Antiperspirant and deodorant user trial

Here’s all you need to know about sweat and how to avoid those dreaded white marks.
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  • Updated:23 Jun 2008

01 .Introduction

Spraying deodorant

In brief 

  • Antiperspirants and deodorants don't cause breast cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease or any other health problem.
  • 'No white marks' is a valid claim for most of the antiperspirants in our trial.

For thousands of years humans have tried to disguise, cover or eliminate personal smells through the use of perfumes, scented oils and alum crystals.

For most of us, antiperspirants and deodorants are a part of our daily toilette, one pretty much taken for granted. Yet for others they’re a chemical cocktail of poisons and carcinogens. So what’s the truth? We investigate as we answer common questions about sweat, antiperspirant and deodorant.

Also, to find out whether those 'no white marks' claims are genuine, we recruited 121 female trialists from our Home Testers register and sent each of them three different brands of ‘no white marks’ aerosol antiperspirant. They rated the product for appearance of white marks on skin and clothing, fragrance and ease of use.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2008 but is still a useful guide today.

Brands trialed

  • Adidas
  • Dove
  • Nivea
  • Norsca
  • Rexona

Do ‘No white marks’ sprays work?

White marks caused by antiperspirant residue on skin and clothing is anathema to the wearer of the LBD (that’s little black dress, for those not in the know). Some antiperspirants claim to reduce or eliminate these white marks, so we – with the help of our Home Testers – put eight antiperspirant sprays to the test.

The good news is that all except for the Nivea Pure Invisible were found to mostly live up to the claims. The best in this respect were Dove Clear Touch and Norsca Clear, though theDove scored better overall, thanks largely to its pleasant fragrance. The rest in our What to buy list scored well overall.

These ‘no white marks’ products are a little more expensive than their regular counterparts, but if white marks are an issue for you, they might be worth paying extra.


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The following models scored the best results in our test

What to buy
Brand Price*
Dove Clear Touch $4.45
Rexona Crystal Pure Silver $4.88
Adidas Women Action 3 Fresh $4.46
Rexona Crystal Clear Aqua $4.48

* Price per 100g

Results table

 Results table 

Table notes

Prices are those we paid in March 2008 per 100 grams.

How we tested

We sent 121 female trialists recruited from our Home Testers register three cans of aerosol antiperspirant with claims of ‘no white marks’. They were instructed to use each aerosol for three days before filling in a questionnaire to rate the product for:

  • Appearance of white marks on skin and clothing.
  • Fragrance.
  • Ease of use.

They then had to give each deodorant they tested an overall score based on the fragrance of the deodorant, its ability to reduce/eliminate white marks and its ease of use. Trialists were asked not to rate the deodorants on their antiperspirant performance as this is difficult to measure with only three days’ use of each product. They were also asked to note any irritation caused to skin or eyes. 

Profiles - What to buy

Dove Clear Touch

Clear touchPrice: $4.45/100 g

“I loved this deodorant. It left no white marks and the fragrance was subtle but enough to prevent
perspiration odour. I will definitely keep using this deodorant.”


Rexona Crystal Pure Silver

Crystal pure silverPrice: $4.88/100 g

“Great scent, no marks. Would definitely buy this one.”


Adidas Women Action 3 Fresh

 Women action 3Price: $4.20/100 g

“I liked the smell and the way it dried quickly.”



Norsca Clear

Clear Price: $4.46/100 g

“I love that this goes on dry so you feel comfortable all day. Absolutely no marks anywhere. Felt great!”

“Although the fragrance wasn’t unpleasant, it would have been nicer if it was a bit more ‘girly’.”


Rexona Crystal Clear Aqua

Aqua Price: $4.88/100 g

“A bit of a strong, sweet smell, but not too offensive.”

“Made me sneeze.”

04.Sweat and deodorants


What is sweat?

Sweating is a body’s way of dealing with excessive heat — the water cools the skin and reduces body temperature. Exercise, over-stimulated nerves (anxiety, fright), fever, spicy food and external heat and humidity can all cause sweating.

There are, however, two different kinds of sweat produced by two different sweat glands. Eccrine sweat glands produce sweat containing mainly water and some salts (electrolytes). This sweat comes out of dedicated pores in the skin. Apocrine sweat glands produce a thicker, milky liquid containing proteins, ammonia and fatty acids. And this sweat comes out of hair follicles, rather than dedicated pores.

Where do we find sweat glands?

The adult human skin has several million sweat glands over almost the whole body, with high concentrations of eccrine sweat glands to be found on the forehead, palms, armpits and soles of the feet. Apocrine sweat glands are found in high concentrations in the armpits and around the anal-genital area.

Why does underarm sweat smell?

Sweat itself doesn’t smell – or at least not much. Rather, it’s the bacteria breaking down organic compounds in sweat that smell. The more ‘organic’ the sweat, the more bacteria, and the greater the smell. The apocrine sweat produced by our armpit sweat glands is rich in organic matter, and the warm, moist conditions are ideal for sweat-eating bacteria. Having hairy armpits increases the surface area for bacteria, which in turn increases the smell. Most underarm sweat is actually eccrine.

What’s the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant?

