The Best Antiperspirant
In the best antiperspirant, the type of aluminum matters most — aluminum zirconium is the most effective. We also wanted to find the least irritating formulas, so we talked to five dermatologists about ingredients, then pitted 19 sticks against each other to see which felt the best going on, and left our black T-shirts the blackest.
A good choice for sensitive skin, this unisex antiperspirant uses the antimicrobial C12-15 alkyl benzoate to fight odor — not potentially irritating fragrance. ($8 for two)
Dove Men+Care Antiperspirant Deodorant
The least-polarizing sniff-test of the men's formulas we tested, plus the best application and least residue. ($14 for four)
Our favorite version of "Shower Fresh," though it's far from invisible. We like its price and performance even more than its Clinical Strength version. ($6 for two)
DERMAdoctor Total Nonscents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant
Another unscented option, this liquid gets a nod for rolling on clear and staying without a trace. That said, it's over $20.
The Best Antiperspirant
- Speed Stick Power Unscented Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant -
- Dove Men+Care Sensitive Shield Antiperspirant Stick -
Best Men's Scent
- Secret Invisible Solid Shower Fresh Antiperspirant & Deodorant -
Best Women's Scent
- DERMAdoctor Total NonScents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant -
Scent is the biggest differentiator when it comes to antiperspirants. It’s the only thing that makes a “men’s” formula for men, and a “women’s” for women. When you take scent out of the equation, most antiperspirants feature pretty much the same ingredients: Some aluminum to block sweating, various emollients to help it glide on smooth, and a few odor-combatting ingredients too.
If you don’t want to risk irritating the delicate skin in your underarms, go with a fragrance-free formula. Our favorite is Speed Stick Unscented Power Antiperspirant & Deodorant, which employs an antimicrobial emollient called C12-15 alkyl benzoate to help kill the bacteria that makes BO stink, but skips the perfume that works to mask any odor that sneaks through. It’s coupled with aluminum zirconium, the type of aluminum that’s most effective at fighting wetness. Even though it looks like a man’s deodorant — a wide head, sporty blue and gray graphics — this Speed Stick really has zero scent, making it unisex in our book. It’s a well-known drugstore stick that stood out during testing with creamy application and lack of clumping or pilling on hairy or bare pits. Even better, it left the least residue on a black T-shirt after two hours of wear.
That said, fragrance is a big part of most antiperspirants. In our testing, it was the biggest dealbreaker for most people — even though many wanted some scent as an extra layer of defense against odor. That’s why we recommend Dove Men+Care Antiperspirant Deodorant for men and Secret Invisible Solid Antiperspirant & Deodorant for women. Our testers found their fragrances the most pleasant out of the competition, and unlike some, neither scent increased in intensity throughout the day. Both formulas also contain the same bacteria-fighting C12-15 alkyl benzoate and aluminum zirconium as our unscented skin pick — plus they felt great gliding on and left minimal residue behind in our T-shirt test.
Of the 19 antiperspirants we tested, DERMAdoctor Total NonScents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant was the only one that left virtually zero residue in our T-shirt test. It’s also the only product we tested that is antiperspirant-only — not a deodorant too. (The aluminum zirconium theoretically stops sweat from happening at all, meaning odor-causing bacteria have nothing to eat and produce odor from.) It’s definitely a product designed with bare underarms in mind: Its roller ball applicator snagged on our hairy-pitted testers, and its liquid formula took a while to dry. But if keeping clothes pristine is a priority, this antiperspirant was our top performer — and depending on your wardrobe, potentially worth the $20 price tag.
How We Found the Best Antiperspirant
To start out, we compiled a list of 151 antiperspirants based on a collection of “best of” lists from Men’s Fitness, Real Simple, and The Fashion Spot as well as the top sellers on Amazon, Walgreens, Sephora, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Walmart. It wasn’t totally comprehensive (we didn’t, for example, collect every scent from every line of Axe), but it was a solid representation of the most well-known brands across all audiences — men, women, unisex.
We focused on ingredients that fight sweat first — namely aluminum zirconium.
The FDA regulates antiperspirants, even over the counter ones, and in its final monograph defines them as “a drug product applied topically that reduces the production of perspiration (sweat) at that site.” (Section IIA, Comment 2). More specifically, to be marketed as an antiperspirant, a product must reduce sweating by at least 20 percent in tests (Section IIC, Comment 9).
