Millions of tiny sweat glands are active 24/7—and they churn out perspiration even when you feel dry. Control the effects of those overachievers with our primer on everything from product styles to pit stains, and find the best deodorant or antiperspirant for you and your tweens and teens.
The wrong antiperspirant or deodorant can put you in a sticky—or smelly—situation. Don’t sweat it. We’ve uncovered the pros and cons of the most popular options.
Feels dry on skin and travels well
Sometimes leaves white marks on clothing
Degree Ultra Clear Black + White Motionsense Antiperspirant, $4.50
Quick application; easy to share with others
Typically gets used up faster than solids
Secret Invisible Spray Antiperspirant, $5
Goes on clear
Feels wet on your skin
Crystal Essence Mineral Deodorant in Vanilla Jasmine, $5
Whisk away sweat; great post-exercise
Discarding wipes may seem wasteful
Pacifica Underarm Deodorant Wipes in Coconut Milk & Pineapple, $9 for 30
Easy to apply exactly where you want it
Requires hand washing afterward
Decode Your Label
Deodorant Uses scent to mask body odor and may contain an antiseptic to kill bacteria but doesn’t make you sweat less.
Antiperspirant Contains an active antiperspirant ingredient (usually a type of aluminum salt) to block sweat gland ducts.
Fragrance-free Doesn’t contain any added fragrance but may have a scent from other ingredients.
Sensitive Skin Designed to be less irritating to delicate skin.
Alcohol-free Doesn’t contain ethyl alcohol (a trigger for dry skin) but can contain other alcohols.
Paraben-free Lacks these preservatives, some of which are banned in the EU.
Unscented Doesn’t have a noticeable scent but may contain added fragrance to mask the smell of ingredients.
Clinical Strength Has a higher amount of antiperspirant ingredients to reduce sweat flow.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
As if puberty weren’t hard enough already, it also kicks the stink-producing apocrine glands into high gear. “They’re thought to be sources of pheromones, which signal to the outside world that someone has reached maturity,” says dermatologist Evan Rieder. He recommends that tweens begin with deodorant, which tends to be gentler on skin than antiperspirant. If you’re not sure what to look for, we suggest you check out Tom’s of Maine Wicked Cool! or Lavanila Girl, brand-new products made specifically for pre-teens. “Keep in mind that if your child is sweating a lot, it can be hard emotionally,” says Rieder, “and completely reasonable to try an antiperspirant.”
Q Should I be worried about aluminum?
A “Aluminum salts may irritate skin, but there’s no clinical evidence that they cause medical problems when applied topically,” says dermatologist Evan Rieder. They’re effective and have a long history of being used safely.
Q Should I switch brands or scents every so often?
A Only if you want to. “You may become nose blind to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s stopped working,” says Jaime Stahl, senior research scientist for Secret.
Q How do men’s and women’s products differ?
A You may love your guy’s scent, but that doesn’t mean you want to smell like him. “While fragrances are often gender-specific, other ingredients—such as active ones and skin conditioners—are similar in different amounts,” says Stahl.
Q When is the best time to apply antiperspirant?
A At bedtime, especially for clinical-strength products. “Your sweat glands are less active at night, so putting antiperspirant on clean, dry skin before bed allows it to work while you sleep and into the next day,” says Evonne Lau, senior scientist on the Deodorant North America Team at Unilever.
Q What makes the armpits of shirts turn yellow?
A “It’s the reaction between body oils, sweat and the ingredients in antiperspirant,” says Stahl. Apply product at night and put on pajamas after it dries—you won’t stain daytime outfits and you’ll get better protection. For extra freshness, reapply a small amount after a morning shower.