecessary chemicals and ingredients out of their routine. Or, perhaps you just want more ideas to cut back on bothersome sweat.
Here are experts’ suggestions for alternates to antiperspirants:
Shaving underarm hair is commonplace for many women, but removing that hair also serves a secondary purpose: It cuts down on sweat. “The hair under your arms retains moisture and can make sweating much worse,” Johnston said. “Staying on top of shaving your armpits can reduce the moisture buildup.”
You can forego store-bought products by making your own deodorant at home with ingredients from your kitchen. Just mix baking soda and water into a paste, then apply it to your armpits.
You can also add lemon juice or witch hazel to the mixture. “Witch hazel can remove excess moisture from the skin while lemon juice can eliminate odor-causing bacteria,” Henry said.
The foods you eat actually contribute to how much you sweat.
“Processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods can all contribute to excess sweat under your arms,” Johnston explained. “However, drinking lots of water, and eating foods like bananas, vegetables and foods high in calcium, can all help reduce the sweat your body can produce.“
Want to try aluminum-free deodorants? Check these out:
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An odor control cream that is great for the whole body
Developed and created by an obstetrician-gynecologist, Lume is designed to go anywhere on the body where you want to control body odor, including feet and nether-regions. This creamy deodorant is water-based, making it very compatible with skin and stain-resistant to clothing. There is also no baking soda in this formula (a potential skin irritant for some). Instead, it uses mandalic acid to prevent odor and keep the skin pH-balanced. It comes in scents like warm vanilla, clean tangerine, silver spruce and unscented.
Promising review: “I’ve never not been stinky [and] with regular store bought deodorant I [was] still an odorous mess. I tried the natural deodorants and honestly some of them were better but they could still never control the beast that was my musk. This deodorant doesn’t play any games. I can go for two days — TWO DAYS — without needing to reapply if I don’t shower. I have never in my life been able to go more than 12 hours without some sort of rewash and reapplication. Absolutely a miracle product. This is made by a witch.”- SunRaesonSummerDays
A bestselling natural deodorant with over 45,000 five-star reviews
Filled with nourishing ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil, this bestselling deodorant has glowing reviews for long-lasting odor protection abilities. Native contains skin-friendly probiotics to help keep healthy bacteria present on your skin and odor-causing bacteria off, while tapioca starch and baking soda help absorb excess moisture and and neutralize odor. Their gender-neutral scents include everything from cucumber mint to eucalyptus to lavender rose.
If you know that you are sensitive to baking soda, Native also has a baking soda-free line of deodorants just for highly sensitive skin.
Promising review: “I normally would never write a review for a deodorant, but this Native product is finally one that I can see using for a long time. I work out once or twice a day, and sweat profusely. I even get night sweats during sleep. Since I’ve used Native, I actually stay dry under my arms and most surprisingly, I have no underarm smell even after 24 hours. This is very rare from any other product that I’ve ever used – and, I have tried them all. I am shocked that this formula actually absorbs the sweat, and that it seems to completely eliminate any smell, even after full night sweats or working out profusely and sweating.” — neil
A fast-drying gel that uses skin-friendly acid to kill odor-causing bacteria
This clear and non-sticky gel by Nécessaire is part-deodorant, part-skin care for your underarms. It’s formulated with pH-balancing 5% lactic and mandalic acid to prevent odor, brighten underarm discoloration and smooth bumpy skin and ingrown hairs from shaving. It also contains the skin care hero niacinamide, which can protect and strengthen the skin’s vital moisture barrier.
Promising review: “So glad I bought this. I’ve tried natural deodorants, regular deodorants and antiperspirants and they don’t really work and sometimes my BO is really skunky. I no longer have that issue plus I wanted to lighten and smooth my pits. This is like a 3 in 1 amazing product. I’m tempted to buy more. I hope they never ever stop making this. Best thing I’ve bought in a long time.” — Aliesnell
A pH-balancing deodorant with fruit enzymes
This fruity and detoxifying deodorant contains a heavy dose of pH-balancing fruit enzymes to reduce odor-causing bacteria and microbes and fight fungal growth — all without disrupting the skin’s natural flora. Nourishing ingredients like vitamin E, jojoba and sunflower oil keep skin hydrated and irritation-free, even after shaving, while arrowroot helps to absorb wetness.