This regulation is helpful — anything with “antiperspirant” on its packaging is more or less guaranteed to work. What makes it work is aluminum, which activates by chemical reaction: When combined with your sweat, it creates a precipitate (a jelly-like plug) that blocks your sweat glands, preventing moisture from coming out.
Pit stain problems. Aluminum can also coat fabric, creating a base for sebum (an oily secretion released by hair follicles, including those inside your armpits) to cling to. The result: yellow armpit stains on your crisp, white shirts.
The obvious elephant: There’s a pretty common consumer fear that the metals in antiperspirants may wind up in your bloodstream and cause cancer, hence the market trend for aluminum-free, “natural” deodorants. The National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, and FDA all believe there’s not enough evidence to support the claim. The FDA does require antiperspirants to come with a label advising anyone with severe kidney issues to consult with their doctor before using (aluminum is eliminated from the body by the kidneys), but even the National Kidney Foundation indicates that the risk is low.
Indeed, we spoke with five dermatologists, and they all agreed that aluminum-based antiperspirants can be considered safe to use by most people. Those dermatologists also helped us home in on which form of aluminum is best: aluminum zirconium. It’s a newer form and preferred over aluminum chloride and aluminum chlorohydrate for two reasons.
The first is that it’s “less irritating to the skin,” according to Dr. Whitney High, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado.
“Newer antiperspirants which contain both aluminum and zirconium are most effective.”
The second is that it’s more effective at stopping sweat. “Newer antiperspirants which contain both aluminum and zirconium are most effective,” says Dr. David Pariser, a practicing dermatologist of 40 years and senior physician at Pariser Dermatology.
Indeed, a 2015 study in the Journal of Cosmetic Science proved this by comparing how different types of aluminum interacted with “bovine serum albumin” (they used proteins secreted by cows, similar to the proteins humans secrete when we sweat). Aluminum zirconium worked most efficiently of all the tested forms, producing the most precipitate — aka sweat gland plugs — at the lowest necessary dose. We’ll point out that the study was backed by Palmolive, makers of Speed Stick, Lady Speed Stick, and Tom’s of Maine, but the research is still compelling.
High efficacy with less irritation? This was a clear win, so we eliminated any formulas that used aluminum chloride or another form of the metal. Interestingly, this knocked out all deodorant sprays, which are popular in Europe and started making a comeback in the US in 2015. Turns out, most sprays use aluminum chloride.
Then we turned to the ingredients we wanted to avoid.
At this point, our search for the best antiperspirant took us down two different tracks. One was for people with sensitive skin: those who want an effective antiperspirant, but not the potential for irritation.
We initially thought these would be the best for everyone — we typically take a “no irritation stance” in our skincare reviews. But knocking out the potential for irritation also eliminated any antiperspirant that included fragrance in its ingredients list, a major part of many formulas, be it Old Spice’s “Bearglove” scent or the ubiquitous “Powder Fresh.” A review of the best antiperspirants that only featured unscented options would be incomplete.
Still, we wanted to eliminate the most common irritants, no matter how sensitive your skin is. Regular shaving can expose underarms to irritation, and even if you don’t shave, your underarm skin is delicate.
There are good alcohols too. Note that simple alcohols differ from fatty alcohols, another ingredient commonly used in body care products. Fatty alcohols appear on labels with prefixes like “cetyl,” “cetearyl,” “stearyl,” or “behenyl” and actually have moisturizing properties as they’re derived from fats and oils.
Simple alcohols are typically used in antiperspirants to create a cooling sensation as the product glides on, and can have mild bacteria-fighting properties to boot. At the same time, they can destroy the skin’s protective lipid barrier, causing irritation. “If you have dry or sensitive skin, any skincare products with alcohols should be avoided,” confirmed Dr. Audrey Kunin, a board-certified dermatologist and founder and CEO of DERMAdoctor skincare. Not sure what to look for on an ingredients label? Simple alcohols commonly show up as isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and denatured alcohol.
Hydrogen peroxide destroys cell membranes, making it great at killing bacteria. However, it also can cause an irritant contact dermatitis, according to Dr. Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. That’s the case even if you don’t have sensitive skin.
For those with sensitive skin, we also eliminated fragrance.
Fragrance (on an ingredients label it’s often listed as “parfum”) is a common trigger for allergic reactions. Not only that, but also the terms on an ingredients label can actually mask a slew of mysterious chemicals that the FDA doesn’t require to be listed.
Only eight of our remaining antiperspirants didn’t include fragrance, and we got them all to explore closer and try out on our own.
For everyone else, we narrowed the pool, looking at potency and odor-blockers.
