Perfume or Deodorant? What’s the Difference?

  • By: Nathan Cherry
  • Time to read: 5 min.

It’s an alarmingly common question: if you douse yourself in perfume, do you really need to wear deodorant or antiperspirant? 

First and foremost, I just have to say that if you do this you need to do some serious self-reflection (and read this article) 

There is a major difference between perfumes and deodorants. Deodorant uses specialized ingredients to eliminate bacteria and prevent perspiration. Perfume is meant to provide a pleasing scent, rather than kill bacteria, prevent sweating, and reduce body odor. 

Just like you shouldn’t consider wearing perfume a replacement for showering, wearing perfume in place of deodorant won’t do you any favors, unless you’re one of the lucky few without much of a natural body odor. 

It is entirely possible to wear deodorant/antiperspirant and not wear perfume. Perfume, of course, is a luxury product that is ultimately unnecessary. Although I am showered, deodorized, and perfumed every day before I walk out the door, I realize that not everyone has the means to afford perfume. 

However, I believe it to be a human right, and a necessity in civilized society, that everyone who has the means should be showered and deodorized each and every day. Is that asking for too much? Maybe. But in these uncertain times of pestilence, plague, disaster, and calamity, the least thing that we all can strive to do as a society is work together to make sure that, at the bare minimum, nobody has offensive BO. 

Let’s take a look at why you should never, ever, forego deodorant/antiperspirant for perfume. 

Why do we have body odor?

Body odor is a result of bacterial action on sweat. 

These bacteria, which are known as skin flora, are all over our bodies. 

When our sweat glands produce sweat, these skin flora are immediately all over it. They break down and metabolize protein molecules in sweat, which causes a release of smelly odors into the air. 

A lot of factors go into how your body odor smells. 

The skin flora of men and women are different. Men typically give off a cheesy aroma due to the fact that the bacterial cultures present in men’s armpits are also found in many stinky cheeses. Women, on the other hand, tend to have a more oniony, vinegary body odor. 

Diet, exercise, genetics, and disease can also play a significant role in influencing how your body odor smells. 

If you eat a lot of processed foods, dairy products, garlic, and onions and guzzle down soft drinks, you might have a decidedly more pronounced bouquet. If you have a healthier, more natural diet, eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and drink a lot of water, then you will likely have a less powerful, and less radiant, aroma. 

What is deodorant, and how does it eliminate body odor?

What is deodorant, other than one of the greatest inventions in human history? I thought you’d never ask. 

Deodorant, whether it be in solid stick or spray form, is a substance whose noble purpose is the eradication of human body odor. 

To effect this purpose, deodorant targets the origin of body odor: skin flora. 

It’s loaded with anti-bacterial substances which prevent skin flora from breaking down sweat, therefore preventing body odor. Antiperspirant goes a step further, trying to stop the occurrence of sweat altogether by plugging up the liquid-excreting ducts of the sweat gland before they have the chance to let loose. 

This is usually done by using different chemical applications of aluminum (such as aluminum salt and alum), along with bactericidal agents like parabens and certain kinds of alcohol. 

While deodorants are classified as cosmetics, the same as perfumes, antiperspirants are classified as drugs by the FDA. 

In essence, deodorants and antiperspirants are intended to kill bacteria and prevent or limit sweating by creating a seal on the ducts of the sweat gland. In that sense, they could even be said to be closer to an antiseptic or disinfectant than to perfume. Though many deodorants and antiperspirants are scented, that scent is not meant to last on your skin or diffuse in the air the same way as a perfume. 

Then what does a perfume do? 

Perfume is a blend of essential oils and synthetic aroma chemicals in alcohol or oil. 

A perfume is meant to last on your skin and project its scent into the air, swathing you in a pleasing aroma which can be detected by others. 

Like makeup, a perfume serves a cosmetic purpose only. It functions much in the same way that a candle or air freshener does in a home. Surely it is nice to have the scent of autumnal spices aerating your home, but you wouldn’t use a candle as a replacement for a proper plumbing system. 

Perfume will most definitely make you smell nice, but it’s only an embellishment, the touche finale of a well-showered and deodorized individual. 

Without a strong foundation, a house collapses. 

Spraying a perfume on top of an unwashed and non-deodorized body is just about as effective at hiding odor as a chain smoker chewing gum. 

Perfume has none of the anti-bacterial and sweat fighting properties of proper deodorants and antiperspirants. Sure, it contains alcohol, which indeed is an antiseptic, but spraying perfume on your armpits will not do nearly as much as a good deodorant will do. 

Perfume is not designed to eliminate odors, like deodorant, but rather to add new (and far more pleasant) odors to your body. 

Spraying some perfume on your unwashed body might help cover up your body stank for a time, sure. But, like a corpse rotting in the attic, your BO will become more and more apparent as the day wears on. 

The Final Word

Perfume is not a replacement for deodorant. Period. 

A deodorant or antiperspirant is chock full of anti-bacterial and sweat destroying agents, and is intended to prevent body odor by cutting it off at the source. Although they might be scented, they are, in no way shape or form, designed like a perfume. 

By the same token, a perfume is not designed like a deodorant. Although perfumes might contain alcohol, which can kill bacteria, they are meant for adding scent to your body, not getting rid of it like a deodorant. 

At the bare minimum, wear deodorant (please). Perfume is an accessory, largely ancillary to most people. It is not necessary for day-to-day life. 

But deodorant is, for both your cleanliness and for the sanity and comfort of people around you. 

So please, do not take a perfume bath and think that you’re good to go. 

Take a shower. Apply deodorant or antiperspirant. And then – and only then – spray on that new perfume.