What is an Antiperspirant?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Antiperspirant tends to be an over the counter spray, or roll on liquid or waxy substance that reduces sweating in the underarms. Antiperspirant works through an active ingredient containing some form of aluminum compound. The aluminum partially blocks the sweat glands and generally results in reduction, but not total elimination of sweating.

A can of spray antiperspirant.
A can of spray antiperspirant.

Some people, particularly in Europe, use a small crystal called alum, as an antiperspirant. This has approximately the same effectiveness, and the crystal tends to last longer. Many people also use an antiperspirant that has fragrance to eliminate the odors caused by sweat.

A stick of antiperspirant.
A stick of antiperspirant.

In fact, sweat doesn’t really cause odors. Bacteria on the skin breaking down the sweat is most responsible for creating what many consider “bad” smells. Thus use of an antiperspirant that doesn’t have fragrance may not eliminate all odors. A person will still sweat somewhat. Antiperspirant tends to block between 20-30% of the sweat glands in the underarms, and greater exertion may render the antiperspirant ineffective.

Roll-on antiperspirant.
Roll-on antiperspirant.

Those who do not sweat profusely may instead choose to use a deodorant. This is merely a scented, or sometimes unscented product, which can help reduce odors caused by sweat. It usually works via some alcohol content, which reduces some bacteria cells in the underarm area.

Antiperspirants help reduce underarm sweating.
Antiperspirants help reduce underarm sweating.

In fact, rubbing alcohol can be used to relieve body odor as well. If one is out of antiperspirant or deodorant, this is a quick substitution that can quickly stop odors. However, the warm and moist environment of the underarms is perfect for establishing more odors. Rubbing alcohol will only provide a temporary fix.

Women can shave their armpits more frequently if they're considered about odor.
Women can shave their armpits more frequently if they're considered about odor.

There are some health concerns regarding the use of products with aluminum. For years many have posited that antiperspirant will cause breast cancer. This has not been proven and has been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, some still are concerned. They fail to trust the results of the FDA, who in recent years, has just realized the use of post-menopausal estrogen significantly increases breast cancer risk.

Some deodorants work to reduce body odor while others work do this and prevent the body from perspiring.
Some deodorants work to reduce body odor while others work do this and prevent the body from perspiring.

If one is concerned, one can simply use a good deodorant instead. Excessive sweating can be addressed by using cloth pads attached to clothing so that sweat does not leak through or stain clothing. Women who are concerned also benefit from shaving the underarms frequently. Less hair translates to fewer odors.

Others are concerned about the active ingredient in antiperspirant. There is evidence that people with Alzheimer’s have higher amounts of aluminum in their brains. It is not clear that using aluminum on the underarms increases this risk, or that aluminum absorption ever reaches the brain.

Those with profuse sweating, uncontrolled by over the counter antiperspirant, can get a prescription from their doctors for antiperspirant with a higher aluminum ratio. It is now also clear that Botox injections can temporarily disable the sweat glands and significantly reduce perspiration under the arms. These are also available by prescription only and tend to be quite expensive.

In most cases, people begin using antiperspirant or deodorant during puberty when the sweat glands under the arms are activated. If a child does not sweat profusely under the arms, there is no need to purchase antiperspirant. In fact some children use one or the other, or a combination of both, long before they ever need them. As long as a child is not sweating a great deal, deodorant is generally a better choice. Antiperspirant might be saved for the child who is troubled by excessive sweating, which shows up on the clothing.

Sweating is the body's way of regulating its temperature.
Sweating is the body's way of regulating its temperature.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon25821

Why is there a low ph agent use in antiperspirant?

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