At the Risk of Staying Fresh and Dry: Using Antiperspirants Vs Deodorants

As part of our daily routine, most of us reach for some form of antiperspirant or deodorant in an attempt to either control or eliminate the unpleasant body odors that can arise when we sweat. This need, like so many of the ones that dictate our personal hygiene habits, probably stems from early advertising campaigns designed to sell a related product. So effective were these campaigns in establishing our cultural distaste for body odor, that every day 95% of Americans over the age of 12 reach for a deodorant or antiperspirant to help address their insecurities about the way they smell. In 2006, U.S. sales for this category of product reached a staggering $2.5 billion!

Just when you thought you had this issue sewn up tight, comes the speculation and growing concern as to whether deodorants and antiperspirants are harmful or even a possible cause of cancer. These concerns arise mainly from the use of antiperspirants which all contain an aluminum-based compound as their main ingredient. The most commonly used of these active ingredients are aluminum chloride, aluminum zirconium tricholorohydrex glycine, aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum hydroxybromide –sometimes referred to as aluminum salts.

The link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease aside, the aluminum found in antiperspirants has been shown to cause DNA mutation –a pre-cursor for uncontrolled growth of cells, and hence cancer. It has also been found to have estrogen-like effects when frequently placed on and absorbed into the skin. The latter finding has led some scientists to believe that using antiperspirants may be linked to breast cancer.

Equally alarming is the finding that aluminum can be fatal in large enough doses to people with impaired kidney function, causing some antiperspirant manufacturers to place warnings on their product labels.

Up until now none of these research findings have been conclusive, but questions still remain about the safety of underarm products. This has given rise to new, healthier alternatives, but its not clear if these products are entirely safe either. So how do you know what product is the best product for your needs?

The basic difference between antiperspirants and deodorants is that the former keep you from sweating, while the latter cut down on what makes you stink when you sweat. Understanding the difference between the two, and the pros and cons of each is the key to identifying the safest and most effective options out there.

Survival Instinct: Sweating Does a Body Good

It helps to understand why and how we sweat in the first place. Sweating is your body’s natural way of cooling itself off –whether that extra heat comes from hardworking muscles (the result of confess body spray exercise or over-exertion), from over stimulated nerves (being nervous), or from the burning of food via the body’s metabolic processes. When sweat evaporates from the surface of your skin, it removes excess heat and cools you. So even though sweating can sometimes be embarrassing, it’s a natural bodily function that regulates and maintains the body’s normal temperature, which is crucial to our survival.

The average person has 2.6 million sweat glands in their skin. There are two different types of sweat glands in our underarms, apocrine and eccrine. The eccrine glands are by far the most numerous and produce most of the sweat in our underarms, as well as other areas, including the forehead, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet.

For the most part, human perspiration has no smell until fermented by bacteria, which thrive in hot, humid and acid pH environments like your armpits. The apocrine glands are responsible for making you stink. That’s because the sweat they produce contains fats and proteins from within your body that are carried to the exterior surface of your skin where they react with bacteria that live under your arms –creating odors.

Antiperspirants vs. Deodorants: What’s the Difference?

Deodorants target the bacteria that hang around your armpits by making the skin there too salty or acidic (low pH) for bacteria to live in. No bacteria, means no smell. Most deodorants use alcohol to accomplish this and many use synthetic fragrances (which have their own inherent safety issues) to mask whatever smell is not fully eliminated by the other active ingredients.


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