If you're like most people you may be sensitive about the prospect of experiencing body odor. The manufacturers and makers of deodorants and antiperspirants take advantage of this fact by giving you a bewildering array of choices for controlling the "not so sweet" smell of body odor. When it comes to deodorant or antiperspirants, which is best?
Why does perspiration have an unpleasant odor in the first place?
In actuality, sweat in and of itself is odorless. The smell we know of as body odor arises from the action of bacteria present on the skin surface and the underarm hair follicles. These bacteria are able to thrive and prosper in the moist, warm environment of sweaty underarms. When these bacteria take up residence under your armpits, they produce a chemical known as 3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid which is responsible for the unpleasant smell that causes you to change treadmills at the gym when an "overproducer" of this substance is parked next to you. Interestingly, some studies have shown when the smell of body odor is present on men, women may find them to be more attractive. Go figure!
The difference between antiperspirant and deodorant: Deodorants
Some people are under the assumption that all underarm odor controlling products are the same, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although deodorants are characteristically thought of as odor maskers, they also contain chemicals that help to reduce the bacterial population in the underarm area so that less odor is produced. One such ingredient, triclosan, is suspected of being a carcinogen and is classified as a pesticide by the FDA. Many people don't realize when they whip out their favorite roll-on deodorant, they're actually applying a pesticide to their underarms.
The difference between antiperspirant and deodorant: Antiperspirants
Antiperspirants differ from deodorants in that they don't just mask the odor, but actually block the skin pores so that moisture isn't released. The active ingredient that does this is an aluminum based compound that blocks the pores by forming a gel-like plug. Not only does this gel-like plug reduce odor, but it also keeps your underarms dry so you won't stain your best white shirt.
Deodorants or antiperspirants: Which is best?
While it may seem as if an antiperspirant would be the obvious choice since it has the dual function of reducing odor as well as keeping you drier, antiperspirants have been the subject of some health scrutiny. Aluminum compounds, like those found in antiperspirants, have demonstrated harmful effects in animals and are thought to be toxic to nerves and, possibly, to the kidneys. There's also the question of whether they play a role in Alzheimer's disease, although this hasn't been proven.
Unfortunately, deodorants aren't much better since they contain triclosan and may contain parabens which are thought to have estrogenic effects, raising the question as to whether they may increase the risk of breast cancer.
The bottom line?
When it comes to deodorant or antiperspirant, neither seems to be a particularly healthy choice. Fortunately, some companies such as Tom's of Maine are now making natural deodorants that lack questionable chemicals such as parabens and triclosan which may be the healthiest commercial options available. These alternatives can be found in some health food stores and natural markets. Even if it says all-natural, be sure to read the label carefully since companies have a lot of latitude when using this term.