Everyone sweats. During high-intensity workouts, like sprint intervals or steep mountain hikes, it seems to gush from our every pore, soaking clothing, matting hair and giving faces a not-so-sexy shine. In the office and on-the-go, it creeps up on us, dampening our shirts with those telltale (and, yes, embarrassing) underarm circles.
Despite it being one of nature’s genius evolutionary adaptations—cooling our bodies by emitting, and then evaporating, liquid—we self-conscious humans have a love-hate relationship with sweat. That’s because, through a gross little phenomenon where underarm bacteria feeds on the stuff and excretes microscopic stink bombs on our skin, sweat tends to smell bad. But you don’t have to tolerate the stench. Antiperspirant deodorants have been proven to reduce or altogether stop underarm sweating.
But, as you might guess, not all antiperspirants are created equally. Some claim to be scent-free while others (ahem, Axe) market their “sexy” odor. They boast different effectiveness periods, from 24 hours up to—with the pricey, clinical-strength stuff—a week. There are roll-on liquids, “invisible” solids, gels and even sprays. And, in the end, some leave your pits bone-dry while others simply leave you high and dry, with sweats that would make even the Swamp Thing uncomfortable.
We decided to test-drive some of the most popular antiperspirants on the market, to see which performed the best and which didn’t perform at all. Ten armpits, 20 antiperspirants, one hot, sticky New York City summer. It was an epic challenge that separated the real deals from the real duds.
Before you dive into the ratings, though, a little background on antiperspirants—how they work, and how to make them work better. The first thing to know is that antiperspirants aren’t like deodorants, which simply cover up body odor. Instead, using aluminum-based ingredients, they temporarily plug sweat ducts, causing your body to stop the flow of sweat. For maximum effectiveness, it’s recommended that you apply antiperspirant deodorants to dry underarms before going to bed. At night, when you perspire less, more of the aluminum-based active ingredient is pulled into the sweat ducts, which more effectively plugs your pores. And the effect continues usually for at least 24 hours—even after bathing.
Despite some popular fears, both the National Cancer Institute and Alzheimer’s Association have labeled the aluminum content in antiperspirants as harmless. And, though you’re altering one of your body’s normal functions, plugging sweat pores is not unhealthy (and the plugs are flushed away in fairly short order).
For our test, each antiperspirant was worn by our testers—including a bike commuter, a competitive dancer and three who describe themselves as “extremely sweaty”—for a 24-hour period. Points were awarded based on scent, sweat defense during and immediately after exercise and a cumulative evaluation of performance over the entire testing period, from first application to final whiff. For the most part, we steered clear of pricey, clinical-strength options—which boast 20% active ingredient and usually cost more than twice as much as “regular” options (many of which contain 19% or more)—opting instead for each brand’s most powerful non-clinical choice. If you really need clinical-strength, you’ve no doubt conducted your own experiments by now and have found what works for you. To account for our relatively small test group, we averaged hundreds of consumer reviews from sites like Amazon, TotalBeauty.com, MakeupAlley.com and Buzzillions.com, then factored them in as one-third of the final score.
The result was a few clear winners, and some popular brands that shocked us by failing completely. Click through to the slideshow to see how your brand did.