The Food and Drug Administration is sweating over antiperspirant deodorants: Do they really help stop wetness and, if so, is that good?

In a notice of proposed rulemaking, the FDA has set out conditions under which antiperspirants can be sold, based on recommendations of an advisory panel. The recommendations even include helpful advice on how to use deodorants.

For example, the panel recommended to FDA that labels include the directions, "Apply to skin of underarms. Not to be used generally over the body." Manufacturers objected, and FDA has proposed a compromise: "Apply to underarms only."

The FDA noted the fact that the evaporation of perspiration on the skin is the body's way of cooling itself. But it added that merely retarding underarm perspiration will not affect the body's cooling ability.

The advisory panel, however, had a fear: suppose someone covered his or her entire body with antiperspirant. That, it said, could upset the body's thermal regulation ability.

FDA noted that some consumers complained of "gasping for breath" and "spitting up mucus" when they used aerosol antiperspirants. After studying the problem, the advisory panel concluded that those consumers could switch to roll-ons.

Other consumers complained that nonaerosol antiperspirants caused rashes and irritation. The FDA has proposed a warning to discontinue use if a rash or irritation occurs. The agency is also proposing that, during tests, half of the users must have a 20 percent reduction in perspiration. One company has already complained, arguing that different people react differently to the ingredients.

The advisory panel concluded that Madison Avenue types sometimes exaggerate what a good antiperspirant can do for a person, so it recommended that three claims be allowed on labels: "Helps reduce wetness," "Helps reduce dampness" and "Helps reduce perspiration." This prompted an angry comment from one unidentified manufacturer, who noted that "help" is redundant and improper when used with the word "reduce." FDA revised the proposal to delete "help" and allow some other words. But FDA said that words such as "stop," "check," "halt," "end," "eliminate" and "protect" should not be used, even if preceded by the word help, because deodorants cannot stop underarm perspiration. They only reduce it.