How Does Deodorant and Antiperspirant Affect Your Skin

And other ways to stay fresh.

We all sweat, some of us a bit more than others. But that sweat doesn’t have to smell. With the right product, you can go about your day feeling fresh and without worry. How should you choose between an antiperspirant and a deodorant? And how do these products affect your skin? Keep reading and you’ll find out!

Your underarms (axillae) contain thousands of hairs and glands. These hair live in the “pits” inside your skin called follicles. Some glands release an oily substance called sebum that functions to lubricate and protect the hair. Other glands secrete sweat which is essential to decreasing your core temperature.

At first, the sweat that is released from these glands is odorless. However, when it combines with oily sebum, local bacteria go into a feeding frenzy, thereby producing a pungent odor.

Deodorants and antiperspirants take different approaches to solving this dilemma. Deodorants work by creating an environment that discourages bacteria growth and masking any odor that is created. Fewer bacteria = less smell.

Antiperspirants go one step further by actively preventing the release of sweat. Most antiperspirants use an aluminum-derivative to physically block your sweat glands. These aluminum compounds react with electrolytes in sweat to form a gelatin-like substance. This barrier prevents the release of liquid sweat. Additionally, the aluminum compounds cause sweat pores to contract, further preventing the release of perspiration.

Alternatives to Antiperspirants

Not everyone is a fan of antiperspirants. Personally, I use deodorant because I’m not comfortable using anything that limits my body from performing its natural function. That said, I live in San Francisco where the temperature is always a bit cool and I don’t tend to sweat a lot unless I’m exercising. During a recent summer holiday, I did some hiking, swimming, and biking in high temperatures and had to deal with my underarm “situation”. To avoid becoming odorous, every time I used a bathroom, I washed my underarms with soap and water and when that wasn’t possible, I used little towelettes to wipe my skin.

Clothing and Moisture Wicking Fabric

Man sweating very badly under armpit and pointing there

On my hikes, I noticed other travelers who had dark sweat stains on their shirts. Choosing the right clothing can help prevent and mask the sweaty look.

Black and navy are good colors unless you’re out in the sun, since they will absorb more light, making you hotter. Lighter colors such as white and pink will reflect light, keeping you cooler. Another alternative is to wear patterned shirts, such as plaid, which can distract from sweat stains. A lightweight undershirt can be a helpful barrier and absorb sweat before it hits your outer layer.

Moisture wicking clothes are a popular choice to keep you cool. These materials are made of synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester. They are highly breathable and lightweight. This helps you to stay dry and odor-free. Avoid wicking materials if you’re going to layer clothing. While these materials help sweat to evaporate, they do not work well if they’re underneath another layer.

On a hot day, avoid wearing shirts that are overly tight; having a bit of breathing room allows air to circulate between your clothes and skin.

Antibacterial Essential Oils

For a more natural way to stay fresh, consider using one or more of these essential oils:

Lavender, peppermint, pine, tea tree oil, ylang ylang, cypress, grapefruit, patchouli, lemongrass, thyme, rosemary, geranium and lemon.

Stay tuned for my next post where we take a deeper dive into aluminum-based antiperspirants.

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