Potency is tricky because the only thing the FDA reliably regulates is that a formula decreases sweating by 20 percent — as long as a formula can achieve that, it doesn’t matter how much aluminum it contains. Formulas with 20 percent aluminum, as opposed to 11 or 15 percent, are often labeled “clinical strength,” but through our research, we discovered this to be merely an unregulated marketing term (and a reason to jack up prices between $2 and $16). That said, to keep our testing field as level as possible, we focused on regular-skin formulas with at least 15 percent active aluminum zirconium.
Odor blockers are much more straightforward. Remember that your sweat, when secreted, is actually odorless; it’s the bacteria that feast on it that release odor. Fragrance goes a long way in masking that odor, but we also looked for ingredients that kill bacteria, and found two that do it well. Triclosan was banned by the FDA in 2016 “for health concerns relating to hormone disruption and other skin irritations,” leaving us with one: C12-15 alkyl benzoate. “It’s generally considered to be safe and provides emollient and antimicrobial benefits,” said Dr. Kunin. This left us with 36 options to choose from.
We hand-picked 11 to try out ourselves.
We wanted a good selection of scents and formulas, so we looked for a flagship product to represent each brand. Dove Advanced Care in Original Clean, for example, stood in for the whole line of Dove Advanced Care, which included Dove Advanced Care Beauty Finish, Dove Advanced Care Shea Butter, Dove Advanced Care Skin Renew, and so on; we chose Old Spice Wild Collection in Bearglove, but left behind Old Spice Red Zone Swagger and Old Spice High Endurance.
Axe Signature Night Antiperspirant Deodorant Stick
Ban Invisible Solid Antiperspirant & Deodorant in Powder Fresh
Degree MotionSense Antiperspirant Deodorant in Shower Clean
Dove Advanced Care in Original Clean
Dove Men+Care Sensitive Shield Antiperspirant Stick
Gillette Endurance Invisible Solid Antiperspirant & Deodorant in Cool Wave
Lady Speed Stick Invisible Dry Antiperspirant/Deodorant in Powder Fresh
Old Spice Wild Collection Invisible Solid Antiperspirant and Deodorant in Bearglove
Secret Clinical Strength Invisible Solid Deodorant in Completely Clean
Secret Invisible Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant in Shower Fresh
Speed Stick Power Antiperspirant Deodorant in Fresh
Plus the 8 antiperspirants for sensitive skin.
Arm & Hammer UltraMax Invisible Solid Unscented Antiperspirant Deodorant
Arrid XX Solid Unscented Antiperspirant & Deodorant
Ban Invisible Solid Unscented Antiperspirant & Deodorant
Clinique for Men Antiperspirant Deodorant
DERMAdoctor Total Nonscents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant
Dove Sensitive Skin Antiperspirant Deodorant
Mitchum Sensitive Skin Antiperspirant & Deodorant
Speed Stick Power Solid Unscented Antiperspirant & Deodorant
In the end, we had 19 antiperspirants to explore with our noses, armpits, and clothes.
We evaluated scent, application, and residue in all our finalists.
In addition to being effective, the best antiperspirant should have a pleasant scent, not overpowering or cloying. Our 10 testers sniffed each product both in their containers and two hours after being applied to their pits in an effort to pin down those that had the least noxious scent.
We also wanted to see what the application process was like. Whether your armpits are hairy or bare, an antiperspirant should glide on smoothly, never clumping, crumbling, or stubbornly refusing to stick. Here again, we applied each product to our underarms, assessed how it felt going on and then how it felt after two hours of wear. Preference was given to those that felt “buttery” and “velvety,” not wet or sticky. If a product clotted armpit hair or skin with little white clumps, it was a goner. We wanted a smooth, even application, not something that would feel awkward all day, or smear into our shirts, increasing the odds of yellow stains.
To check for residue, we applied each product to our armpits and, after two hours, swiped a square of black T-shirt fabric across the skin to see who left behind the most egregious streaks.
A note on men’s and women’s formulas.
Or rather, a question: Do men and women need different antiperspirants? The answer is unclear.
On one hand, research by the journal Experimental Physiology shows that men sweat more than women and at lower body temperatures. The reasons for this difference aren’t known, but researchers surmise it has to do with testosterone since studies comparing prepubertal boys and girls didn’t show the same difference. (Note these studies found no differences in the content and smell of men’s and women’s sweat.)
On the other hand, none of our experts felt strongly that there’s a good reason men need a different antiperspirant product than women. Even more compelling:
“In terms of active ingredients, there’s no difference between men’s and women’s products. The main difference is scent.”
