Ask LH: Does It Matter What Kind Of Deodorant I Buy?

Ask LH: Does It Matter What Kind Of Deodorant I Buy?

Dear Lifehacker, When I go to the supermarket, I see so many different types of deodorant. Putting aside the huge number of scents, many offer a variety of features as well. Some feature antiperspirants, while others claim to block body odour better than others. Does it really matter which one I get? Sincerely, Dumbfounded Over Deodorant

Dear DOD,
Generally speaking, no. Most of the time, you’ll just need to pick the deodorant you like and forget any special features or marketing on the package. Some will argue you against the higher cost of some deodorants and the potential negative effects of antiperspirants, but little data suggests that choosing one deodorant over another makes any noticeable difference.

How Deodorant Works

Ask LH: Does It Matter What Kind Of Deodorant I Buy?

First, let’s understand what deodorant does and what you can expect from it. Dr Adam Kallel, Chief Scientific Officer at Victrix Computational and Medicinal Chemistry Consultancy, explains how body odour works and how deodorants block it:

Body odour is caused by the fermentation of perspiration by naturally occurring bacteria on the human body. Deodorant is just a formulation of scent, alcohol, and sometimes a bit of tricolsan to try to kill off some of the bacteria. On the whole it is usually the scent that is different and any claims of “special odour fighting powers” are dubious at best.

When choosing a standard deodorant, pick the form and scent you like. Marketing makes up the differences. If you want to save money, or you don’t want any scent in particular, fill a spray bottle with surgical spirit and use that instead. Because alcohol handles most any consumer deodorant’s work, you don’t really need the other ingredients.

How Antiperspirant Works

Ask LH: Does It Matter What Kind Of Deodorant I Buy?

People like to worry about antiperspirants, because they effectively stop you from sweating — a natural function of the human body. Before we get into the controversy, let’s understand what they actually do. Dr Kallel explains:

Antiperspirant actually does something. They usually contain Aluminium chlorohydrate and aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrate gels to absorb the perspiration and can be more effective.

The inclusion of aluminium makes some people worry as they believe that it, when absorbed into the body, increases the risk of cancer (breast cancer, in particular). While you’ll find many reports online, and doctors will sometimes warn you against the risks of antiperspirants, the National Cancer Institute in the US has yet to find any conclusive evidence of an actual risk. One may exist, but we currently do not know enough to say for certain. If antiperspirant does nothing special for you, then you have no reason to use it and might as well avoid it. If it noticeably improves your quality of life, no conclusive findings indicate that you should stop using it. Ultimately, however, you will have to decide if the small amount of research and collective paranoia of the internet negate the benefits of your antiperspirant.

Your Scent Can Matter to Others

In terms of your personal health, the scent of the deodorant you choose makes no difference. That said, it can matter to other people. Some deodorants offer more powerful scents than others, and the power of that perfume may offend others more than your natural odour. Furthermore, research often finds that scent plays a relevant role in sexual attraction. Jesse Bering, writing for Scientific American, explains:

One of the most important target chemicals believed to play a role in modulating people’s attraction toward others is called androstadienone, a compound found in axillary secretions. When women are exposed to this “chemosignal,” it activates regions of their brains associated with attention, social cognition, emotional processing and sexual behaviour. The effects of androstadienone on female arousal were clearly documented in a 2008 article in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

While we don’t know the full extent to which scent plays a role in attraction and arousal, research indicates some significance. For that reason, excessively masking your natural scent could become a detriment. Not only can you negate some of the positive effects of pheromones, but if your romantic partners associates you with a specific scent you purchased, then you run the risk of smelling like another person if you ever change it.

While we still know very little about the benefits of our scent, and the human body has evolved to downplay the importance of olfactory processing in the brain, we do know that only the alcohol in deodorant actually deodorises. Because you’ll pay much less for a bottle of surgical spirit, and it simply kills bad-smelling bacteria rather than masking your natural scent, you might prefer to skip the expensive stick at the supermarket and opt for that simple option instead.


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