Body odor, particularly underarm odor, can be annoying, embarrassing and even offensive to those around you. While good hygiene may keep this odor in check, some people struggle to maintain a fresh scent. The combination of an antiperspirant, which decreases sweating, and a deodorant, which masks or prevents the stink, are the most common strategies to counter underarm odor. Those seeking a natural remedy often try stepping up their hygiene and wearing smart clothing choices, and these strategies can be effective. Avoiding certain foods or using natural or home prepared deodorants are other common options, although there’s less evidence confirming these approaches work.
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As a rule, sweat isn’t stinky. But the bacteria that normally reside on your skin, as they feast on your underarm sweat, create the well-known armpit odor. To counter this smell, armpits need to be kept relatively clean and dry, and bacterial growth needs to be curtailed. Traditional antiperspirants usually contain aluminum compounds which block the ducts that secrete sweat, and deodorants are typically made with bacteria-killing ingredients such as alcohol, or agents that inhibit bacterial growth, such as triclosan. Other additives may be used to neutralize or absorb odors. Natural approaches to curb sweat and odor can also work if they effectively treat the source of underarm odor.
Staying or keeping clean is one of the best ways to fight body odor. Bathing regularly helps wash away excess armpit bacteria, sweat and other odor-causing chemicals, which helps your skin smell fresh. Since allowing sweat to stay on your skin provides a feast for these odor-causing bacteria, making odor worse, it helps to wash your underarms or shower after excess sweating. Shaving the armpits might help reduce odor, since this hair can keep sweaty armpits moist longer.
Smart and Clean Clothing
Maintain a fresh scent by washing dirty or soiled clothes after each wear, and wear only clean shirts and undergarments. Wear garments made of natural or breathable fibers, such as cotton, so your clothing absorbs moisture and allows the skin to breathe. Proper clothing choice is particularly important when working outside or exercising, so as you sweat, the moisture is wicked away from your skin. Another helpful strategy is to purchase clothing made with modern technical fabrics which absorb odors and curtail bacterial growth.
Getting angry, stressed or excited can increase sweating, as can drinking caffeinated beverages and eating hot peppers. But avoiding these emotions, foods or beverages as a strategy to stay sweat-free is not a reliable odor-control method. Neither is changing your diet. It’s known that certain foods -- such as garlic or curry -- contain odorous compounds that show up in your sweat, but research on how diet manipulation impacts armpit odor is quite limited. One small study tested the armpit odors of young men while consuming diets that included or excluded meat. The armpit odors in the non-meat eaters were deemed more pleasant and less intense, compared to the smell of those eating meat. But much more research is needed to determine if avoiding foods is an effective strategy to odor control.
Home Remedies and Natural Products
Homemade deodorant recipes are commonly used by people who want to avoid the chemicals in traditional products. These recipes may include cornstarch or baking soda, which absorb odors, or antibacterial ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide or essential oils. Another natural way to deodorize the armpits is to lower the skin pH by applying acidic solutions, such as apple cider vinegar or witch hazel, mixed in a 1:1 ratio with water. While these topical solutions will not prevent sweating, they may help deodorize, as odor-causing bacteria do not grow well in low pH environments. However, no quality research is available to show these ingredients work as armpit deodorants. If you prefer to avoid traditional antiperspirants or deodorants, but don't want to make your own, consider using a commercial product that avoids the traditional aluminum and triclosan ingredients.
Home remedies may not be as effective as traditional deodorants in curbing odor, and applying some home remedies, such as vinegar or baking soda, without proper dilution can lead to irritation and skin injury. If you plan to use natural home treatments, first test a small area of the skin to ensure it doesn’t cause irritation or discomfort. If you have any skin disorders, talk to your doctor about safe home remedies before making your own. While underarm odor rarely signifies a serious problem, seek treatment options from your doctor if you have body odor that you are not able to control. Also, if you have a sudden change in odor, or excessive perspiration, see your doctor for a medical evaluation.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD