Why Do I Have Body Odor?

A Guide for Natural Deodorant Shoppers

Are you tired of dealing with unpleasant body odor? Whether it's smelly underarms, unpleasant smell in your skin folds, musty private areas or stinky feet, we are aware when we smell bad and it can affect self-confidence and may also have an impact on relationships and intimacy. Understanding the root causes of body odor and taking the right steps can help you prevent it. Here are some essential facts to keep in mind if you're looking to combat bad body odor naturally and regain confidence and enhance your well being. After 25 plus years in dermatology practice, I have come to be very well acquainted with the “pitfalls” that can drive you crazy trying to understand the “link to stink”.

1. Target Odor-Prone Areas

Body odor is more likely to occur in regions with limited airflow and areas that retain moisture throughout the day, such as underarms, skin folds, between toes, the belly button, under sports bra, underwear area like thigh folds and butt crease. Ensuring proper ventilation for these areas is crucial in combating odor. For example, allow air flow to dry you after a shower. Instead of using a towel, air dry the underarms or between the toes by using a hair dryer on the cool setting. Or sit in front of a fan for a minute or two. Or allow your skin to air dry fully before you put your clothing on. If you dress to quickly while still damp, your body folds will remain damp all day long, especially in warm weather or at the gym. Air drying with a fan is another excellent option. Patting dry with a towel is what most of us do but be sure to avoid excessive rubbing. Occlusive clothing that does not allow wicking of moisture should be avoided or at least changed frequently if you find yourself in damp duds.

2. Did you know that there are two types of sweat glands?

Sweat glands are found in greater numbers in specific body locations. Eccrine sweat glands which are plentiful in the underarms (aka axilla) produce a clear, odorless (yes at its source, sweat is not smelly) liquid that we know as sweat. This very important to help us maintain good health by keep our body temperature in check and avoid us from overheating. If we could not regulate our body temperature, there could be serious consequences. The other type of sweat gland is called the apocrine gland. This gland does produce an output that is oily and can be odorous. Apocrine glands along with eccrine glands are found in all of those odor-prone body parts like the armpits, feet, and around the genitals/skin folds.

3. Sweat Itself Isn't the Culprit

Contrary to popular belief, sweat itself doesn't at its source, have an unpleasant odor. It's the combination of sweat, specific bacteria, sebum oil/wax produced by the skin, and skin debris that all tolled, creates the smell. These elements undergo chemical breakdown facilitated by specific bacteria, leading to the foul odor , owing to sulfur compounds, chemically speaking, that can linger on the skin or even embed in the fibers of clothing. That is why the musty stinky scent feels like it follows you around.

4. Maintain a Slightly Acidic pH

Maintaining the skin's pH level at around 5.5 (slightly acidic) can help prevent the formation of odor. This acidity level, along with other constituents of the skin's microbiome, form a protective barrier called the acid mantle. Preserving this barrier is essential for eliminating the source of odor. Opt for gentle cleansers with a neutral or slightly acidic pH, like Surface Deep Skin Wash, which contains glycolic acid. Avoid using soaps that leave your skin feeling excessively clean or "squeaky," as they may disrupt the skin's pH balance and lead to irritation and odor. Even antibacterial soap may not help as these may target the bacteria causing odor but will also eradicate the bacteria that is beneficial to the skin. It’s all about balance. A too high pH or too low pH should be avoided. How do you know the pH of your product? You can look up the ingredients and research yourself. Or seek cleanser and deodorant products that say “pH balanced”, or those that contain low percentages of acidic ingredients such as glycolic acid, lactic acid or salicylic acid. Be sure that the product is also safe for sensitive skin by containing soothing elements such as aloe.

5. Avoid Residue and Build-Up

Residue and build-up on the skin surface can contribute to body odor. You may have heard of “deodorant detox”. This has become a trending subject because almost all products we apply to our armpits are leaving a residue, even if its a “natural” product. This day after day layering of ingredients on the skin will ultimately block pores and cause folliculitis and other rashes. Keep it simple and avoid compounding multiple layers of deodorant on the skin. Allow the skin to “breathe” by taking a product vacation. Or, use Surface Deep Anti Odorant Pads®. These not only eliminate odor causing elements, but the formula does the opposite of layering residue on the skin. It actually gently exfoliates, removing elements that accumulate on the skin. So with regular use of this brand, no need for “detox”.

6. Embrace Sweat, Skip the Aluminum

You don't need to resort to antiperspirants containing aluminum to combat body odor. These aluminum containing products are primarily designed for individuals with excessive sweating or those with hyperhidrosis . Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition of too much sweating that affects 4.8 % of the United States population. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27744497/

Those suffering from this over production of sweat find everyday activities can be impacted especially if the sweating affects the hands which can make the simple act of holding on to things or shaking hands, challenging.. In the case of a true medical condition, antiperspirants such as Carpe® are a must. However, the average person who simply wants to smell fresh, it's best to embrace sweat rather than block sweat ducts. Sweating at night during sleep can be a sign of a medical condition. Seek medical advice if this is your concern.