Promising review: “For starters, I NEVER write reviews, but this product deserves it. I have been on the search for years for a quality natural deodorant, you know, one that actually works. After having my second baby, the postpartum stench struggle was REAL. Like embarrassingly so. I was about to throw in the towel on natural deodorants, but figured I had nothing to lose by trying this. I am absolutely amazed. I live in the desert and it is HOT, I feel like I have put this through the paces — hiking, HIIT, walking, packing around kids — and no stench. None. Zero. I am so impressed and truly, so grateful.” — Emees
A high-endurance, aluminum-free deodorant for men
This high-endurance stick deodorant goes on clear and won’t stain clothing or leave residue on the underarms. It combines the well-loved “sport” fragrance that Old Spice is known with an aluminum-free formula and 48 hours’ worth of odor protection. This deal includes three deodorant sticks.
Promising review: “This is by far the longest lasting deodorant from Old Spice. It’s perfect if you do hard labor for work and sweat all day. I can’t use any other [deodorant brand]. No other [deodorant] is as powerful and useful as this. Highly recommend.” — luis flores
A fresh-feeling moisturizing stick that offers 24-hours worth of odor protection
Dove’s 0% aluminum formula goes on cool and leaves a silky hydrating feeling that quickly soaks into skin. A quarter of this alcohol-free formula is made up of moisturizing ingredients that soften and smooth skin and can keep you feeling fresh for up to 24 hours. This deal includes three deodorant sticks.
Promising review: “I have searched high and low for a zero aluminum deodorant that prevents odor and this one is FANTASTIC. I have tried probably 15 different products and this is the only brand that I have found that works for me. I find it really creamy and moisturizing. It goes on smoothly and doesn’t leave white marks on my clothes. Go for it, it’s a winner!” – LolaMae
A coconut-oil based deodorant that works well for sensitive skin
For highly sensitive skin, this clear coconut-oil based formula by Kopari might be a good option. It’s free from potential irritants like baking soda, phthalates, silicones and parabens, and instead uses naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial plant-based ingredients to aid in odor reduction.
Promising review: “I ordered this after I began having severe allergic reactions to several deodorants on the market. I tried “sensitive skin/unscented” products that seemed to make me smell worse. I’ve used this for two months now and haven’t had any reaction. The beachy smell is great! I love the texture and cute container and look forward to putting it on in the morning. My armpits also look great! Smooth with no more discoloration or the ingrown hairs I used to get.” – Carrie
A clean-ingredient deodorant that uses salt from the Dead Sea to absorb wetness
Each & Every uses a short list of natural ingredients like coconut oil for nourishment, tapioca starch for wetness absorption and an antioxidant salt blend to address wetness and odor-causing bacteria. The company also uses sustainable and plant-based packaging and gender-neutral scents like coconut-lime, cedar and vanilla, and cardamom and ginger.
Promising review: “I was initially VERY reluctant to pay $15 for a small container of deodorant, but, after trying several disappointing less expensive options, I decided to give this a try. I love this product, it’s worth all $15 dollars. It doesn’t stain or irritate my skin, it goes on easy and it lasts. The scent is great, natural and subtle. I have been looking for a deodorant that uses magnesium instead of baking soda as an anti-odor agent and this product fits the bill. It has a creamy yet solid texture, goes on easily, keeps odor down.” – Kindle customer
A sustainably sourced neutral-smelling deodorant for men
This preservative-free stick deodorant is made with a combination of odor-fighting hops to provide 24 hours of odor protection. It’s available in fresh scents like deep forest and mountain spring, each one developed without the use of artificial fragrances. Tom’s of Maine is also dedicated to environmental stewardship by adhering to Certified B Corp standards for sustainability and public transparency. This deal includes three deodorant sticks.
Promising review: “Love the scent of this stuff. I swore off antiperspirant long ago because of concerns about the use of aluminum in those products and I’ve bounced around various brands of deodorant since then, from all natural to chemical-rich commercial brands. This stuff hits the sweet spot of natural ingredients, effectiveness, and a very fresh and pleasant scent. It’s what I’ve been looking for.” – R.D. Cartwright