Should men use deodorant or antiperspirant?

Beauty experts give us the low down on covering up our natural odours

Man spraying deodorant under onto his armpit
(Image credit: Getty)

Deodorant is an essential part of most men’s grooming regime. In a bid to prevent getting those embarrassing sweat patches - or worse still - smelling of BO, most guys blast a few squirts under their pits everyday without giving it a second thought.

It’s therefore quite unlikely that any regular deodorant or antiperspirant wearer stops to think about what exactly it is they’re layering over the top on their sweat glands daily, and if it’s actually doing them any good. 

So we’ve spoken to some of the UK’s leading beauty industry experts to find out if men should be applying a product to try and stop them from sweating, and if there are any negative side effects involved in doing so. 

Why sweating can be smelly

Obviously, we use deodorants to try and cover up any smells that might be created throughout the day as a result of exertion, stress or even anxiety. However, some people might find they need to use it more than others.

“Body odour is determined by environmental factors, like what foods we eat, and genetics. Some people just smell stronger naturally,” explains Robyn Gmyrek, Director of cosmetic dermatology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, adding that it’s not the actual dampness that smells.

“The bacterium that breaks your sweat down into organic compounds is what has that potent stench,” she says, suggesting that how often you need to use deodorant will depend on your personal moisture rate. For example, men who sweat minimally and have a mild odour can get away without deodorant, while other guys might need it several times a day.

Deodorant vs antiperspirant: which is better?

Now we know why some people use deodorant more than others, let’s explore the options available to us when it comes to covering up sweat. The two major types of product available in this area are standard deodorants and antiperspirants. In case you’re not fully aware of the difference, antiperspirants and deodorants work differently in their methods of reducing body odour. 

Natural Skincare Expert, Lisa Harris, explains the difference in the most simple of terms:

“Deodorants help block body odour but don’t stop you from sweating, they usually mask the

smell with more pleasant fragrances. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, typically contain aluminium, which blocks your sweat glands to prevent sweating.

But which product should you choose? Parvinder Sagoo, Lead Medical Advisor and Clinician at Simply Meds Online says that while antiperspirant may seem ideal, it might not be so  great for your body and health due to the aluminium ingredient. 

“Aluminium is a neurotoxin, the active ingredient working to block the pores of our skin to prevent perspiring. The function of the aluminium is to decrease perspiration by blocking sweat from exiting the body, thereby stopping adverse odour and keeping your body dry,” Sagoo explains. 

“However, we need to sweat to release toxins, so it is probably a safer option to go for deodorant as deodorant’s don’t tend to block your pores so allow the good bacteria to keep working which will actually help reduce odour long term.”

The bad: why sweating is important 

Sagoo goes on to explain that due to perspiration being a natural function of the human body - a waste product - it’s important that we allow it to happen naturally. 

“It’s a factor of our in-built mechanisms to help control our body temperature,” she says. “Not sweating enough and over sweating can both contribute to problems, including overheating of the body due to it not being able to regulate its temperature.”

Therefore, deodorants, especially antiperspirants, can be considered bad because of the fact that the aluminium chlorohydrate and aluminium zirconium ingredients actively work to block your pores. 

“The salts need to dissolve to block sweat from forming on the surface of your pores,” explains Harris. “Aluminium is present in the environment combined with other elements such as oxygen, silicon and fluorine. Exposure to it is not usually harmful; however exposure to high levels can cause health problems.”

Aluminium has been linked to changes in how the body responds to the body’s hormones and it’s also thought that it may be of concern if you have kidney problems. Although there is no proof that aluminium in deodorants can cause major health problems like cancer, we should still question how safe it is to use frequently. Especially since many conventional deodorants are also full of other toxic Ingredients such as, parabens, SLS, petroleum, mineral oil, phthalates, artificial preservatives and synthetic colours.

“Given that you typically apply deodorant under your arms which is one of the most sensitive areas of the body, is close to your breast and is absorbed by the skin and lymph nodes,

why take the risk when you can use natural, safer alternatives,” adds Harris. 

Wild Deodorant review

(Image credit: Wild)

It’s not just about us

Spray deodorants are also known to be bad for the environment. 

“Every time you spray you’re releasing chemicals into the air,” says Harris. “They also contain more volatile organic compounds.”

On top of that, aerosols can be problematic to recycle because they need to be completely empty, dry and clean, which they are often not. And before you think about roll ons as an alternative, like deodorants, they are often packaged in thick plastic that’s also hard to recycle. 

What are the alternatives? 

So what are the safer alternatives available to us, if any?

Natural deodorants are one example. While they have developed a reputation for being weaker than standard deodorants with chemicals in, and therefore unable to control sweat. There is, however, a good variety on the market today which are known as being more environmentally friendly. It’s largely about finding the one that works best for you.

Natural products might not stop the release from sweat glands, but they do work to help maintain the natural pH balance of the skin. And so the main benefit here is that you’re not introducing unnecessary chemicals into your body. The natural ingredients not only mean you’re less likely to have skin issues but the lack of pore-blocking chemicals will see that good bacteria works better to prevent odour even when you’re not wearing any deodorant at all. 

Harris’ top tip is to create your own natural deodorant by combining a natural, organic shea butter with other key ingredients, such as: sodium bicarbonate (a natural and safe mineral to help neutralise odour-causing bacteria), tea tree (an essential oil that contains antiseptic antibacterial properties to help eliminate bacteria) and probiotics (which can create more of a healthy environment so bacteria can't thrive).

“It will take around 2-4 weeks for your body to regulate itself and work with your new

natural deodorant,” Harris says. “Although this process may seem shocking, your body will still sweat as it neutralises but won’t necessarily smell.”

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Lee Bell

Lee Bell is a freelance journalist & copywriter specialising in technology, health, grooming and how the latest innovations are shaking up the lifestyle space. From national newspapers to specialist-interest magazines and digital titles, Lee has written for some of the world’s most respected publications during his 11 years as a journalist.