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What's That Smell? How to Keep Body Odors at Bay

What's That Smell?
How to Keep Body Odors at Bay

How Body Odors Happen
Pit Patrol
Fresh Feet
Sweet Breath
Genital Odors

It seems like just yesterday you could run around all day and still smell great afterward. Now, all of a sudden you're noticing a not-so-pleasant smell coming from your armpits, feet, and maybe even groin area. Or you've been noticing that you wake up in the morning with anything but sweet-smelling breath. Rest assured, what you're experiencing is normal. back to top

How Body Odors Happen
You have sweat glands in your armpits, feet, groin area, and mouth. As you hit puberty, these sweat glands rev into action and make you sweat when you're hot. When the sweat hits the surface of your skin, it's attacked by the bacteria that live on your skin (which is completely normal). As the bacteria increase, they form chemicals that create the odor. Most of your sweat glands are in your armpits, which explains why the odor is strongest there.

Keeping odors at bay is easy. Just follow these guidelines. back to top

Pit Patrol
The underarms contain lots of sweat glands, called apocrine glands. The glands produce sweat when you're overheated, and also produce sweat when you're excited, aroused, scared, or nervous, like before a big test. Here's how to squelch odors:
  • Wash your underarms frequently with an antibacterial (also called deodorant) soap. It can help kill the odor-causing bacteria.
  • Apply an antiperspirant or an antiperspirant-deodorant combination under your arms every day. Antiperspirants help you sweat less and reduce the odor-causing bacteria. Deodorants alone just cover up smells, and they don't work very well.
  • Shave under your arms. Hair can trap bacteria and increase the odor. Be careful when shaving, and don't apply antiperspirant to broken skin because it will sting.
  • Change out of sweaty clothes as soon as you can.
  • If none of these measures work to control sweating, see your health professional, who can prescribe stronger antiperspirants. back to top
Fresh Feet
The feet have lots of sweat glands called eccrine glands. These glands produce sweat when they get overheated. Try these tips for sweat-free feet:
  • Always wear clean socks. If your socks get very sweaty, say after soccer practice, change into a clean pair right away.
  • Powder up. Dusting your feet with an odor-absorbing powder before you put on your socks can help minimize sweat and odors.
  • Try a foot deodorant or antiperspirant if odors persist. They are available in drugstores.
  • Wear breathable shoes or sandals, made of materials like cotton or canvas, whenever you can. Shoes made of non-breathable materials like vinyl and leather cause feet to sweat even more.
  • If none of these things work to control your sweating feet, see your health professional, who can prescribe stronger antiperspirants. back to top
Sweet Breath
Bad breath happens for a lot of reasons. The most common form of bad breath is "morning breath." During the day, you keep your mouth fresh in part by eating and drinking, which stimulates the flow of saliva. But at night, there's no action in your mouth, and that gives skin cells and bacteria a chance to build up. Other causes of bad breath include eating foods like garlic and onions, smoking, decaying teeth, an infection near the mouth, and bad hygiene habits. More rarely, bad breath can be caused by a disease. Here's how to keep your breath smelling sweet:
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Brushing after every meal is ideal if you can manage it.
  • Floss your teeth every night. Bits of food caught in your teeth can start to rot and cause smells.
  • Brush your tongue. Gently brushing your tongue can remove odor-causing bacteria. There are also tongue-scrapers out there (no, they're not torture devices) made just for this purpose. They look kind of like a curved metal wire with handles. You can get them from dentists and at some drugstores.
  • Don't rely too heavily on mints and mouthwashes. While they might have some temporary effect, they only mask odors; they don't get rid of them. In addition, mouthwashes that have alcohol tend to dry out your mouth, setting in motion the build-up of bacteria that you're trying to prevent in the first place.
  • If you notice a bad smell that won't go away, see your dentist or a health professional. back to top
Genital Odors
Like your armpits, your genital area contains apocrine sweat glands. They produce sweat when you're overheated, nervous, excited, or scared. While some odor in this area is normal, any fishy or strong odors should be checked out by your health professional.

Here's how to ward off everyday odors:
  • Wash your genital area daily with a mild soap. Deodorant soaps are too harsh for this delicate area.
  • Wear cotton underwear. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester trap air and moisture, which can contribute to odors.
  • Beware of pantyhose. They can increase sweating in the genital area.
  • Don't use vaginal deodorants or feminine hygiene sprays. These products can irritate the sensitive skin in the genital area.
  • Skip douching. Despite what those commercials say, douching is not necessary. In fact, it's not a good idea. According to some experts, douching can increase the risk of yeast infections and can upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina. back to top
Learn more about:
herbs for body odor
your skin explained

Last Modified Date: 4/2/2001
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