Are "clinical strength" antiperspirants really any stronger?

sweaty man
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There's a time and a place for everything, so the old saying goes, and most people seem to believe that the time and place for excessive sweating is limited. We're willing to sweat up a storm at the gym, on the ball fields or running through the park, but to show up at a job interview or a first date with tell-tale signs of sweat is more than most of us can bear. A study conducted by the International Hyperhidrosis Society explored the social stigma of sweat, with 66 percent of respondents claiming that visible sweat made them think a person was nervous, while 49 percent believed those showing excessive sweat to be overweight [source: Newman].

Though sweat is a natural and healthy bodily process, people have demonstrated that they're willing to pay any price to get rid of it. In 2008, Shizuka New York Spa unveiled the "Underarm Overhaul," a $1,500 treatment that included a deep cleaning of the armpits, waxing and Botox injections to paralyze the sweat glands for six months [source: Morago]. But even those without thousands of dollars to throw around have proved willing to splurge on underarm protection, despite an economic downturn. In early 2009, the New York Times reported that major deodorant brands were seeing higher revenues, thanks to sales of clinical strength antiperspirants [source: Newman].


Clinical strength antiperspirants can cost twice as much as their conventional counterparts, which accounts for the higher revenues (unit sales of deodorant were actually down, but the ones that were sold were more expensive) [source: Newman]. Though Secret Clinical Strength paved the way, most deodorant brands now have a clinical strength option, including Gilette, Degree, Dove, Arrid and Sure. The success of these products show that people are willing to spend more for the promise of increased sweat protection. But do they get their money's worth, or is that promise of clinical strength protection just a big stink?

Are Clinical Strength Antiperspirants Worth the Money?

woman shopping for deodorant
Will she spring for the clinical strength version?

Antiperspirants work by plugging underarm pores so that they don't release sweat (deodorants, on the other hand, merely mask the scent of scent of bacteria that feast on sweat once it's released). Most antiperspirants rely on some form of aluminum salt to do the plugging; clinical strength deodorants amp up this active ingredient. 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 [source: Newman].

With higher concentrations of the active ingredients, deodorant manufacturers claim that their products will provide 24-hour protection, as opposed to protection for just a few hours. However, to get maximum benefit, you must follow instructions carefully. Secret Clinical Strength, for example, should be applied at nighttime, before bed. That's to allow those aluminum-based plugs to develop overnight, when sweat is minimal. If the product is applied in the morning, the stress-related sweat that occurs as you try to walk pets, feed children and make it to work for your big presentation could overwhelm the main ingredients in the deodorant. Most people sweat just enough during the night to pull the active ingredient into the sweat gland and allow the long-lasting plugs to form. Even a morning shower won't wash away the plugs -- you're set for 24-hours of sweat-free activities.


A clinical strength antiperspirant may be an effective first defense for those who have hyperhidrosis, or extreme sweating. However, some doctors believe that only those with hyperhidrosis (estimated to be 2 percent of the population) should shell out the extra cash for clinical strength [source: Park]. For many people, though, even a little extra sweating is too much. When Proctor & Gamble was completing market research for Secret Clinical Strength, it found that 25 percent of women consider themselves "heavy sweaters" [source: Newman]. Whether women are overestimating their sweat production or just need extra help on stressful days, the successful sales numbers indicate that people are willing to spend more for a little extra sweat security.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Botox and a Facial for the Pits: The Underarm Overhaul." Shizuka New York. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Bruno, Karen. "What's New: Advances in Body Skin Care." WebMD. Aug. 5, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Christensen, Doreen. "Clinical antiperspirants help you keep your cool." Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. July 27, 2009.
  • "Clinical Strength Facts." Secret. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • "Deodorants and antiperspirants." Harvard Women's Health Watch. May 1996.
  • Earls, Stephanie. "Sweat small stuff? For some, it's a big deal." Albany Times Union. April 15, 2008.
  • Loney, Sydney. "No sweat." Today's Parent. August 2009.
  • Morago, Greg. "Squelching Sweating: 'Clinical Strength' Deodorants Gain; Costly Treatments Paralyze Glands." Hartford Courant. June 25, 2008.
  • Neff, Jack. "Secret Clinical Strength." Advertising Age. Nov. 17, 2008.
  • Newman, Andrew Adam. "If You're Nervous, Deodorant Makers Have a Product for You." New York Times. Feb. 17, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Park, Alice. "The War on Sweat." Time. Aug. 7, 2008. (Sept. 29, 2009),9171,1830409,00.html
  • "Pay More, Sweat Less?" Good Housekeeping. July 2009.
  • Procter & Gamble Beauty. "Secret Launches Prescription Strength Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant." PR Newswire. March 1, 2007.
  • Sine, Richard. "Excessive Sweating: A Sticky Subject." WebMD. July 9, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Toffelmire, Amy. "Antiperspirant, deodorant, or both?" (Sept. 29, 2009)
  • Truitt, Eliza. "No Sweat." Slate. Dec. 28, 2000. (Sept. 29, 2009)