As anyone living in Southeast Asia can attest, you need only step out of the shower to feel like you’re due for another one right after, some days. In our humidity where perspiration is more pronounced, we talk to an expert on why sweat matters, and dish on the tried-and-tested the deodorants we rely on to help keep us fresh and confident throughout the day.
Is sweating important?
“Sweating or perspiration is an essential bodily function which regulates temperature. Our sweat glands secrete the salty liquid we are familiar with, to cool down our bodies and prevent overheating,” says Dr Siew Tuck Wah, medical director of Radium Medical Aesthetics. “It is natural to sweat when the weather is hot. When it is humid, sweat does not evaporate as quickly, which gives us the unpleasant, sticky feeling on the skin which is so commonly experienced in hot and humid Singapore.” This also applies to the scalp, which may become itchy and inflamed due to sweat not being wicked away in our high humidity.
As it’s essential to help maintain equilibrium, sweat or lack thereof, comes with a host of symptoms to be wary of.
“Failure to perspire—also known an anhydrosis—can cause dizziness, flushing and even heatstroke. It can happen as a result of skin diseases such trauma to the skin and psoriasis, or illnesses such as diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome,” says Dr Wah. On the other end of the spectrum, hyperhidrosis, or the problem of excessive sweating is a common one here in Southeast Asia. “This condition affects 1 to 3 per cent of people, most commonly in the under arm region, which contains more sweat glands.”
Antiperspirants vs Deodorants: what’s the difference?
Deodorants make the skin more acidic, making it more difficult for bacteria to thrive. An antiperspirant blocks the sweating action of the glands, resulting in less sweating. “Antiperspirants reduce sweating by temporarily blocking the sweat ducts with aluminium-salts, while deodorants reduce body odour by lowering the pH of the skin to discourage bacteria growth,” explains Dr Wah.
In 2019, the global antiperspirant and deodorant market was estimated to be worth about S$102 billion dollars and with a greater focus on personal care comes more options on the market today for discerning consumers. Today, options from traditional drugstore antiperspirants to luxe, ‘clean’ deodorant sticks abound—the latter in response to concerns that certain ingredients found in antiperspirants may trigger breast cancer.
Can antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer?
According to Dr Joline Lim, who is both a consultant at the National University Cancer Institute (NCIS) and assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, “Some scientists have suggested a possible link between antiperspirants and deodorants and breast cancer due to the close proximity of the underarm to the breast, and also potential harmful active ingredients in these products. Several studies from various population groups have been conducted, which have largely shown no increased risk of use of these products to breast cancer. No study has conclusively proven that these products can cause cancer. Due to the conflicting nature of the results, additional research will be required to determine whether a direct relationship truly exist between antiperspirants and deodorants and cancer.”
In Dr Wah’s opinion, also echoed by Singapore’s Breast Cancer Foundation, “The biggest myth about anti-perspirants is that it increases the risk of breast cancer. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim.” Thankfully, there are a host of aluminium-free options on the market for those wanting to play it extra safe.
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Aesop Herbal Deodorant
An aluminium-free spray deodorant for all genders, Aesop’s aromatic Herbal Deodorant is formulated with zinc ricinoleate, sage leaf, and a blend of earthy essential oils to help reduce and mask underarm odour. Woody and elemental, it makes for a grounding scent in its own right.
Aesop Herbal Deodorant, $45; available at Aesop
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Kiehl's Body Fuel Antiperspirant & Deodorant
They say this is for the guys, but because not every woman wants to smell like sunshine and daisies, here we are. As perspiration and body odour is a daily concern in these hot and humid climes, this roll-on antiperspirant from Kiehl’s has you covered. It offers a fresh, energising, ozonic aroma, dries in a flash, and contains caffeine, vitamin C, and zinc to protect the skin.
Body Fuel Antiperspirant & Deodorant, $29; available at Kiehl’s
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Agent Nateur Holistick No. 3 Deodorant
If you’ve given up on the commercial, drugstore deodorants and are after a ‘cleaner’ solution, this luxe, aluminium-free stick deodorant is for you. Swipe under arms and enjoy its scent of honey, with organic lavender and eucalyptus essential oils that keeps you fresh all day long. Note to newbies looking to experience natural baking soda-based deodorants: patch test before use as this may initially irritate the skin under the arms.
Agent Nateur Holistick No. 3 Deodorant, US$21; available at Net-a-Porter
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Clinique Antiperspirant Deodorant Roll-On
Clinique Antiperspirant Deodorant Roll-On, $26; available at Tangs
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Drunk Elephant Sweet Pitti Deodorant Cream
This creamy, almond-smelling deodorant is formulated to soothe and moisturise the skin under the arms while absorbing excess moisture to keep body odour at bay. In addition to mandelic acid—an AHA that kills the bacteria that causes a stink—the deodorant contains a blend of replenishing plant oils such as Drunk Elephant’s beloved marula, baobab and mongongo seed, as well as marula and shea butters to replenish dry and irritated skin.
Drunk Elephant Sweet Pitti Deodorant, $23; available at Sephora
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Dove Whitening Deodorant
Everything you’d expect from this cheap and cheerful drugstore find. It’s derm-tested, loaded with Dove’s proprietary 1/4 moisturising cream formula, and vitamins E and F to rejuvenate under arm skin that’s darkened by plucking, and shaving, while offering all-day protection from sweat and stank.
Dove Whitening Deodorant, $4.35; available at Guardian