Antiperspirants vs Deodorant; How Does it Work?

Sweat has an extremely important function. At a fairly early age our changing bodies begin to omit an putrid smell. Suddenly you wake up and go about your normal activity. Only to find that you have developed droplets of moisture that are now dripping from your underarms. Not only are you wet with sweat, but you are now emitting a foul odor that has filled the room in a matter of minutes. But why do we sweat and what purpose does it serve?

Aside from the fact that it can smell like corn chips, it can leave a stain that can ruin your clothes. Sweat is very necessary for our health and well being. After all who prefers sweaty smelly underarms over a clean, fresh fragranced deodorant smell.

Fortunately there is a solution, deodorant and anti-perspirants work to prevent sweat and eliminate odor. Unfortunately, both are filled with dangerous toxins that can potentially lead to serious chronic health issues. This post will highlight the difference between deodorant and antiperspirants.

Understanding Sweat

Sweat is essential to survival as it serves as our personal cooling system to protect us form overheating. We have over two million sweat glands that are activated by nerves that are strategically dispersed throughout our bodies. It is specifically connected to the soles of our feet, palms, forehead, cheeks, and armpits. The nerves transmits and receives messages from the brain that sense temperature changes, hormonal fluxuations, emotional changes, and exercise. This results in the release of clear odorless fluid aka “sweat”to control body temperature.

Contrary to popular belief sweat is in fact odorless. There are two types of sweat glands eccrine, and apocrine. Eccrine produces the more nose friendly odorless sweat, as it is confined to the soles of the feet, palms, forehead and cheeks. You won’t find anyone complain of smelly palms or “facial” cheeks (not to be confused with the other cheeks). Underarms are primarily the smelly culprit.

Although, it can be argued that some people do have stinky sweat that is not strictly confined to the underarms. Apocrine glands on the other hand, is primarily found in the armpits and genital region. It produces a thick odorless fluid. Once released, it comes into immediate contact with the bacteria infested surface, which results in a putrid smell.

Sweat and Odor

Picture this, you are running late for a 5 am high intensity work out, and you forget to put on deodorant. Within 10 minutes of completing the warm up, you begin to sweat profusely from your forehead, face, back, and underarms. As you work to complete 10 burpies, you get a whiff of a musty scent from your underarms. In that moment you remember that not only did you forget to shave, but you forget to put on any deodorant. Now you feel an immediate sense of embarrassment, as you face the realization that everyone positioned within 2 feet of you now know you stink.

If sweat is odorless. Why the h*** does it smell so bad? Well I’m glad you asked. Sweat in of itself is simply salt, water, carbohydrates, protein, and urea. This accounts for its salty taste. Once sweat is released it intermingles with the bacteria on the skins surface, this reaction immediately breaks down the sweat and produces a pungent scent. Underams contain thousands of hairs that trap the sweat and bacteria. This adds to the funk, as it holds onto the sweat and prevents moisture evaporation.

How Does Deodorant Work?

From an early age, we are taught that use of deodorant will significantly reduce our chances of falling victim to funky underarms. In life there is a high probability that we will be faced with unpredictable emotions, and anxiety, that will leave us sweating perfusely. Predicting sweat patterns is unrealistic. Applying deodorant on a daily basis is the only way we can ensure that we remain fresh and clean. But have you every wondered how it works? Well I’m glad you asked.

Each time we swipe a stick of deodorant, we are deploying a large number of chemicals to prevent the reaction between bacteria and sweat. Sweat that intermingles with bacteria produces a chemical reaction that results in body odor. Deodorant that’s applied in the morning works to provide a protective barrier. This works to kill surface bacteria before it has a change to react with sweat. In other words, a bacteria free surface equals funk free underarms.


Unlike deodorant, antiperspirants has a dual purpose. It kills bacteria and blocks the production of sweat. Each swipe deposits aluminum salts within the cells of the sweat glands. As aluminum enters the cells, water flows in, it swells,  squeezes the ducts closed and stops the production of sweat. Translation, no sweat equals clean fresh pits. You can essentially kiss those smelly pits goodbye. But you must keep in mind that everything we ingest and apply to our skin, enters our bloodstream.

Virtually every chemical we consume can has the potential to have a toxic effect. This reinforces the rationale that we need to be cognizant of the all chemicals we ingest and absorb. Let’s take a closer look at Aluminum. It is a known neurotoxin. In recent years, much controversy has centered around its potential link to breast cancer and Alzheimers’. However, FDA sponsored studies, have not found it to have a effect on human health.

Antiperspirants and the FDA

Contrary to popular belief, the FDA does not regulate the personal care product industry.  Companies practically have free reign to use any chemical additives they see fit, as they are not required to prove that they are safe for human use. Surprisingly, this is perfectly legal. As consumers we are left to our own devices to select products that do not pose a threat to our health and well being. This in of itself, is highly disturbing as we cannot rely on regulatory agencies or manufacturers to have our best interest in mind.

Take Home

Even though the FDA does not find antiperspirants harmful, we must take a logical approach to examine the long term health effects. Our bodies are perfectly made to protect us, as sweat functions to naturally cool us when we are faced with hot and stressful situations. It serves a physiological function.

Anytime we introduce chemicals that interfere with this natural process we are potentially exposing ourselves to disease. The average child starts to use deodorant/antiperspirants at an early age. Fast forward 40 to 50 years, and you have potentially increased your disease potential by blocking the natural production and flow of sweat.  Regardless of the FDA’s position we must research it for ourselves and make an informed decision. Here are 5 tips to choose toxin free clean deodorant.

5 Tips to Choose Clean Deodorant

1) Choose products that have natural simple, easy to understand ingredients

If you have to have an advanced degree to understanding the ingredients; leave it in the store. Avoid products that contain ingredients that you can’t pronounce

2). Steer clear of Antiperspirants and deodorants with toxic ingredients.

3). Natural deodorant doesn’t always mean it’s chemical-free.

Just because it’s labeled as natural doesn’t mean you shouldn’t closely examine the label. Avoid ingredients that include; aluminum, fragrance, talcum powder, and proplyn glycol.

4). Give your body time to adjust to natural deodorant.

Myths around natural deodorants. Don’t work. I have tried several and it’s true a lot of them don’t work. But you must allow for you body to adjust. It generally takes 1-2 weeks. Allow your body to adapt. Truth is it must adjust after relying on chemicals to alter our body’s response.

5) Selecting clean personal care products can be overwhelming.

Don’t be overwhelmed. Educate yourself. Formulate your opinion and stick to it. Our bodies were perfectly made and functions the way Mother Nature intended. It is only when we alter its ability to naturally function that brings about disease. My personal stance is to avoid antiperspirants and use deodorants that only contain simplistic ingredients.

Through research, I have learned that kaolin is an excellent natural way to prevent the chemical reaction from occurring. I have elected to make my out deodorant. But you don’t have to. There are viable options on the market that don’t require you to do it yourself. Use trial and error to select the products that work best for you. More importantly be patient. Selecting the best product more than likely will not happen overnight.

Rest assure, you are not alone. Use the Think Dirty app to select clean products. It helps to take the guess work out of selecting clean products.



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