Antiperspirant vs. deodorant: What’s the difference?
Before diving into the benefits of not wearing deodorant, it’s important to understand the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant. One of the most common deodorant myths is that the two personal care products are the same, but they actually do very different things in terms of sweat and body odor management.
- Alicia Zalka, MD, dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep
- Caren Campbell, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Northern California
- Jaimie Glick, MD, board-certified dermatologist for New York Dermatology Group
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital
- Lyall Gorenstein, MD, surgical director at the Columbia University Hyperhidrosis Center
- Shirley Chi, MD, board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology
First up, antiperspirants: "Antiperspirants work by blocking wetness from reaching the surface of the skin," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "These contain aluminum salts that form a plug or blockage within the sweat glands to physically prevent sweat.”
Deodorant’s purpose, on the other hand—which comes in both chemical-based and natural options—isn't preventing sweat. That’s another common deodorant myth. Instead, it masks the odor that's associated with sweating, says Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in San Francisco. While you can buy deodorants and antiperspirants separately, you'll often see two-in-one products that contain both in order to help with sweat and body odor.
Using an antiperspirant or deodorant—or a product that’s the combination of the two—certainly comes with its benefits. For one, they're great for hygiene and odor control, allowing you to feel—and smell!—your best as you’re going about your day. Since B.O. is generally caused by bacteria on the skin that crop up due to the moist underarm environment, Dr. Campbell says using an antiperspirant can help keep things under control. “Without antiperspirant, I see overgrowth of bacteria and fungus for some folks,” she says.
Dispelling deodorant myths
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), in the past, researchers have theorized that aluminum compounds in antiperspirants and deodorants could be absorbed by the skin, which could lead to changes in the estrogen receptors of breast cells. “Because estrogen can promote the growth of both cancer and non-cancer breast cells, some scientists have suggested that using the aluminum-based compounds in antiperspirants may be a risk factor for the development of breast cancer,” says the ACS. Most studies, however, find no link between deodorants or antiperspirants and cancer.
The ACS and National Cancer Institute (NCI) state this is nothing more than a deodorant myth and isn’t something anyone should worry about. “One  study that looked at the absorption of aluminum from antiperspirants containing aluminum chlorohydrate applied to the underarms found that only a tiny fraction (0.012%) was absorbed,” the ACS says. “The actual amount of aluminum absorbed would be much less than what would be expected to be absorbed from the foods a person eats during the same time.”
Although research is still limited, the NCI states “no studies to date have confirmed any substantial adverse effects of aluminum that could contribute to increased breast cancer risks.” In addition, a 2014 review “concluded there was no clear evidence showing that the use of aluminum-containing underarm antiperspirants or cosmetics increases the risk of breast cancer.”
Despite both organizations firmly saying there’s no connection between the aluminum in these personal care products and breast cancer, many people have opted for natural deodorant or have decided to sweat it out naturally, sans product. While natural deodorant—which is free of aluminum—can be a good alternative, Dr. Campbell says how effective the option will be for you is based on how much you sweat. Because it doesn't have the same moisture-blocking powers from aluminum, sweat and body odor management may be harder without it.
But do we need deodorant? And are there benefits to not wearing deodorant? If you want to give your armpits a break and see what happens when you go au naturel, here’s what there is to look forward to.
4 benefits of not wearing deodorant
If you feel like deodorant is a necessity, it probably seems impossible to halt your daily swiping routine. But do we need deodorant, really? That’s really up to your discretion. If you’re able to take a break (or use some of the alternatives below) you could experience some of these benefits.
1. It’s helpful for sensitive skin
While deodorant can help you smell great, Dr. Zeichner says taking a break can be especially beneficial if you have sensitive skin. “Deodorants may contain fragrances or acids that help fight odor but can be irritating to the skin,” he says. “If you develop red, itchy skin under the arms, you need to consider your deodorant.”
Jaimie Glick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist for New York Dermatology Group, agrees, saying deodorant is a very common cause of contact dermatitis. “The armpit skin is rather thin and is more prone to sensitivities and allergic reactions,” she says.
