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Is there any chemical difference between women’s and men’s antiperspirant?

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Grabbed the wrong deodorant? Rest easy, although body odour differs between genders, you can use each other’s antiperspirant as they do the same job.

Asked by: Gavin Rhys, Cardiff


No, they just have different fragrances – and packaging. The chemicals that do the hard work are generally the same.

Deodorants target bacteria with antibacterials, while antiperspirants reduce sweat levels with aluminium- or zirconium-based chemicals. These react with sweat to form polymer plugs that prevent perspiration escaping from sweat glands. Body odour develops when bacteria on our skin start to break down sweat using enzymes.

According to Swiss research, bacteria feasting on male sweat produce higher levels of a cheesy, rancid chemical called 3-hydroxy-3-methylhexanoic acid (HMHA). Meanwhile, female sweat provides more of the sulphur-rich 3-methyl-3-sulfanylhexan-1-ol (MSH) chemical, reminiscent of onions and tropical fruit.

How does 48-hour deodorant work? © Getty Images


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Dr Emma Davies is a science writer and editor with a PhD in food chemistry from the University of Leeds. She writes about all aspects of chemistry, from food and the environment to toxicology and regulatory science.


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