Many people use the terms “deodorant” and “antiperspirant” interchangeably but they’re two different things. If you’re wondering why that roll-on you’re applying isn’t keeping you smelling fresh or why that spray has still got you sweating, then you might be using the wrong product.

Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant: What’s the Difference?

Put simply, deodorant takes care of body odor while antiperspirants take care of sweat.

Underarms have a lot of sweat glands. Sweat in itself doesn’t have an unpleasant odor, so if you’re merely perspiring, then an antiperspirant is the right product for you. Antiperspirants typically use aluminum as an active ingredient, and this works as a kind of plug or stopper in sweat ducts to keep perspiration from making it to the skin’s surface.

When the sweat mixes with bacteria, it may emit an unpleasant smell. Deodorant works by killing off the bacteria. The added pleasant scents in deodorant merely make you feel fresher, but deodorants can in fact be odorless.

Many products these days are a two-in-one combo of deodorant and antiperspirant and come in various forms: roll-on, stick, or spray. Roll-ons are liquid and have a ball applicator. The product feels wet after application, so you have to wait for it to dry before putting your clothes on.

Sticks have different formulations, like gel and solid, but they tend to be dry when applied. However, they may leave some white residue on your clothes.

Sprays get a bad rap because of the ozone-killing aerosol types from decades ago, but today’s sprays are more environmentally friendly. Whether you choose a roll-on, stick, or spray boils down to preference, so don’t sweat it.

The Down Side of Using Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Deodorants and antiperspirants can help keep you fresh all day long but using them may have some adverse effects. Here’s what you need to know:

Stained clothing. This may not be a negative effect on health, but deodorant stains on your clothes can sure be annoying. To prevent this from happening, apply deo and go about the rest of your routine like styling your hair and putting on makeup to allow it to set in before very carefully putting on a shirt. Also keep an old pair of tights or nylon stockings handy—in a pinch, you can rub it gently on those unsightly white streaks on your clothes to remove the deo stains.

Dark underarms. Everyone is different so reactions to deodorant and antiperspirant use may vary. If you are conscious about dark armpits and suspect that it has something to do with the products you’re using, try switching to a deodorant and/or antiperspirant with as few ingredients as possible.

Start with eliminating fragrance—that Morning Breeze scent may not be as innocuous as it sounds and may cause irritation, especially in those with sensitive skin.

Shaving might also be a culprit behind dark armpits and this may be aggravated by deodorant or antiperspirant use. Applying deo immediately after shaving, when your skin is more sensitive, may irritate your skin. So give your underarms a rest after shaving before applying any product. 

Possible cancer link. Over the years, you’ve probably received an email or seen an online post about the supposed dangers of using antiperspirants or deodorants, especially those containing aluminum. These messages allege that antiperspirant use can lead to cancer as the product is applied near the breast and contains harmful ingredients.

Some studies suggest that the aluminum can be absorbed into the skin and have hormone-like effects on the breast, potentially leading to breast cancer. But is there really a link between antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer?

The short answer is no, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, which states that “no scientific evidence links the use of the products to the development of breast cancer.”

While some research seems to suggest that aluminum and parabens are harmful ingredients that have an estrogen-like effect which causes cancer, the institute states that studies so far have had conflicting results, so “additional research would be needed to determine whether a relationship exists.”

If you’re still worried about the lack of conclusive proof, seek out an all-natural deodorant or antiperspirant that is aluminum- and paraben-free. (The National Cancer Institute notes that most underarm products in the U.S. do not contain parabens.)

The benefits of organic skin care products go beyond just keeping odor and sweat at bay and extend to giving you some peace of mind.