Get up, shower, dry off, put on deodorant, get dressed. The routine, with its variations — such as, for example, showering at night — is so automatic that we rarely think about its steps. Although pandemic lockdowns and working from home caused consumption of deodorant to decrease in 2020 and 2021, data from the National Association of Perfumery and Cosmetics (STANPA) show a 12% increase in the deodorant market in 2022. As we have returned to our normal lives post-coronavirus, we have once again grown concerned about our body odor. And during one of our automatic routines, some people pause before applying a product to their armpits, and they make one more decision: they decide between different deodorants depending on the occasion.
That is the case of Antía, who uses different products depending on the phase of her menstrual cycle. “My body odor is really uncomfortable to me. I sweat a lot, and that sweat changes depending on the moment of the cycle I’m in. The week before my period, and during the week of my period, the smell is much stronger, or for me it’s stronger, as I’m more conscious of my own smell,” she explains. There are studies — though they are limited — that confirm that both sweat and perception of smells change throughout the menstrual cycle. On the days that Antía feels her smell is stronger, she tends to use deodorants that block the smell or antiperspirants, despite the fact that she believes they can have negative health effects.
Elena, a professor, also uses different products according to the occasion. “For work, I use one from the pharmacy that the dermatologist gave me, and for everything else I use a normal one. I sweat a lot when I’m stressed,” she says. When exercising, however, she sweats very little. She says she would prefer to always use the product from the dermatologist, which is an antiperspirant, but it is very expensive, so when she feels she doesn’t need it she uses “normal” deodorant.
The beauty blog Into The Gloss baptized this change of deodorant according to the occasion as “deo cycling,” in an article that proposes using either deodorant or antiperspirant depending on what the day holds. For example, when making a presentation in front of the CEO of your company, they recommend using antiperspirant. If we are simply going to have a drink with friends, they suggest using a simple deodorant. Does that make sense, or is this one more example of the industry encouraging us to buy more products?
“The first thing to understand is that deodorant and antiperspirant are two totally different products with different purposes,” explains dermatologist Antonio Clemente from the Spanish Academy for Dermatology and Venereology. The purpose of deodorant, he says, is to mask odors, but not to prevent us from sweating. For that masking, products contain either perfumes or compounds that decrease bacteria. (What smells is not sweat, but the waste that bacteria produce when they break it down.) Though some deodorants promise to reduce sweat because they contain aluminum salts, the expert explains that “it is known that aluminum salts, when applied in the morning and in the quantity that deodorants tend to have, have no effect.” Antiperspirant, on the other hand, does work to diminish sweat production.
That said, Clemente indicates that using different deodorants according to the occasion “doesn’t make much sense medically.” It is simply a matter of personal preference, like alternating between perfumes. “A deodorant is ultimately a cosmetic, which comes in different perfumes, textures and presentations. If using a different one for every occasion is because, ‘hey, I like this smell for the gym and this other smell for the office,’ then, perfect, it’s like having two colognes. But there’s no medical reason that deodorants have to be different for different situations,” he says.
What does make sense — and is more common — is to combine antiperspirant with deodorant. Despite common conceptions, they are not the same. “There are many patients who use an antiperspirant when they are sweating more, and they also use deodorant in the morning. That does make sense,” Clemente explains. That combination should not depend on the day’s activities, as antiperspirant should be used at certain times and in certain ways.
“For it to be really effective, it should always be applied at night and on dry skin, over a period of time, so that the sweat glands are blocked. It isn’t so immediate as ‘today I’ll put it on so tomorrow I won’t sweat, and if the next day I don’t put it on, I’ll start sweating again.’ It must be used over several days for that blockage to happen, and the maintenance can be done two or three times a week. It has more of a long-term effect,” he says. In fact, to him, antiperspirant makes sense primarily for people with sweat problems. “Someone who doesn’t sweat a lot might not need it,” he says.
Changes over a lifetime
Beyond having different products for different occasions or times of the month, there are other reasons that people switch between deodorants or antiperspirants. In recent years, sustainability concerns have led to an increase in lines of natural or eco-friendly deodorants. Additionally, according to pharmacist Alfonso del Pozo, director of the Dermo-pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Marketing program at the University of Barcelona, new fears have emerged about associations between deodorant and breast cancer. (The rumor came from a chain email that did not cite sources and has never been scientifically proven.)
“Fear and sustainability have caused a trend of using eco-friendly deodorants,” says the expert, who believes they are usually less efficient. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, as the dermatologist Antonio Clemente adds, are not harmful, either, despite widespread belief. As he explains, the function of sweat is to regulate body temperature, not eliminate toxins: that’s what the liver and kidneys do. Additionally, they work only locally: they prevent sweat in the armpits, but not throughout the rest of the body.
Returning to the issue of which products to choose, Del Pozo points out that in deodorants and antiperspirants, people primarily look for efficacy. “And, really, classic deodorants are very effective,” he says. Products do not have the same effects for everyone, though. “It depends on the type of skin, how much we sweat, the person, and also on trends,” he says.
If we find a deodorant or antiperspirant that we like, there’s no reason to switch. “They don’t lose efficacy. An antiperspirant or a perfumed deodorant could cause sensitivity or some kind of reaction, but if there is no problem like that, there’s no reason to change,” he says. “It’s different if you get bored of one and decide to try another. But that’s the only reason to change if the one you’re using works well.”
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