All’s swell that ends smell. If antiperspirants (which plug up sweat glands) and
deodorants (which mask odors) don’t do the trick, or you prefer a natural
approach, there are myriad paths to an agreeable essence. BO battles begin in the
shower and continue throughout the day, with a simple goal: Stop the odor at its
Long ago, nature provided us with strong smells to entice the opposite sex. But
BO won’t get you far today. The problem starts with certain types of sweat.
Eccrine glands pour out clear, neutral-smelling sweat, which cools your body as
it evaporates. Apocrine glands, concentrated in your underarms and genitals,
secrete a substance that bacteria feast upon, causing strong odors. Stress,
ovulation, sexual excitement, and anger can cause apocrine glands to kick into
high gear. Some diseases cause the body to produce particular odors, and so do
drugs such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and bupropion (Wellbutrin).
Watch the Daily Soaps
- Pick an antibacterial soap, such as Dial, Lifebuoy, or Lever 2000. These
leave ingredients on your skin that kill bacteria even after you’re finished bathing.
If the soap doesn’t irritate your skin, use it daily. If you find that these soaps are
too drying, use them only on your underarms and groin, where you need their
antibacterial power the most.
- If BO is still bothering you, bring out the big guns. Betadine, an
antibacterial cleanser, is so effective that some formulations are used to clean
patients before surgery. Since it can dry your skin, however, you should use it in
the shower, where it will rinse off quickly, and only on high-smell areas such as
the armpits and groin. Squeeze out a small amount of cleanser, wash the target
areas first, then rinse off the Betadine and finish your shower with regular soap.
- Another, milder antibacterial formulation is Hibiclens. It’s gentler on the
skin than Betadine.
- Wipe rubbing alcohol, vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide onto your underarms during the day to cut down the numbers of odor-causing bacteria.
- Dab on witch hazel. You can splash it directly on your skin or apply it as often as necessary with a cotton pad. The clear, clean-smelling liquid has drying and deodorizing properties.
- Dust baking soda or cornstarch on any odor-troubled part of your body.
Both of these powders absorb moisture, and baking soda also kills odor-causing
- Shave regularly under your arms. Underarm hair can increase body odor
because it traps sweat and bacteria.
Should I call the doctor?
If you’re sweating frequently or heavily, you could have an overactive thyroid
gland, low blood sugar, or a problem with the part of the nervous system that
controls sweating. If you think you’re sweating too much or you may have a
medical condition causing your body odor, see your doctor. And if you’re
taking a prescription medication that might be contributing to excessive odor,
ask your doctor about switching to another drug.
Help from the Garden
- Apply tea-tree oil to problem areas, as long as it doesn’t irritate your skin.
This oil, from an Australian tree, kills bacteria and also has a pleasant scent.
- Essential oils of lavender, pine, and peppermint fight bacteria. They also
smell nice. Since some people have a skin reaction to certain oils, test the
underarm area or a small patch of skin before using.
- Delightfully fragrant, sage can fight bacteria and reduce perspiration. You
can purchase a solution of sage tincture or diluted sage oil, or brew some sage tea
that you cool and store in a bottle. Any of these liquids can be used in the
underarm area, but not around the genitals. And after using sage, wash your
hands before touching your face.
- A citrus fruit like lemon changes the pH level of your skin, making it more
acidic. All bacteria, including the odor-causing kinds, have a hard time surviving
in a highly acidic environment. Just rub on some lemon and pat dry.
Did you know?
Hunters often use special soaps to mask all traces of human odor so their keensmelling
quarry won’t smell them. You can try this approach so human noses won’t notice you. Look for the products in hunting stores or catalogs.
Eat Green, Smell Clean
- Eat plenty of spinach, chard, and kale. Green, leafy vegetables are rich in
chlorophyll, which has a powerful deodorizing effect in your body
- Have a few sprigs of parsley, credited with anti-odor properties. Or make
parsley tea by steeping a teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley in a cup of boiling
water for five minutes. Let it cool a bit before you drink it.
- Try wheatgrass juice, sold in health-food stores. Warning: It has a very
strong taste, and some people feel nauseated the first time they try it. You might
want to start with just an ounce of wheatgrass juice in six ounces of water, then
increase the proportion of juice in subsequent tastings. On first tasting, it’s wise to
try this drink on an empty stomach just in case your stomach overreacts.
- Buy tablets containing chlorophyll. Many brands are available, made from
plants like kelp, barley grass, and blue-green algae. Check the label for the dosage