For unscented formulas, we didn’t feel the need to assign in a gender, even if the product was marketed toward one or the other.
Our picks with scent are specified by gender — though like Dr. Pariser points out, it’s a completely scent- and marketing-based distinction. (Too bad there’s no such thing as a scratch-and-sniff computer screen, right?) The only other difference we noticed in men’s and women’s formulas is the shape of the stick; men’s antiperspirant tends to have a wider head to accommodate larger armpits. In our experience, though, the size and shape of the sticks were negligible when it came to application.
Our Picks for the Best Antiperspirant
Our top pick for anyone with sensitive skin is Speed Stick Power, but it was a pretty close call among five of the eight we tested. Turns out, without scent to differentiate them, a lot of antiperspirants are very similar, and Speed Stick is about as scentless as it gets. If you put your nose really close to the package, you might catch a faint waxy whiff, but even that is a stretch. Its closest runner-up in our testing, the Ban Invisible Solid Antiperspirant Deodorant, is also unscented, but is a bit muskier — it includes some barley and sandalwood extract low on its ingredients list that the Speed Stick lacks.
It came down to the Speed Stick and Ban because they are the only two of eight that included C12-15 alkyl benzoate, the antimicrobial we targeted in our non-sensitive skin antiperspirants that helps combat bacteria-causing odor. Coupled with aluminum zirconium (16 percent in the Speed Stick and 19 percent in the Ban), these two have the best chance of fighting wetness and odor of our unscented finalists. It didn’t hurt that both were top performers in application and residue as well. In fact, that’s where the Speed Stick pulled slightly ahead.
Both have an armpit-conforming domed stick that makes application easy (unlike the uncomfortable flat top of the Arrid), but in testing, the Speed Stick was a little less greasy going on, whereas the Ban seemed to nearly melt into the skin. Both our male and female testers preferred the slightly drier experience of the Speed Stick. They also did well in our black T-shirt test — not too much residue, unlike the Arm & Hammer, and no armpit clumps, like the $18 Clinique — but the Speed Stick rubbed off on fabric a little less than the Ban after two hours.
Not quite sure which one is right for you? No worries. Both are drugstore priced (meaning under $5), so if you’re having a hard time choosing, we suggest giving both a try.
We discovered that when it comes to men’s antiperspirant, scent had the biggest sway over our testers, which made choosing a top pick challenging (remember, we didn’t get every scent from each brand’s line of products).
Instead, we put the most weight behind application and residue, where Dove Men+Care, Axe Signature, and Speed Stick Power all stood out — especially compared to Gillette Endurance and the Old Spice Wild Collection, which after two hours left so much residue behind in our T-shirt test we weren’t sure if any managed to stay on the skin at all.
All three also scored highly in our application testing, gliding on slick and creamy and absorbing quickly without clumping or snagging armpit hair. Like with our unscented pick, the Speed Stick was slightly drier and more powdery than the others, but overall these differences were fairly minimal. In fact, that’s true for these three deodorants overall. Even at the ingredients level, they are hard to tell apart. All three have between 15 and 16 percent aluminum zirconium alongside C12-15 alkyl benzoate; each is supplemented with fatty alcohols and emollient oils. They are also all within 50 cents of each other, and at or under $5.
This is where a sniff-test came into play. While certainly in the same “manly” musk ballpark, the Speed Stick was a bit fruitier, the Dove had almost Ivory soap vibe, and the Axe went more tropical with coconut undertones that faded after a couple of hours of wear. But this particular formula of Axe, called Signature, comes in four flavors (Gold, Night, Forest, and Island) and the Dove has six (Clean Comfort, Fresh Awake, Cool Fresh, Cool Silver, Extra Fresh, and Sensitive Shield). Speed Stick has Irish Spring scent, something called “Restless,” and another called Drycore. It may be worth the stroll down the deodorant aisle next time you’re at a Target to see which one you prefer.
Our selection of women’s formulas sat solidly in the shower/powder-fresh scent category, and like the men’s formulas, it was a big differentiator when picking the best. The Ban, for example, has the same formula as its unscented counterpart, which was a runner-up — but this scented version’s baby-powder fragrance was so strong one tester said she could smell it wafting every time she moved. No thanks.
