Body odor can be an embarrassing problem. This unpleasant smell comes from a mixture of sweat and bacteria. Sweat should have little odor. However, bacteria on the skin causes perspiration to smell sour.
Our bodies perspire to lower the body temperature and keep us cool. We sweat more during hot weather, when we exercise, and when we are nervous.
There are also other hereditary causes of sweating, especially those with sweaty palms and feet.
Two kinds of sweat glands
Our bodies have two kinds of sweat glands, the not-so-smelly kind and the smelly kind. This refers to the eccrine glands and the apocrine glands, respectively.
Eccrine glands are found all over the body and have little smell.
Apocrine glands, however, are found in hairy parts of the body like the armpits, scalp and groin. These excrete a fatty kind of sweat that develops a particularly foul smell when it comes in contact with bacteria. This is why the armpits, groin and head area smell more compared to the forearms and legs.
Here are some tips to help control body odor.
- Use an antiperspirant for the underarms. Antiperspirants contain aluminum-based chemicals that block off the pores of our sweat glands. This is the simplest solution to body odor problem. The less you perspire, the less you will smell.
- Use a commercially available deodorant or roll-on. Deodorants work by eliminating the odor but not the sweating. These are usually alcohol-based products that turn your skin acidic, making it less favorable for bacteria. Deodorants have fragrances that mask the odor. Commercially, there are preparations that combine both antiperspirants and deodorants.
- As a home remedy, try alcohol and baking soda mixture for your underarms and feet. Since the bad smell comes from bacteria, using 70 percent rubbing alcohol instantly kills the bacteria and reduces the smell. You can also use alcohol for your feet to lessen fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Alternatively, you can try the local tawas. Find which preparation works best for you.
- Take a bath daily. Wash and scrub the whole body well, especially the smelly parts. Bathing will reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin.
- Wash your underarms, groin and feet twice a day. The sweat that comes from these body parts is different from the sweat in other areas.
- Use an anti-bacterial soap. Choose a soap that works for you. There are some anti-bacterial soaps that keep you fresher throughout the day. Shop around.
- Dry your feet and underarms after you take a bath. Bacteria grow more in dark and damp places, particularly between the toes. Use a foot powder or sprinkle baking soda to dry the feet.
- If your feet are really smelly, try to change socks twice a day. Feet secrete an equivalent of a glassful of sweat per foot every day. Wear cotton socks.
- Choose shoes that allow your feet to “breathe.” Closed shoes make your feet sweat more and thus smell more. You can opt to wear sandals and open-toed footwear. You can also “air” your feet from time to time by going barefoot or removing your shoes for a while.
- Take note: Avoid food that make you smell. Minimize spicy and hot food. Avoid eating too much garlic, onions, curry and smelly fish. It’s true that we are what we eat, and some of these food’s components are excreted out of our sweat glands. If you like chili, fish sauce and fish paste (bagoong), your sweat could smell like these sauces.
- Drink eight to 12 glasses of water daily. Water cleanses the body and dilutes the smell of sweat and urine.
- Wear cotton shirts, pants and underwear. Cotton-made clothing makes it easier for sweat to evaporate. Hence, it makes you feel cool and fresher. Avoid nylon clothing because it makes your sweat stick to you.
- Wash your clothes well. Indeed, clean clothes make the man. It also lessens your body odor. Change your shirt and socks daily. And please, no reusing of old, unwashed clothes.
- Don’t sweat too much. If you know you have an afternoon meeting, then don’t exercise and jump around in the morning. Try to reschedule your meetings in the morning (when you’re fresher), and do your outside chores in the afternoon.
- If you really need to smell fresh before a meeting, bring extra clothes and socks. Wash your underarms, neck and face in the bathroom before putting on your change of clothes.
- Relax and take it easy. The more fidgety and nervous you are, the more you will sweat. Keep cool beside a fan or air-conditioner.
Finally, if your body odor persists despite these measures, you might need to see a doctor. The doctor will rule out medical problems like an overactive thyroid or kidney disease.
There’s also a disease of excessive sweating, medically called hyperhidrosis. Treatment for this condition is similar to the tips mentioned above. Doctors may also prescribe a special antiperspirant (like aluminum chloride).
For extreme cases, there is a surgical procedure that cuts the nerve that causes sweating. This is rarely done. For most people, the tips above are enough to help you smell cleaner and fresher. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 3 (July 7-20, 2015): 12.