The truth about body odor and how to prevent it

Body odor is caused by bacteria that live on your skin and turn your sweat into rank-smelling acids. You can’t eliminate these bacteria (at least not without severe antibiotics and their attendant side-effects), but you can reach a state of rapprochement with the enemy by bathing daily and using a deodorant or antiperspirant. Some people use these terms interchangeably, so I want to make sure we distinguish them.

Deodorants do just that: de-odorize, mainly by attempting to kill the bacteria, most often via alcohol. Obviously, if you sweat a lot, eventually these anti-bacterial chemicals will be washed away and the bacteria will return, but if you’re not very active during the day (aside from when you exercise, obviously), deodorant may suffice.

Anti-perspirants are a sub-category of deodorants. They have the same germ-killing properties of deodorants, but they also block your body’s sweat glands. I don’t want to sound like one of those paranoid people that think everything is carcinogenic, but this just strikes me as a little bit extreme and unnatural, especially since it’s really the bacteria, not the sweat, that cause body odor. Beside, I’ve never found an anti-perspirant that could actually stop me from sweating. Nevertheless, if regular deodorants are not working for you, give anti-perspirant a try. The most effective one I’ve found is Mitchum (I like the unscented, sensitive-skin variety). It never stopped me from sweating, but it did an awesome job at keeping odor away.

Another obvious approach would be to just try to reduce the amount of sweat in your arm pits. Here are some ways to sweat less:

  • Wear 100% cotton undershirts and underwear. Cotton breathes, keeping you cool so you sweat less, and it also absorbs sweat, so less of it is sitting there in your armpit irrigating the bacteria colonies. There’s really no need to wear polyester or polyester-blend shirts on top of your undershirts either — textile manufacturers are doing wonderful things with cotton these days.
  • Trim your arm pit hair — the less hair you have, the faster the sweat will evaporate. I don’t recommend shaving it off because it looks weird, and armpit stubble is really uncomfortable, but most men have way too much armpit hair and it’s becoming socially acceptable to trim it or remove it.
  • Try to improve your heat tolerance — After three years of living in boiler-heated New York buildings, I find any temperatures below 78 degrees a bit chilly. Yes, this makes me side with the girls in the office who are constantly complaining about how cold it is, but you must admit: it’s a lot easier to put on a sweater than to try to cool off in a hot room. When summer comes around, try to see how long how you can last without turning on the air conditioner. And don’t set the thermostat lower than 75 degrees if you can help it.
  • Relax and keep a positive attitude — Getting stressed out about how hot it is will only make you sweat more. Try to remain calm and realize that it’s really not that hot. Think of the troops in Iraq, where it’s regularly above 100 degrees. That’ll put things into perspective. Or think about how lucky you are that you’re not living in Alaska, next door to the Palins.


One thought on “The truth about body odor and how to prevent it

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>