Difference between antiperspirant and deodorant

What's the difference between antiperspirants and deodorants?

How are antiperspirants different than deodorants?  And, why should you make the switch to something more natural (hint: it has nothing to do with cancer or Alzheimer's).

How does an antiperspirant work?

Aluminum compounds are the active ingredients in most antiperspirants.  Aluminum works by causing proteins in your sweat to stick together within your sweat glands creating a blockage so that sweat can’t escape.  Aluminum works in a second way by creating an antimicrobial environment under your arms to discourage bacteria from growing.

Does aluminum cause breast cancer?  No... or maybe, despite a recent publication showing that aluminum chlorohydrate increases estrogen receptor alpha in ER alpha positive MCF-7 cells, a particular type of breast cancer, there’s no conclusive evidence to date that antiperspirant use actually causes breast cancer or any other disease. 

At least one recent review article found no statistical difference in breast cancer rates between women that used antiperspirant and those that didn’t.

If antiperspirants haven't been linked to health conditions, why switch?

So, why bother switching from an antiperspirant to a deodorant?  There are two reasons:

  1. You may find yourself irritated by antiperspirant. Can you apply antiperspirant comfortably to freshly shaved skin?  Do you worry about red bumps or irritation when you use antiperspirant?
  2. Does blocking sweat sound healthy?

Sweat is one of your body’s ways of ridding itself of toxins.  It may be a minor way (compared with #1 and #2), however, your body pretty much has three normal ways of getting out waste products and ridding itself of things that don’t belong inside it, and sweat is one of those ways. 

And, if you’re somebody who experiences red bumps and irritation when you use antiperspirant then you likely need little reason to seek something besides an antiperspirant.  Enter, deodorant.  Unlike antiperspirants, deodorants don’t contain ingredients that block sweat glands. 

How do deodorants work?

Instead, deodorants use one or more of these four ways to help keep smells at bay:

  1. Use wetness absorbing ingredients. Common wetness absorbing ingredients you’ll find in natural deodorants are arrowroot powder and tapioca starch. 

    Talc is also a wetness absorbing ingredient, however, it’s not a good choice because many of the world’s talc supplies are contaminated with asbestos, and unlike aluminum antiperspirants, there’s sufficient evidence linking asbestos exposure with increased cancer risk. 

    Once the wetness absorbers like arrowroot and tapioca starch have absorbed all the wetness they can handle, they need time to dry out again before they can absorb more wetness, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you’re switching to natural deodorant for the first time, you can expect to find your underarms a bit damp throughout the day especially after you’ve worked up a sweat.

  2. Alter the pH of your underarms making the region inhospitable to bacteria. Both baking soda and magnesium hydroxide create a high pH environment under your arms that’s uninhabitable for most bacteria. 

    If you’ve tried a baking soda deodorant and found yourself “allergic” to it, the likely reason this is happening is because baking soda readily dissolves in water, and then is able to migrate through your outer layers of dead skin cells down into your skin’s living layers raising the pH down in those living cells. 

    This high pH environment also impacts your skin’s own acid mantle, and this also may be part of the reason why baking soda is so irritating to so many of us.

    Magnesium hydroxide isn’t as soluble as baking soda, so it’s less likely to cause problems with irritation and redness under your arms because it basically (no pun intended) migrates more slowly into your skin over the course of the day because it takes longer to dissolve in the sweat that’s produced. 

    The theory is that due to this slower rate of absorption into your skin, your body’s able to neutralize it more quickly once it’s in the living skin layers so that it doesn’t irritate you.  

    However, you may be one of the few people, like myself, that doesn’t tolerate magnesium hydroxide well either.

    One more note here before we move on.  Once that baking soda or magnesium hydroxide is absorbed, it’s not able to keep providing a high pH environment topically (because it’s all been absorbed) so you may find yourself less than protected from odors as the day progresses.

  3. Use the natural anti-microbial action of botanical oils. Coconut oil is the most widely used botanical oil in most natural deodorants because of its antimicrobial nature.  Rain Organica uses argan oil and olive oil instead for their natural antimicrobial properties making Sans a great choice for anybody with an allergy or sensitivity to coconut oil.
  1. Use the natural anti-microbial action of certain essential oils. This is why tea tree and lavender essential oils are so common in natural deodorants.  These essential oils along with others have natural anti-microbial properties that keep the odor causing bacteria from multiplying.  And, the fragrance of the essential oil also helps cover up other odors keeping you smelling fresher longer.

How do natural deodorants stack up against antiperspirants? 

Here’s where I’ll draw from my own experience.  I made the switch from antiperspirant to deodorant about 5 years ago starting out with a baking soda natural deodorant that didn’t work for me because of irritation and sensitivity. 

I switched to a magnesium hydroxide formula and still had problems with sensitivity. 

That’s when I started making my own. 

Is there an adjustment period when you switch to a natural deodorant?

Oftentimes, sites claim there’s an adjustment period when you transition from antiperspirant to deodorant, and this is something I can’t speak to because I didn’t experience it.  And, part of that reason may be because I was sweating even when using antiperspirant.

The reason for the transition period is this.  For about a week after you stop using antiperspirants, you might not notice an increase in underarm wetness.  And, then, bam, all of a sudden, you're dealing with underarm dampness.  This is because it takes a little while for the aluminum salts that have been plugging your sweat glands to wash out. 

For the next couple weeks, you might notice an increase in underarm wetness accompanied with more odor than you're used to by week 3.  Again, I didn't experience this when transitioning, and honestly, if you're using a deodorant containing a pH adjuster like baking soda or magnesium hydroxide, you shouldn't experience any extra odor because the high pH is inhospitable to bacteria.

