Few things in life are more frustrating than realizing you have a problem, doing your very best to solve it, and coming up empty.
Many people experience that feeling at work, or when dealing with family difficulties. But it can be even more frustrating when you can’t even fix what seems to be a relatively simple issue with your own body.
An issue like sweating way too much.
The Battle Against Perspiration
Everyone sweats. That’s why nearly everyone uses either deodorant or antiperspirant daily.
But believe it or not, “excessive sweating” is a real thing — a medical thing, with a medical name to describe it: hyperhidrosis.
It occurs when someone has too many, or overly active, sweat glands. They could be the eccrine glands that are located nearly everywhere on the body and produce most of the body’s perspiration, or the apocrine glands in the armpits, groin and around the breasts. Either way, the end results are the same: excess wetness and odor.
Hyperhidrosis is much more serious than sweating when it’s hot out, or while working out, or when nervous, or when eating chili that’s way too spicy. Those are all examples of normal perspiration, an important bodily reaction to physical stimuli or situations.
Sweat is released by the eccrine glands when the body’s temperature gets too hot, allowing the skin to cool down as perspiration evaporates. And perspiration is also released by the apocrine glands when people get excited or emotional. Both are natural bodily reactions we all experience.
The vast majority of people deal with that type of sweating by taking a shower, or by applying deodorant or antiperspirant. Which of those latter options is a better choice? We’ll get to that question shortly.
But those who sweat all the time, every day, fall into a very different category. They’re the ones with hyperhidrosis, a medical condition that affects nearly 3% of the population.
Deodorant usually does the trick for normal sweating. But people with hyperhidrosis often find that it simply doesn’t help. Roll-ons, sticks, aerosols and gels. Wet, dry and crystals. “Extra-strength,” “all-day” and “clinical strength” deodorants. Some may work better than others, but none can be counted on to stop constant sweating.
There’s a very good reason why: deodorant isn’t designed to stop you from sweating.
What Deodorant Does
Don’t feel dumb when you read this section; most people never think about deodorant, so you’re not alone.
The important word in deodorant is “odor.” That’s because the product is designed to control the smell of body odor. It doesn’t block the sweat that causes the odor. In other words, no matter how much deodorant you use, you’re still going to sweat.
Scientifically, deodorant does two things. It puts substances, usually chemicals like triclosan, into your armpits to discourage odor-causing bacteria from growing. And it covers the smell of perspiration with natural or artificial fragrances. (Thick deodorant may also temporarily clog sweat ducts for a little while, but heavy applications rub off onto clothing to cause those annoying white sweat marks we all know too well.)
Think about a woman who hasn’t bathed but sprays on lots of perfume. She might smell great for a while. Before long, however, her “natural scent” is going to break through the barrier of perfume.
The same thing happens with sweat and deodorant.
Deodorant is usually more than enough for those who sweat “normally,” because it covers up the smell for a bit. However, it does nothing to actually prevent the sweating, and it’s very seldom effective for those with the excessive sweating caused by hyperhidrosis.
They need an antiperspirant.
What an Antiperspirant Does
When you want to prevent water from leaking from pipes, you use caulk. When you want to prevent perspiration from escaping from the body, you use antiperspirant.
The active ingredients in antiperspirants (usually aluminum salts or complexes like aluminum chloride, aluminum zirconium or aluminum chlorohydrate) actually close off the body’s sweat ducts. They work by penetrating the skin and reacting with sweat’s natural electrolytes to plug up the ducts in sweat glands — meaning sweat can’t escape into the armpit.
That’s why deodorant doesn’t always “work.” It can provide odor protection for a little while, but it wasn’t designed to stop excessive sweating. Antiperspirants work to do just that.
Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant: There’s No Simple Answer
You might guess that the answer is obvious: those who simply want to cover up or eliminate perspiration odor should use a deodorant. Those who actually want to stop sweating excessively are better served by choosing an antiperspirant.
It’s not that simple.
Many people, even those with hyperhidrosis, have a very real concern about the prominence of aluminum salts in antiperspirants. For years there have been allegations that aluminum can be absorbed through the skin’s surface pores and eventually cause serious diseases such as breast cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease. Those rumors have been largely debunked, but a growing number of people still want their underarms to stay aluminum-free.
Issues of greater concern are the presence of other ingredients commonly seen in both over-the-counter deodorants and antiperspirants:
- Parabens, for example, are preservatives often used in skin care products to fight bacteria; they’ve also been linked in some studies to a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.
- Synthetic fragrances are used to make many of these products smell good (after all, that’s one of the primary reasons to use them). Many fragrances, though, can wreak havoc with sensitive skin.
- Some non-natural additives like alcohol that are used to deliver ingredients like aluminum can also cause skin irritation.
That’s why all-natural deodorants and antiperspirants have been growing in popularity in recent years. And since so many antiperspirants contain non-natural ingredients, it’s not easy for “heavy sweaters” to find the right answer for their excessive perspiration.
(Some successfully use baking soda as a natural alternative to deodorant. But unless you get the soda-water mix exactly right, it can cause severe skin rashes. A deodorant that includes baking soda as one of its ingredients is a safer choice.)
Antiperspirant vs. Deodorant: Why Not Both?
Largely through trial and error, a number of hyperhidrosis sufferers have come up with an unusual but effective solution: alternating two different products.
Here’s one successful combination:
Dove extra-strength antiperspirant deodorant combines many of the features of both antiperspirants and deodorants, without scents, alcohol or other dangerous chemicals. It contains a moisturizer to soothe sensitive skin, it stops up sweat glands to reduce perspiration, and its antibacterial power fights body odor.
However, this Dove product is unscented and sometimes leaves white sweat marks behind. That can make users self-conscious about odor, with a feeling that they’re not completely “clean” under their arms.
That’s why they often switch to a product like Public Goods natural deodorant for a while. The light botanical scent is a nice change-up from the Dove product, as is the lack of white streaks on clothing. There are no potentially-hazardous ingredients, and the essential oils in Public Goods deodorant nourish skin and prevent flaking.
This approach requires some patience. It takes the body a few weeks to adjust between deodorant and antiperspirant, and during that time you can experience excess sweating and odor. After the adjustment period, however, a state of equilibrium is reached, and both perspiration and odor decline substantially.
Is it the right choice for you? There’s no right answer, since it’s largely a matter of personal preference, and everyone’s body is different.
The best idea is to try a number of the best deodorants and antiperspirants to figure out which works best for you. Once you’ve found the ideal choice(s), consider yourself lucky.
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