Difference Between Deodorant And Antiperspirant

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on May 29, 2023
4 min read

Deodorant and antiperspirant are two widely used cosmetic products for men and women alike. Many people use these products every single day, but what’s the difference between the two?

Antiperspirant and deodorant have a few key differences.

Deodorant masks odor, while an antiperspirant reduces how much you sweat. Both products work wherever they are applied to your body, most commonly on the underarms. Many times, deodorant and antiperspirant are combined in a single product.

Deodorants are considered cosmetic, but antiperspirants are under the classification of a drug. Because of this, antiperspirants are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means they are subject to policies and procedures and may have expiration dates on the labels.‌

Deodorants offer two forms of protection against odor. The first is antimicrobial properties that reduce the number of bacteria producing odor. The second is a fragrance that masks odor that is produced.

Antiperspirants, meanwhile, block your body's eccrine glands, which make sweat. This is usually done with an aluminum-based ingredient.

Both antiperspirants and deodorants are approved as products safe for everyday use without posing the risk of harmful side effects. Still, with ingredients like aluminum and parabens, there has been a rise in offering more natural ingredient alternatives. It is important to note that both the FDA and National Cancer Institute released statements that deodorants and antiperspirants are not linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Benefits of deodorant. Sweating is your body’s natural response. Even if you can get past the visual of sweat, the odor it produces may embarrass you. Deodorant helps mask this odor and can even make you smell better depending on the fragrance in your deodorant product.

Even better, deodorant may help you feel more confident and less self-conscious. If you’re working out at the gym or participating in a competitive sport, you may be more effective if you’re not thinking about your body odor.

Benefits of antiperspirant. Antiperspirant may have the added benefit of acting as a deodorant because of how the product works. When antiperspirant blocks sweat glands, it also blocks odor from escaping, which reduces how badly you smell when sweating.

Keep in mind that these benefits are temporary and the product may need to be reapplied for continued effectiveness. Taking a bath or washing off your body removes the antiperspirant and restores your ability to release sweat from the affected glands.

There are different risks when weighing antiperspirant versus deodorant. Because concerns about cancer risks have been researched and addressed, they aren’t a major concern when choosing a deodorant or antiperspirant. However, if you have any allergies to fragrances, be sure to read labels carefully.

Using deodorant or antiperspirant with added fragrance leaves you at risk of developing allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). One study showed that deodorants and antiperspirants are near the top of the list for cosmetic products that cause allergic skin reactions.‌‌

Keep in mind that it’s not deodorants and antiperspirants as a whole, but instead the ingredients they use. Reading labels is the best way to find out if you’ll have an allergic reaction or added health risks by using an antiperspirant or deodorant.‌

Triclosan. This antibacterial chemical is used in antiperspirants and deodorants to kill germs on your skin that cause odors. However, it is an endocrine disruptor, so it may also act like hormones your body produces naturally and interfere with your body’s hormonal signaling.

Triclosan is also linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The FDA banned its use in hand soaps, but it may still be an ingredient in your deodorant or antiperspirant, so read labels carefully.

Phthalates. These are common across all kinds of cosmetic and skincare products, including deodorant and antiperspirants. It’s a chemical that allows other ingredients to be flexible and also extends the life of any added fragrances.

Phthalates are concerning because they may disrupt your endocrine system, especially in males. Phthalates may also lead to an earlier onset of puberty in young women, which increases your risk of breast cancer later on in life.‌

Parabens. These preservatives help your antiperspirant and deodorant stay good for longer. However, your skin easily absorbs parabens, and they may mimic estrogen in your body. Too many parabens increase your risk for breast cancer.‌

Fragrance. A single fragrance may have hundreds of microscopic ingredients that add up to a single smell. Because they are often considered proprietary or secret, all of the ingredients aren’t listed on labels. If you tend to have reactions to added fragrances, it’s best to stay away from them.

Diethanolamine. This may also be listed as DEA on labels and is considered a carcinogenic product. It increases your risk for cancer.

Butane and Isobutane. These are gases that help propel aerosol spray deodorants from their canisters. They are restricted in the U.K. and Canada because they are linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity. However, they are approved for use in the U.S. If these gases concern you, be sure to look for them on labels before purchasing or choose a non-spray deodorant.

Aluminum. This metal is most commonly used to plug your sweat ducts and prevent sweat from escaping the glands. However, aluminum may increase the likelihood that genes mutate at a cellular level, increasing your risk for tumors.