What happens if you do experience extra odor with a natural deodorant? 

When you make the switch to natural deodorant, use a charcoal soap or a bit of vinegar during your first few showers to help break down the gelled protein and encourage the aluminum salts out of your pores.  You can also use a mask (just a face mask is fine) containing any kind of clay as the clay will help pull impurities out of your sweat glands.

A number of companies have started offering probiotics in their deodorant.  The problem with these formulas is two fold:

  1. Almost every natural deodorant I've come across is oil based and thick.  If it comes in a tube rather than a jar as a paste, then it had to be heated during the manufacture and remain hot to pour into the tube.  Most probiotics can't live through that type of heat, and dead probiotics offer no benefit and no possibility of colonizing.

  2. Regardless of whether the natural deodorant is in a tube or a jar, I haven't found any other formulation (aside from Rain Organica's Sans Vegan Deodorant) that doesn't use baking soda or hydroxide.  These ingredients are in there to create a high pH environment once applied under your arms.  That environment is inhospitable for bacteria regardless of whether they're good or odor causing bacteria.

You could try yogurt instead straight from the fridge (or let a dollop sit out on the countertop until it's at room temperature to make the process a little more pleasant).  Leave the yogurt on for about 20 minutes or so after you shower and then wipe away.  You can then apply Sans Vegan Deodorant.

How often do you need to reapply your natural deodorant?

I apply deodorant three to four times a day.  At night after I shower, in the morning, and after a workout are routine for me.  On occasion, I’ll apply it a fourth time during the day.  I used antiperspirant at the same frequency. 

What about the fact that a deodorant is not an antiperspirant?  Could I ask, if you’re currently using antiperspirant, when’s the last time you had underarm stains on your shirt?  When’s the last time you gave a speech wearing antiperspirant and found your shirt partially soaked through afterwards? 

Does deodorant stain clothes like antiperspirants?

Let’s talk about staining a little more.  If you’re using antiperspirants, do you avoid light colors because of yellow underarm stains?  That’s one of the benefits of natural deodorants.  In my experience, regardless of the type of natural deodorant I’m using, there’s no concern with yellow underarm stains on white and light-colored shirts.

How do you easily get rid of deodorant stripes?

How about the deodorant stripes?  You still have to be careful when you’re putting on a shirt to avoid getting freshly applied deodorant on it.  Back when I was using antiperspirant, I also used stick antiperspirant, so this particular concern hasn’t changed for me.  A couple of tips for handling this one.  Get dressed before applying a fresh layer of your deodorant.  Just know it’s easier to clean off a natural deodorant when stripes happen.  Just dampen a washcloth and wipe across the deodorant stripe.  You can also wipe your dampened washcloth across a bar of soap before wiping over the deodorant stripe.

So, are you ready to try a natural baking soda free & hydroxide free deodorant?  Sans All Natural Deodorant provides protection from wetness with organic arrowroot powder and organic tapioca powder. 

Sans helps keep odors at bay using argan and olive oil and both these oils have antimicrobial properties. An added benefit of these oils is that they’re deeply nourishing, full skin soothing and restoring compounds like polyphenols. 

And, lastly, when you opt for one of the Sans essential oil blends, you’re choosing additional protection from odors with the anti-microbial properties of these essential oils.


Bretagne A, Cotot F, Arnaud-Roux M, Sztucki M, Cabane B, Galey JB. The mechanism of eccrine sweat pore plugging by aluminium salts using microfluidics combined with small angle X-ray scattering. Soft Matter. 2017 May 24;13(20):3812-3821. doi: 10.1039/c6sm02510b. PMID: 28485735. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28485735/

Becker LC, Boyer I, Bergfeld WF, et al. Safety Assessment of Alumina and Aluminum Hydroxide as Used in Cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology. 2016;35(3_suppl):16S-33S. doi:10.1177/1091581816677948. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1091581816677948


International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Multicenter study on measurement of the natural pH of the skin surface.  Segger, U. Aßmus, M. Brock, J. Erasmy, P. Finkel, A. Fitzner, H. Heuss, U. Kortemeier, S. Munke, T. Rheinländer, H. Schmidt-Lewerkühne, W. Schneider, G. Weser, See all authors

    First published: 17 January 2008  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2007.00403_1.x https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2007.00403_1.x

    Parra J.L.a · Paye M.Skin Pharmacology and Physiology.  2003;16:188–202.  EEMCO Review.  EEMCO Guidance for the in vivo Assessment of Skin Surface pH.  https://doi.org/10.1159/000069756 https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/69756# Published: 13 December 2009

    Underarm antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. Philippa D Darbre Breast Cancer Research volume 11, Article number: S5 (2009)  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/bcr2424




    Brandy Searcy founder Rain Organica

    About the Author

    Brandy's a formulation scientist and self-proclaimed health geek who loves hiking, gardening, bird-watching, and body boarding. 

    Her struggle with acne during her teens and 20s led to a holistic and healthy approach to skincare, embracing skin as an organ to be loved and cared for rather than a canvas to wage war on. 

    Since 2008, she's been developing all-in-one products for a simple routine at home, & Rain Organica started when her backpacking friends asked for a portable skincare routine to keep their skin healthy & happy on and off the trails.

    You can try Rain Organica for yourself with The Essentials Kit, a complete skincare routine in just 3 steps.

    Brandy's LinkedIn Bio

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