Deodorant vs Antiperspirant: What's the Difference?

Plus, the benefits of each.

Photo: Getty Images

If you regularly swipe on your favorite deodorant in the morning and go about your day without a thought, stop everything, because you may not be using the product you think you are. Not all underarm products are created equal, and there's plenty to know about their function and what each are made of.

This is especially important if you've ever felt like your deodorant isn't doing you any good or you've experienced any frustrations at the product you picked off the drugstore shelf.

And that's why we spoke to three experts to get the details on the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant — and when you should use one over the other.

What Is Deodorant?

The terms deodorant and antiperspirant are often misused interchangeably when, in fact, they're two different products with two different purposes. Deodorant in particular does what the name implies — it deodorizes the smell.

"Deodorants are products that mask or neutralize unwanted underarm odor while still allowing your body to sweat," says Krupa Koestline, a clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants.

"Typical deodorizers include magnesium hydroxide and plant essential oils like tea tree oil, eucalyptus, and sage, and natural fragrances to neutralize odor," she says. "Some have natural antibacterial ingredients like saccharomyces ferment, a yeast ferment with probiotic enzymes, tea tree oil, and coconut oil to help reduce these odor-causing bacteria."

What Is Antiperspirant?

Antiperspirants, in comparison, help you stop sweating, which means they function a bit differently from deodorants.

"Antiperspirants have active ingredients, such as aluminum salts, that stop sweat from being released onto the skin," says board-certified dermatologist ​​Alicia Barba, MD. "They keep you dry, and therefore odor-free. Most antiperspirants also have a deodorant component so they offer both: fragrance to mask smell and active ingredients to keep you dry."

VIDEO: Naomi Osaka Is Launching a Skincare Line Specifically For Melanated Skin

Is It Safe to Use Deodorant and Antiperspirant?

There is some mixed information on whether or not deodorant and antiperspirant are safe to use. However, Dr. Barba points out that both industries are overseen by the FDA and must adhere to the organization's guidelines.

"When it comes to deodorants, it's generally safe to use them on your armpits," Koestline says. "The most common complaint is skin irritation due to ingredients like baking soda, essential oils, or fragrance." If you have sensitive skin, she says to look for a fragrance-free and baking soda-free deodorant to prevent the risk of irritation.

She also notes that baking soda, in particular, can be irritating for some people because of the high pH level needed to neutralize odors. She recommends a baking-soda-free deodorant for people who have sensitive skin, such as Nécessaire's The Deodorant Gel.

For those who have heard stories about antiperspirants being linked to serious health issues, Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, wants you to know that you needn't be afraid.

"While in recent years there has been some discussion as to whether aluminum in antiperspirants can be linked to breast cancer, there is currently no scientific evidence to support that either product poses danger," she says

When Should You Use Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant?

Having both a deodorant and an antiperspirant on hand is the best way to go if you want to manage smell and sweat. Though some products have a dual purpose, a targeted product can be especially helpful if you have excessive odor or sweat.

"If you suffer from excessive sweating, you may want to try an antiperspirant as it will minimize the amount of sweat released from your sweat glands and keep you drier throughout the day," Dr. Engelman says. Conversely, she suggests a deodorant specifically for targeting odor, as this product will "kill odor-causing bacteria on the skin."

Dr. Barba adds, "An antiperspirant is indicated for someone that has underarm odor, caused, of course, by the sweat breakdown on the surface of the underarm skin. This person needs to stop sweat from reaching the skin, so they would benefit from the aluminum salts in the antiperspirant."

If you're using antiperspirant and still finding sweat to be a major issue, Dr. Barba recommends either upping your dose or reapplying throughout the day. "We get into the habit of just applying in the morning but some of us need to stop sweat in the middle of the day, so don't be afraid to reapply."

If using antiperspirant throughout the day still isn't putting a stop to your sweat, ask your doctor about hyperhidrosis, a medical condition wherein you experience excessive sweating, to see if you should get professional treatment.

Related Articles