By Dr. Josh Zeichner
Like it or not, everybody sweats. We may sweat on the palms of our hands, soles of our feet, faces, chests and of course, under our arms.
Why? In general, our glands respond to physical and emotional stresses to produce sweat. And while sweat might lead to embarrassing wet marks on our clothes, it’s not to blame for foul body odor. That’s because sweat itself doesn’t smell. Rather, you can rightfully blame your stench on the bacteria at the surface of your skin, which breaks down the sweat and results in bad body odor.
Deodorant counteracts odor but does nothing to prevent perspiration. Deodorant either masks the body odor with fragrances or actually helps kill the bacteria that cause it. Antiperspirant, on the other hand, forms tiny plugs within the sweat glands to physically prevent sweat from reaching the surface of the skin. Antiperspirant can both prevent wetness and decrease odor.
The active ingredient in most antiperspirants is aluminum salt. As the salt enters the sweat gland, the pH of the gland changes the salt into a jelly-like consistency that plugs up the gland. “Aluminum-free” deodorants use natural stone crystal that can help prevent odor formation, but do not work well as antiperspirants. Even these “natural” deodorants do contain aluminum, although it is not the same form as the salt contained in formulated antiperspirants. “Maximum strength” or “clinical strength” antiperspirants have a higher percentage of the aluminum salt in them compared with other antiperspirants.
Antiperspirants work best when you put them on when you are sweating the least. For most people, this actually means putting on your antiperspirant at night before bed. You can apply it again in the morning for an added benefit.
If you are a big sweater, an antiperspirant is for you. If you don’t sweat much and are more bothered by the odor under your arms, choose a deodorant.