What's In Your Antiperspirant?

Keeping dry and smelling good involves more than you might imagine
Staff Writer

Petr Kratochvil

Warmer weather brings sweatier workouts and — not to put too fine a point on it — more need for antiperspirants. We recently sweat-tested 20 brand name antiperspirants and ranked the results. Now we are taking a look at the shopping list of chemicals they contaiin.

First, a quick refresher on the difference between antiperspirants and deodorants; what they do and how they work.

Antiperspirants control sweat and body odor by preventing sweat reaching the skin's surface and use antimicrobial ingredients to kill bacteria that like to feed on sweat and cause body odor. Deodorants do not control the flow of sweat; they only prevent body odor. Fragrances are often added to antiperspirants and deodorants to help mask the smell of body odor and keep you smelling good.

Here's an alphabetical run down of the main ingredients in antiperspirants:


Used to dissolve the other ingredients so the antiperspirant will dry quickly on the skin and feel cool; also kills bacteria so acts as an antimicrobial.


Does the heavy lifting of antiperspirants by plugging sweat ducts to stop the flow of sweat to the skin's surface; likely to be an aluminum salt such as aluminum chlorohydrate (used in aerosols and roll-ons) or aluminum zirconium (sticks and gels). Aluminum salts are natural antimicrobials.


As well as aluminum salts and alcohol, there are specifically developed compounds such as triclosan and polyhexamethylene biguanide.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

Slows the deterioration of an antiperspirant once it is on the skin and exposed to the air.


The substance that holds all the ingredients together so they can be applied to your skin.  In roll-ons and creams, this can be as simple as water, and in solid antiperspirants, a combination of hydrogenated castor oil, glycerol fats called triglycerides, and stearyl alcohol. In aerosols, it is commonly cyclomethiconem, often combined with disteardimonium hectorite, which keeps the ingredients evenly distributed. Aerosols will also contain a propellant such as butane, isobutane and propane.

Emollient oil

A liquid like castor, mineral or sunflower oil that smoothes or softens the skin and so your antiperspirant can be glided or rolled on; also helps prevent the antiperspirant drying out into deposits.


Perfumes to mask body odor and leave you smelling good, cool, sexy, or whatever the antiperspirant's advertising promises.


Preservatives that keep cosmetics free of bacteria; now rarely used in antiperspirants because aluminum salts do the job naturally.

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) distearates

Emulsifying agents that make it easier to wash off your antiperspirant in the bath or the shower.

Talcum powder

Reduces chafing and helps keep skin feeling dry.

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