Antiperspirant, or deodorant? We’ve all stood in front of rows of countless stink-defeating products and randomly selected one or the other, more likely due to its smell than to its labeling. What exactly is an antiperspirant? Does it have radically different properties and benefits than a deodorant? Aren’t they basically the same thing, with different labels to fool us ignorant consumers? It turns out that there is a pretty significant difference between the two, and that difference just might mean whether or not you are the proud owner of aluminum armpits. If you’re not concerned yet, you might want to be. Let’s take a look.
Humans Smell Funny
We all sweat. Humans have two types of sweat glands generously decorating the surfaces of their skin, with the most concentrated glands located in the- you guessed it- armpits. Your eccrine glands secrete water and salt when you are too hot, whereas your apocrine glands secrete fats and proteins. When these fats and proteins reach the surface of your skin they react with bacteria, and voila- stink happens. Due to the current trends in media and culture, smelly armpits are unacceptable in modern day society. Thus we find ourselves scratching our heads at the antiperspirant and deodorant aisle of the supermarket.
Deodorants to the Rescue
If you’re using a deodorant, breathe a sigh of relief. You probably don’t have aluminum armpits, unless you’ve been crushing soda cans in there. Deodorant works to counteract the smell of the apocrine gland secretions by targeting the bacteria that it would normally react with to create the stink. Often deodorants use ingredients like triclosan, which causes the skin in your armpits to be too acidic or salty for the bacteria to live. Without any bacteria, the apocrine gland secretions are powerless to make you unworthy of a nice dinner date. Thanks, deodorant.
On the other hand, antiperspirants try to eliminate the problem by preventing your sweat from ever happening at all. Most antiperspirants contain ingredients similar to deodorants, but they add a bit of metallic weirdness to the mix: aluminum, and sometimes zirconium. Aluminum and zirconium are used to plug the sweat glands in your underarms, keeping those secretions from reaching the surface. If no sweat reaches your exterior skin, then it never reacts with the bacteria there, and you end up smelling like a million bucks (or whatever your preferred aroma was).
Balking at the idea of applying aluminum and zirconium to your armpits on a daily basis? You probably should be. The aluminum most often used in antiperspirants has been subject to many rather troubling studies. Scientists have found links between breast cancer and antiperspirants, as the aluminum used has been shown to cause DNA mutation that is required for cancer to flourish. Don’t be too scared, however- as with many controversial topics, there are just as many studies to refute the claims of the opposing side. There is no definitive answer as to whether or not the aluminum that is in antiperspirant really is as bad for you as it might seem it would be.
Stinky Pits Are Safe Pits
Probably the best way to avoid introducing non-natural substances to your armpits is to abstain entirely from using either deodorant or antiperspirant. Some people use essential oil concoctions to fabricate their own perfumes and stink-paralyzers, but even that is perhaps not exactly what our bodies need and expect. Regardless, nobody is marching to end the use of deodorants or antiperspirants any time soon, and that’s not too frightening. In fact, we’re probably all glad for that. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to be uninformed concerning which product we choose to use. The next time you’re in the hygiene aisle of the grocery store, keep your aluminum armpits in mind.