2. It could benefit your microbiome
Want to benefit your microbiome? That could be one of the benefits of not using deodorant. “Some deodorants work by lowering levels of odor-causing bacteria that naturally live on the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Stopping your deodorant will allow your skin's microbiome to return back to its natural state.”
3. You’ll get rid of built-up gunk
Ditching deodorant—particularly aluminum-based antiperspirant—can give your underarm area a chance to get rid of the built-up gunk that comes with applying the personal care product every day. (A common reason for deodorant not working, by the way.) “Some people believe that discontinuing the use of aluminum-based antiperspirant can give the underarms the chance to purge sweat, dirt, oil, and antiperspirant debris from the skin," Dr. Zeichner previously told Well+Good. "This allows the skin barrier to repair itself.”
4. It’s an opportunity to get to know your natural scent
Unless you’re super lucky, you probably don’t smell like typical deodorant scents (think "everlasting sunshine" or "tropical paradise") naturally. So what’s your natural scent like? The only way to find out is to ditch the deodorant and allow your body to return to its normal state. And there may be some advantages to doing so.
While it's something you probably don't think about, your body odor can actually influence the connections you have—both romantic and platonic. A 2022 study published in the journal Science Advances found you may be drawn toward someone—or feel like you "click" with them—because of their scent. Another 2021 study published in Brain Sciences found how much someone likes their partner’s B.O. (and how much they’re exposed to it) could increase relationship commitment. So let your unique scent shine—so long as it’s not of the pungent variety.
What happens when you stop using deodorant?
At this point, you might be convinced to give up deodorant for good and see what your life is like without it. Or maybe you simply forgot to put on deodorant and are curious about the aftermath. What are the effects of not using deodorant, exactly? And how long can you go without deodorant?
Because deodorant’s purpose is to help with hygiene and odor control, one of the effects of not using deodorant could be a return of that B.O. So if you're used to swiping on an aluminum-free deodorant but decide to take a break, you'll continue to sweat, just as you normally would—but your odor-causing bacteria might cause more of a stench.
"If you're using an aluminum-free deodorant, it would only be used to cover the smell," says Shirley Chi, MD, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist. Dr. Zeichner adds that these deodorant products work to "neutralize the odor with a fragrance." Since you'll be taking that away, it's more likely that you might have a smell. If the deodorant you typically wear is an antiperspirant that contains aluminum, another effect of not using deodorant is a return of your sweatiness.
But even with these perks, do we need deodorant? Whether you're on team still-swiping-on-deodorant-every-single-day (like magnesium deodorant or the best deodorant for teens) or are enjoying a deodorant-free vacay, experts say that taking a break from this personal hygiene product is A-okay. (As for how long you can go without deodorant, that's totally up to you. It could be a couple weeks, or it could be forever.) Even if you feel like deodorant is a necessity that’s hard to say goodbye to, you might be pleasantly surprised with the alternatives to deodorant below.
5 alternatives to deodorant
Deodorant's purpose is to help with sweat and body odor management, and you might not feel like the alternatives to deodorant can measure up. The good news is that these derm-approved solutions will keep you feeling your best, whether that’s trying out an antibacterial wash that fights B.O. or spritzing on a natural fragrance before you head out the door.
1. Choose a natural fragrance
Maybe deodorant isn’t your thing, but you still want to utilize fragrance. Ditch the synthetics and keep a yummy-smelling natural perfume or body spray around. Even a couple of spritzes before going out and about will leave you smelling great.
2. Use a benzoyl peroxide wash
Do you need deodorant if you shower every day? Not if you have an antibacterial wash on hand. Deodorant’s effectiveness boils down to its ability to combat underarm odor, and this derm-approved substitute achieves the same result. “The bacteria and sweat on the skin interact to create body odor, so reducing sweat, bacteria, or both is the best way to combat body odor,” says Dr. Campbell. One wash she’s a fan of is benzoyl peroxide. By incorporating a product like PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash Benzoyl Peroxide 10% Maximum Strength Antimicrobial ($9) into your routine, you can say goodbye to odor-causing bacteria in your underarm area.
