How to Deal With Body Odor
Despite the jokes, there's nothing funny about body odor (BO). It's embarrassing and anxiety-inducing, and it may be taking a negative toll on your life.
Find out a little bit about the biology behind body odor and how it can affect your social life, and then read about some tips and lifestyle tweaks that can help.
The body has certain organs, mainly the eccrine and apocrine glands, that are responsible for the function of sweating. Body temperature increases when you're warm, usually during exercise or when you're feeling anxious, nervous or stressed. When this happens, the glands release perspiration to cool you down.
How much and where you sweat—eccrine glands are found on most parts of the body; apocrine glands in the armpits and groin—varies from person to person. Sweat itself is odorless until it combines with bacteria on your skin.
Impact on social & sex life
Nobody wants to be the smelly friend. It's uncomfortable and embarrassing for you, and unpleasant for people around you. Your own body odor may cause you to reduce or avoid social interactions, and cause others to avoid activities with you.
If you're constantly anxious about BO, you're going to have a difficult time relaxing on a date or with a partner. A 2019 United Kingdom poll found that more than 30 percent of respondents had avoided hugging someone due to their BO, which caused them to feel unhappy and unattractive. Body odor also stopped 10 percent of participants from asking someone out, and 40 percent to avoid proximity with others.
So, what about sex? Body odor is pretty noticeable when you're in such an up-close-and-personal situation with someone, and it may be a turnoff for a partner, not to mention a big insecurity for you.
If body odor is causing you anxiety, stress, embarrassment or insecurity, then you'll probably benefit from real action.
Treat body odor
Deodorants are typically alcohol-based and make your skin more acidic, creating an environment bacteria don't enjoy. Many products have fragrance, which additionally helps mask body smells.
Deodorants are different from antiperspirants, which block sweat glands (via aluminum-based compounds) from releasing sweat but don't treat odor. Many products are sold as combined deodorant/antiperspirants and they may work better for you.
However, if the deodorant/antiperspirant products aren't helping, keep switching brands until you find something that does work or look for a deodorant that's branded as having clinical strength.
Additionally, you should be taking some measures on your own to treat and prevent body odor, starting with the obvious: Bathe and shave regularly. Once a day is good for bathing, and be sure to use antibacterial soap. If you shave your armpits and groin, doing so regularly can reduce odors, too.
Pay attention to the fabrics in the clothes you wear. For example, cotton, silk and other natural materials are breathable and best for everyday wear. When it comes to clothes for working out—first, make sure you shower right after each workout—choose garments that wick perspiration. If your exercise clothes have a lingering odor, wash them following a workout and add baking soda to your load; you can even pre-soak them in vinegar. Try laundry detergents designed specifically to get certain odors out of clothes. Antibacterial socks can help if your feet stink.
When it comes to your diet, stay hydrated and pay attention to what you eat. Caffeine, alcohol, cruciferous veggies (e.g., cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli), red meat and spicy foods can increase sweating and body odors.
Maybe most important, keep calm. To reduce nervous sweating, practice yoga or meditation, and take the time to enjoy other stress-reducing habits.
Seek professional help
If home remedies and over-the-counter deodorants don't solve the problem, a physician or dermatologist can screen you for any medical conditions, such as diabetes or liver or kidney issues, that may be causing your BO. Your doctor can also review your prescriptions, because medications like certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, analgesic pain meds, and hormonal and heart medications have been linked to body odor problems.
You might also ask your doctor about a prescription-strength deodorant if you didn't find a commercially available one.
Remember this, though: Body odor is a part of life—everyone's life. We've all experienced it at some point, and it's not a huge deal, until it is. Know that there are solutions you can try on your own, and more options if you want to talk with your doctor. Don't be shy, because they've heard it all. You know it makes scents.