7. Watch Your Diet

Certain foods can influence body odor. Pay attention to the impact of foods like broccoli, cabbage, red meat, onions, and garlic on your body odor. While some of these fall into the cruciferous vegetable category, known for their health benefits, they can increase the risk of unpleasant odors when digested due to sulfur content. Keep a food journal to track any patterns between your diet and body odor, but don't completely eliminate these foods from your meals. Unfortunately some of the most nutrient dense foods are also potential causes of temporary uptick in personal smelliness. An insight that a particular food may be the culprit in body odor is bad breath. Your breath may offer clues to how you digest foods and be a window into your gut health. So foods can affect both breath as well as affect body odor. If your gut microbiome is unbalanced, or suffer from “leaky gut syndrome” adjusting what you eat can make incredible improvement. Speak to a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor for help with this.

8. Hormonal Influence

Fluctuations in hormone levels can also contribute to changes in body odor. Understanding hormonal changes can help you better manage and address any odor concerns you may experience. At puberty/adolescence, with pregnancy and then later in life/during middle age you can be most at risk for hormonal swings that get your attention. Earlier mentioned apocrine glands are known to present themselves in puberty and are highly responsive to hormone signals within the body. But eccrine glands too can produce more sweat based on hormone surges. We tend to produce more sweat when we are anxious owing in part to sudden changes and hormonal signals that are picked up by receptors in the skin that stimulate the sweating response and we get damp hands, face etc under duress. Hot flashes, known all too well by those in or near menopause, can lead to excess sweat and also to body odors. See your doctor if you are experiencing these problems.

9. Clean Skin

Believe it or not, you can have what appears to be squeaky clean skin and have bad odor and conversely you can miss a couple of showers and smell fine. This is because personal hygiene lapses can certainly add to odor issues but improper skin care and over cleansing is not recommended either. Poor hygiene is on one end of the spectrum but too much soap, scrubbing and excessive showering and bathing can also cause skin to be at risk for rashes and odors. The skin has a delicate balance known as the microbiome. Too little or too much cleansing of the skin can alter this and lead to body odor. Rule of thumb, use gentle body wash which does not contain detergents and one that does not strip your skin of its built in protective layer. While moist skin areas are certainly prone to bad odors, dry skin or flaky skin can equally produce unwanted smell. Check your wash cloth. While using a gentle washcloth or sponge in the shower or bath can be useful, be aware of not over scrubbing the skin which can disrupt the skin’s barrier function. Also, be sure that those items you are using, like a washcloth, sponge or shower brush which you have been using repeatedly are not harboring yeast or bacteria themselves. Best to keep changing out or cleaning those items and maintain good hygiene for your shower as well as your body.

10. Medical causes of body odor

If you suffer from body odor that has proven to be very stubborn and defies all suggestions and treatments, its time to see your doctor. First stop, your dermatologist. They can determine whether its a profuse sweating issue, like hyperhidrosis or only an odor issue known as bromhidrosis or both. Different steps will be taken depending on the diagnosis. But it is important to distinguish the difference between these too which often are completely separate concerns.

Too much sweat = hyperhidrosis — use antiperspirants as first line treatment to limit sweat

Too much body odor = bromhidrosis — no need to use antiperspirants, if odor only, use deodorant

Note: if you suffer from hyperhidrosis your dermatologist will determine if its primary or secondary hyperhidrosis. In Primary hyperhidrosis, which means the sweating is the primary issue with no other medical complications or causes, there are treatment options such as over-the counter or prescription antiperspirants, oral medications such as glycopyrrolate, Botox injections, Mira Dry ® and in extreme circumstances, some suffering with hyperhidrosis even seek a surgical option which is only advised for very few, selected patients who have a life-altering form excess sweating (eg due to sweaty hands, cannot hold onto steering wheel). Secondary hyperhidrosis means the sweating is the side effect of a medication or a symptom of an underlying systemic disease or health condition that requires proper work up. If your doctor suspects this, they will take a very careful medical history and ask you about medications and supplements you take and may do blood tests or other diagnostic studies to determine if you suffer from any disease of the thyroid like overactive thyroid , kidney disease, kidney failure, liver disease, lymphoma, adrenal gland abnormality, gastrointestinal / digestive problems, neurologic condition and others that may cause body odor changes.

11. Antiperspirant vs. Deodorant

Antiperspirants prevent perspiration which means they block sweat from reaching the skin. To accomplish this, these products contain aluminium which creates a plug in the sweat duct temporarily which keeps skin dry. Dry skin may or may not also mean odor free skin. It all depends on your personal physiology. Use antiperspirant if you suffer from much too much sweat/moisture. Deodorants that do not say “antiperspirant’ on the label and do not contain aluminum, do not stop sweat but they mask odor with fragrance. This is why they almost invariably your deodorant is highly scented, to offset the body odor smell. Natural deodorant applies to those products that do not contain aluminum. Use a deodorant if you wish to mask odors but do not wish to block sweat with aluminum.

12. Anti-Odorant

I have developed a new category: Surface Deep, Anti Odorant®, a product that does not block sweat (does not have aluminum) but it also does not cover up smell with perfume (does not have a masking scent). It prevents odor with a patented formula that is applied to the skin by pad or spray mist without leaving residue and blocks odor formation by creating a slightly acidic environment balanced by postbiotics that maintains the skin’s intended and barrier function. When the skin is balanced and at its desired set point—— no odor. http://www.surfacedeep.com

By implementing these tips, you can effectively combat body odor naturally. Remember, finding the right products with a suitable pH balance, promoting good hygiene practices, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key steps towards odor-free living.