3. Swipe your pits with glycolic acid
Instead of swiping on deodorant, derms recommend utilizing a product that contains glycolic acid, like Surface Deep Anti-Odorant Spray ($19). “It creates a more acidic skin environment to offset the alkaline pH often caused by soaps, which makes it inhospitable for bacteria related to odor-causing skin flora to take hold," Alicia Zalka, MD, a board-certified derm based in Connecticut, previously told Well+Good. "It also reduces sebum oil deposits on the armpit skin, which further reduces the odor process, and works as a gentle exfoliator to remove dead skin cells and other clogging elements."
4. Try underarm Botox
If life without antiperspirant’s sweat-reducing powers seems impossible, Dr. Campbell says it may be worth giving Botox injections in your underarm area a try. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this could decrease underarm moisture by 82 to 87 percent. “It works by blocking the nerve signals that instruct the sweat glands to become active,” she says. “Try getting Botox injections every four to six months with a dermatologist.”
5. Try MiraDry
Ever heard of microwaving your armpits? Well, it's a thing, and it works great if you want to control underarm sweating. The FDA-cleared treatment, called MiraDry, "uses thermal energy to heat and destroy sweat glands,” says Dr. Campbell. (If you’re curious about a full MiraDry review, we’ve got you covered.)
Frequently asked questions about deodorant
Will I smell better if I stop using deodorant?
If you're trying to decide if deodorant is a necessity for hygiene and odor control, it all depends on what your B.O. was like before swiping it on every day. Though stopping antiperspirant or deodorant use altogether hasn't been thoroughly studied, Dr. Zeichner says your underarm odor will likely return if you stop wearing it (so beware). However, that doesn't mean you can't improve your scent without it. If you use some of the deodorant alternatives above—like spraying on a great-smelling perfume or bathing with an antibacterial wash—you may be able to get by without deodorant.
Why do some people never need deodorant?
How long can you go without deodorant? For some people, that answer is forever. We all know that lucky person who somehow gets by without needing deodorant, and Dr. Campbell says not needing to worry about sweat and body odor comes down to things like the person’s “genetics, emotional state/anxiety levels/nervous system, and medications.” They may also be avoiding some common triggers for body odor, such as “heat, feeling anxious, and certain foods and beverages such as monosodium glutamate, caffeine, hot sauce, certain spices (like cumin), and alcohol.”
How long does it take to detox from deodorant?
When you stop using antiperspirants in particular, you’re giving your armpits the chance to clear away anything that may be clogging your pores after years of daily use. According to Dr. Zeichner, that could be sweat, dirt, oil, and other debris. “If you stop using aluminum, salt-based antiperspirants, your skin will naturally shed the aluminum from the sweat glands over time,” he says. When one writer went on an armpit detox, she experienced increased odor during the first few weeks. By week four, that odor had subsided.
Why did my deodorant stop working?
Is your deodorant not working? If you've noticed your deodorant’s effectiveness has gone downhill, especially when it comes to sweat and body odor, your pits may have gotten used to the product you've been using. "There is anecdotal evidence that the body may develop some so-called resistance to antiperspirants over time," says Lyall Gorenstein, MD, surgical director at the Columbia University Hyperhidrosis Center. "It's unclear why this happens, yet many patients recognize this phenomenon." If you want to find out for yourself, he suggests taking a break from the antiperspirant you've been using.
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- Flarend, R et al. “A preliminary study of the dermal absorption of aluminium from antiperspirants using aluminium-26.” Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association vol. 39,2 (2001): 163-8. doi:10.1016/s0278-6915(00)00118-6
- Willhite, Calvin C et al. “Systematic review of potential health risks posed by pharmaceutical, occupational and consumer exposures to metallic and nanoscale aluminum, aluminum oxides, aluminum hydroxide and its soluble salts.” Critical reviews in toxicology vol. 44 Suppl 4,Suppl 4 (2014): 1-80. doi:10.3109/10408444.2014.934439
- Ravreby, Inbal et al. “There is chemistry in social chemistry.” Science advances vol. 8,25 (2022): eabn0154. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abn0154
- Keaveny, Madeleine, and Mehmet Kibris Mahmut. “Love Stinks: The Association between Body Odors and Romantic Relationship Commitment.” Brain sciences vol. 11,11 1522. 17 Nov. 2021, doi:10.3390/brainsci11111522
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