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Antiperspirant Basics

Antiperspirants are considered the first line of treatment for excessive sweating of the underarms, hands, feet, and sometimes face. They are called the first line of treatment because they are the least invasive and experts recommend that they be tried first, before other more invasive treatments. They are also inexpensive and easy to use-even when following our tips!

Antiperspirants are applied to the top of the skin (which is why you sometime hear them called "topical" treatments). Once an antiperspirant is applied to the skin, perspiration in the underarm grabs and dissolves the antiperspirant particles, pulling them into the pores and forming superficial plugs that are just below the surface of the skin. When your body senses that the sweat duct is plugged, a feedback mechanism stops the flow. The plugs can stay in place at least 24 hours and then are washed away over time. 

Antiperspirants are available either over-the-counter (OTC) or by prescription from your dermatologist.

Over-the-counter antiperspirants are now available in different strengths with “clinical” strength products offering the most sweat protection (but at a higher cost, approximately $2.99 for a low-end antiperspirant and $9.99 for a clinical strength one). Brands offering clinical strength include Secret, Gillette, Degree, Dove, Arrid, and Sure, as well as PerspireX, Certain-Dri and Hydrosal. These clinical strength products seem to provide improved sweat reduction compared to traditional over-the-counter antiperspirants, and with less skin irritation than prescription products like Drysol.

The most widely used active ingredients in antiperspirants are metallic salts. Clinical strength antiperspirants contain higher concentrations of active ingredients than “regular” strength over-the-counter antiperspirants (for example, both Secret and Secret Clinical Strength contain the ingredient aluminum zirconium tricholorohydrex, but Secret Clinical Strength features a concentration that is 25 percent higher.)

Prescription and specialty antiperspirants often contain aluminum chloride hexahydrate as an active ingredient. These are among the most effective antiperspirants but can cause skin irritation if instructions aren’t followed precisely. Aluminum chloride hexahydrate products include Drysol (60ml approx. $20) and Xerac AC (60ml approx. $18). Typically aluminum chloride hexahydrate concentrations of 10% to 15% are recommended for excessive sweating of the underarms. For managing sweaty hands or sweaty feet, higher concentrations are needed - usually around 30%.

In general, experts recommend a systematic approach to combating hyperhidrosis with antiperspirants. Start with the most gentle-to-the-skin formulations (traditional over-the-counter products) and progress to clinical strength over-the-counter antiperspirants, and then try stronger and stronger products (such as prescription formulations) until relief is found. (If antiperspirants aren’t effective enough, iontophoresis for hands and feet and/or Botox injections for hands, feet, underarms, face/scalp, and more, are the common next steps.)

Avoiding skin irritation is the key to success with antiperspirants, prescription and non-prescription alike: follow the product’s instructions, follow your dermatologist’s recommendations, apply at night before bed as opposed to only in the morning, and apply to completely dry skin.

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It’s common to think that antiperspirants are just for sweaty underarms, but it’s time to think outside the pit! Learn where else you can glide, stick, spray, and roll-on by clicking here.

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