Our testers’ overwhelming favorites were Secret Invisible Solid and Dove Advanced Care. Secret garnered favor for having less residue in our T-shirt test (although it’s far from “invisible”) and because, unlike Dove, its fragrance didn’t seem to get stronger the longer it was on. But like we discovered in our men’s picks, scent is subjective and both Secret and Dove come in a variety of options. Secret has eight scents to choose from; Dove has a whopping 12.
The thing Dove has going for it is its sleek, matte packaging and no mineral oil, which both Secret formulas we tested include. (Mineral oil in deodorant isn’t too risky — the potential for clogged pores is lower in armpits than it is on your face — but as we pointed out in our review of the best face moisturizer, some consumers prefer to avoid because it’s not a renewable resource.) At around $3.50, the Secret is about $2 cheaper than the Dove.
In case you were wondering: Yes, we also checked out the Secret Clinical Strength Invisible Solid, which is one of Secret’s best-known products. At 20 percent, it has 2 percentage points more aluminum zirconium than our top pick, is half the size, and is over twice as expensive. It also has quite a few badges, including an Allure Best of Beauty and Women’s Health Beauty Award. We’re not totally convinced — mostly because we learned that “clinical strength” just means more aluminum, but not necessarily more dryness. Our advice: Start with the cheaper Invisible Solid formula, and if you’re dissatisfied with the amount of perspiration, level up to the clinical strength option to see if it’s more effective with your body’s chemistry.
This antiperspirant was unique among our unscented finalists in that it’s a liquid formula with a roller ball applicator — not a stick. That’s why it left the sheerest residue on clothes of any of the 19 products we tested.
We liked this product because it had all the right ingredients and none of the nasty ones. Namely, it included aluminum zirconium at 11.25% to block sweat glands — a lower percentage than any of the others we looked at. We talked to Dr. Kunin, the product’s creator, who told us “10 to 15 percent aluminum zirconium works for most people with medium to mild sweating during regular, daily activities.” The rest of the formula is remarkably simple: Just five ingredients, the main one being water. No fragrance to mask BO, no antimicrobials to fight bacteria, like in our other top picks. “My view is that if the antiperspirant is applied and works correctly, then there should be no wetness or ‘food’ for odor-causing bacteria to feast on,” says Dr. Kunin. In other words, if the aluminum is working properly to stop sweat, then there should be no need for scent.
It’s not a perfect product — and it’s one that seems very targeted to women. (One of our male testers said the roller ball seemed to catch on his pit hair, though “not in a really painful way.”) The liquid formulation also might take some getting used to, especially if you’re used to a stick or cream antiperspirant. One of our female testers said it felt a little sticky even two hours after application.
If the feel of a product is more important than whether it’s invisible, this is probably not the right choice for you. Also keep in mind that, at over $20, this product is by far the priciest of our picks. Then again, saving your favorite black silk blouse might be worth it.
The Best Antiperspirant: Summed Up
Did You Know?
Wearing antiperspirant to bed may be more effective than applying it in the morning.
Some experts, including Dr. Pariser, recommend applying your antiperspirant before bed. Why? During your sleep, you perspire moderately. The theory goes that this activates the aluminum in your antiperspirant and gives it a solid seven or eight hours to form a good plug in your sweat glands. Conversely, when you apply after a shower, your skin is moist and the product might slip off. (If you’re wondering if your morning shower will also wash off the antiperspirant you applied so carefully the night before, most accounts say no.)
Sometimes, over-the-counter antiperspirant isn’t enough.
Ultimately, you’re the best judge for determining if over-the-counter antiperspirants aren’t cutting it. But if you’ve tried a couple different brands, shelled out for “clinical strength” formulas, and you’re experiencing a level of sweating and body odor that interferes with your daily life, it may be time to talk to your doctor about trying something more.
“In severe cases, Botox is an effective treatment for excessive sweating,” says Dr. Kunin. Botox works by blocking your nerve endings from sending signals to your sweat glands to produce sweat. A prescription for topical neurotransmitter inhibitors like dipeptide diaminobutyroyl benzylamide diacetate and gamma aminobutyric acid can produce similar effects.
If you require Botox for your sweating, you might be one of 3 percent of the population that suffers from a condition known as hyperhidrosis. According to Dr. Malcolm V. Brock, medical director of the John Hopkins Center for Sweat Disorders, some of the telltale signs include only wearing black to avoid sweat stains, avoiding people due to embarrassment about how much you sweat, changing your shirt two to three times a day, and experiencing all these symptoms even in the cold. In these cases, a more potent prescription antiperspirant may be recommended. However, the risk of irritation with these is higher, so they’re only recommended for extreme cases. Talk to your doctor.