Smell and feel fresh no matter what

Mackenzie Dunn Olivia Harvey
Updated June 30, 2020 8:18 am
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Now that we’ve traded sweater weather for straight-up sweat weather, you’ve probably been stocking up on antiperspirants and deodorants. But sometimes, even our tried-and-true products don't mask the stench that creeps up on us during the sweltering summer months. As anyone who's had a bad bout of B.O. will tell you, knowing you don't smell good is not fun. One study conducted by Devries Global found that 7 in 10 women who deal with body odor said that it negatively impacts their life. That's why we asked the experts to break down the science behind body odor, plus some tips for how to get rid of—or at the very least, reduce—it. These remedies will keep you feeling fresh even if the heat has you feeling, well, not so fresh.

What causes body odor?

While sweat can make you smelly, it isn’t meant to be a pesky part of life. "The purpose of sweat is to help your body maintain normal body temperature and cool you down when your body temperature goes up," says dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D.C.S.  This can occur in the setting of exercise, work, stress, or hot temperatures outside. She explains that our body is comprised of sweat glands that respond to signals from our brain to release sweat, which is why sometimes we'll even produce sweat when we're feeling nervous.

Body odor often occurs in conjunction with sweating. “Much like acne, which in part is the result of the action of bacteria on the skin, [body and] underarm odor is caused by bacteria that thrive in the ideal environment—a combination of sebum (oil) secreted by the body through the pores, and warm, moist skin," explains dermatologist Alicia Zalka, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine and Founder of Surface Deep. While sweat itself is generally odorless, it can create an unpleasant smell when it comes into contact with the bacteria and breaks it down into acids.

Luckily, there are ways you can reduce the amount you sweat as well as limit the number of bacteria that sits on your skin and turns into odor. Whether it's topical treatments, DIY solutions, or simple lifestyle changes, these expert-backed recommendations will help you feel and smell better—no matter how hot it is outside.

How to reduce body odor:

1. Try a natural deodorant

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Natural deodorant is a great alternative to standard deodorant, which can often contain chemicals and plug sweat glands to prevent you from sweating. Natural deodorants are great alternatives and are usually more gentle on the skin and free of ingredients like aluminum, parabens, and phthalates, so if regular deodorant makes your underarms burn try the natural route to help reduce odor. "Deodorants—unlike antiperspirants—do not eliminate wetness,” says Dr. Garshick, “but they do eliminate the smell that can be associated with sweat by trying to eliminate bacteria and providing a different scent to absorb any bad smelling odors.” Some of the most commonly used ingredients in natural deodorants include baking soda, coconut oil, zinc oxide, and mineral salts, along with magnesium, shea butter, tea tree oil, corn starch,  witch hazel, and aloe.

2. Use underarm pads

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Swap out your normal deodorant or antiperspirant for something a bit more heavy-duty with these cleansing and exfoliating pads that use plant-derived, odor neutralizing enzymes to promote balanced skin. They’re made with the AHA glycolic acid and anti-microbial peptides that work together to prevent odor-causing bacteria without blocking your pores. Plus, they’re aluminum- and baking soda-free, so they’re suitable for sensitive skin since these ingredients can sometimes cause irritation.  To use, simply swipe the pads under your clean, dry pits, then go about your day for long-lasting sweat and odor protection.

3. Create a DIY apple cider vinegar wash

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According to dermatologist Tess Mauricio, M.D., using some kind of antibacterial wash can help reduce body odor by killing some of that bacteria that may be living on the skin. If you sweat a lot during the day, Dr. Mauricio says that apple cider vinegar, which is naturally acidic and contains antimicrobial properties, may help. Simply saturate a cotton ball with a bit of the vinegar and gently apply it to clean pits. It can help kill odor-causing germs and prevent you from stinking later.

4. Wear lightweight, breathable fabrics

Dr. Garshick explains that wearing clothes made of light, breathable fabrics can help to reduce sweating since tighter clothing is more likely to trap heat and potentially cause you to perspire. Some synthetic fabrics can also trap sweat and bacteria and result in body odor, so especially in the summer, pay attention to the labels on your clothes. "There are sweat-wicking fabrics that help to absorb the sweat before the bacteria can affect it, reducing the chance of body odor, while some brands now incorporate technology into their workout gear to help prevent bacterial growth and reduce odor," she says.

5. Switch up your diet

Certain strong-smelling foods (like garlic and onions) may result in more pungent body odor, according to Dr. Garshick. "Additionally, some hot and spicy foods contain the chemical component capsaicin, which signals to the brain to interpret the hot taste as heat, which then triggers the body to try to cool off by sweating," she says. If you're prone to sweating and want to reduce body odor, you might want to lay off these types of foods during summer months.

6. Invest in Botox

If you experience excessive sweating in your underarms that is contributing to persistent body odor, you may suffer from a condition known as hyperhidrosis (which means abnormally excessive sweating). Dr. Mauricio explains that Botox is often a very effective treatment for people with hyperhidrosis and that just one treatment by your doctor or dermatologist can stop sweating for six months, along with doing wonders for keeping body odor at a minimum.