Antiperspirants reduce wetness; deodorants don’t reduce wetness, but rather mask or reduce the unpleasant odour associated with sweat.

How do they work?

Deodorants often contain anti-bacterial ingredients which help reduce bacteria ultimately responsible for making the smell. They may also contain perfumes which mask the smell. Antiperspirants contain aluminium compounds which appear to reduce sweating by temporarily plugging pores. Antiperspirant products often contain deodorising ingredients as well as antiperspirants.

Are there any ‘natural’ alternatives?

Despite the negligible risk, some people are concerned about the health effects of using aluminium products on their skin, and prefer to avoid them. Apart from aluminium-free deodorants (as opposed to antiperspirants) there are various ‘natural’ alternatives commercially available in health food shops and over the internet.

Deodorant crystals are a popular alternative. Their active ingredient is alum, usually in the form of either potassium aluminium sulphate or ammonium aluminium sulphate. So yes, they do contain a form of aluminium. However, companies claim that the aluminium is bonded to a molecule that’s too large to penetrate the skin. Alum is an astringent, which means it shrinks or constricts pores, and may help reduce perspiration. It may also have antibacterial properties.

A home-made deodorant can be made from equal parts of corn starch and sodium bicarbonate mixed with essential oils to reduce the activity of bacteria -- sage, thyme and cinnamon are all reported to be good deodorants, while sage is also recommended for its antiperspirant qualities.

05.Antiperspirant concerns


Are antiperspirants bad for you?

Some people argue that the body sweats for a reason, and therefore antiperspirants that stop you sweating are bad. However, only 1% of the body’s sweat glands are located in the arm pits, so you won’t overheat and die by using antiperspirants. Besides, antiperspirants don’t entirely prevent perspiration -- the best ones reduce sweating by only 30%.

Do they cause breast cancer?

Some years ago, there were claims that antiperspirants are the ‘leading cause of breast cancer’.

One explanation given was that by stopping perspiration, antiperspirants allow toxins to build up in armpit lymph nodes (near the breasts), leading to cell mutations (cancer) in that area.

Another proposed explanation was that parabens, a preservative found in antiperspirants and deodorants, were found in breast cancer tissue and were claimed to have caused the cancer. The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products investigated these claims and decided that methyl and ethyl parabens were safe to use as recommended, but that there wasn’t enough data on other forms of paraben to draw a definitive conclusion.

However, if parabens and toxins still alarm you, many extremely thorough epidemiological studies have failed to find that using an antiperspirant is even a risk factor for developing breast cancer, let alone the leading cause of it.

What about the aluminium in antiperspirants?

Aluminium is a known neurotoxin, and high levels can cause brain cell damage. It has also been linked with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) though the link is controversial and it doesn’t appear to actually cause AD.

As the third most common element on the earth’s crust (after oxygen and silicon), aluminium is found in all sorts of products with which we have contact, including air, water, food (especially processed foods such as baking powder, colourings, anti-caking agents, processed cheese, and acidic food cooked in aluminum utensils), drinks (soy-based infant formula, drinks stored in aluminium cans) and drugs (antacids, some forms of aspirin, vaccines).

It’s estimated we eat 5-20 mg of aluminium per day, almost all (more than 99%) of which is passed out without being absorbed into the bloodstream. The aluminium content absorbed from antiperspirants has been measured at about 4 micrograms, which is about 2.5% of the daily amount absorbed from the gut.

Kidneys filter much of that from the bloodstream. People with kidney disease have an increased risk of aluminium toxicity because their kidneys can’t effectively filter it from the blood. Massive doses of aluminium have been found to cause dementia (though not AD) in people with severely impaired kidney function.

Do spray-on deodorants harm the environment?

There are two main environmental concerns with spray deodorants: the propellant used and the packaging. Aerosol cans used to contain chloroflurocarbons (CFCs), which were implicated in the destruction of the ozone layer. These have long been banned, and safer alternatives are now used. Many councils collect aerosol cans for recycling. Contact your local council if you’re not sure.

What are your options if you sweat a lot?

Hyperhidrosis is the name for excessive sweating. People with the condition suffer in numerous ways, including having to change clothes several times a day, getting embarrassed when they have to shake hands, being unable to hold a pen properly and having damp, smelly feet. They’re prone to dermatitis, skin rashes where sweat collects in skin folds and fungal infections like tinea. In short, it causes embarrassment and inconvenience.

Hyperhidrosis can also be a symptom of more a serious underlying condition, and if you’re concerned about excessive sweating you should consult your doctor.

The first line of treatment is a roll on antiperspirant with a high level of aluminium chlorohydrate. DRICLOR is recommended – you need to apply it to a cool, clean armpit at night to give it time to work. It may cause irritation, but an over-the-counter steroid cream can help with this.

Botox injections have been successfully used to disable nerves responsible for activating sweat glands in armpits, hands and feet. However, it’s expensive (around $1000 for armpits), it may produce unwanted effects in other muscles (especially when used in the hands), and the desirable effects are only temporary (ranging from three to twelve months).

Surgery to reduce the number of sweat glands in the armpits by liposuction or curettage, remove skin containing sweat glands, or to destroy the nerves responsible (sympathectomy) is considered a last resort.