Beat body odour: How to smell good all day

Sweating is a normal and essential bodily function but excessive perspiration and body odour can affect self-esteem and confidence. From harmonising hormones to applying antiperspirant; donning cool clothing to trying botox; we reveal the secrets to beating bothersome body odour, and share our top tips for smelling good all day.

What causes body odour?

Humans are distinguished sweaters. Unlike many other mammals, we have an extensive network of sweat glands that allow us to regulate body temperature without resorting to less discrete methods. Though sweat patches and body odour can be inconvenient, we’re grateful that we don’t have to pant our way through a midday meeting or dinner date with friends!

Surprisingly, not all types of sweat contribute to body odour. In fact, the human body has two types of sweat glands known as eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands are found all over the body and secrete the generally odourless, salty sweat associated with exercise. Apocrine glands are the main culprits of body odour and can be found in areas with hair follicles, most notably the armpits. These glands secrete a fattier sweat which is particularly favourable to bacterial growth. Odour occurs when this otherwise harmless bacteria breaks down the lipids and proteins in sweat into more stinky substances. For this reason, though children have eccrine sweat glands, BO first becomes noticeable in puberty when hair begins to grow on the body.

While sweating is a normal and essential bodily function, excessive sweating (known as hyperhidrosis) and stubborn body odour can eat away at confidence and self-esteem. In these cases, or if an individual notices a sudden change in their sweating habits (an unusual smell or sudden increase in sweating, for example), the NHS recommends consulting with a GP.

What about a fishy body odour?

Trimethylaminuria, otherwise known as ‘fish-odour syndrome’, is a rare genetic condition that means the gut is unable to break down a strong-smelling substance called trimethylamine.  While there is currently no cure, avoiding foods such as milk, seafood, eggs, beans and peanuts, using a prescription-strength antiperspirant, and washing skin with a slightly acidic soap (pH of 5.5 to 6.5) can improve symptoms.

Can probiotics help?

Why do some people smell worse than others? Research has shown that this might be down to our skin’s bacterial balance (also known as the microbiome). While the dominance of Staphylococcus epidermis seems to correlate with inoffensive and even floral body odours, those swarming with Corynebacterium tend to smell the worst. Research is underway to develop probiotic deodorants aiming to restore bacterial balance to pungent pits.

How to beat body odour and smell good all day

Don’t sweat it! Try our six tips for feeling and smelling fresh…

1. Develop a foolproof hygiene routine

Washing regularly will help to keep body odour at bay. Regularly shaving armpits can also help as it allows sweat to evaporate more quickly from the area, giving bacteria less time to flourish.

2. Reach for cool clothing

If excessive sweating is a problem, avoid tight clothing and man-made fabrics. Natural fibres such as cotton, wool and silk allow sweat to evaporate more easily, limiting bacterial growth. Anti-bacterial socks are also available for those struggling with smelly feet.

3. Apply antiperspirant

Finding your current deodorant close to useless? It’s interesting to note that the active ingredients in antiperspirants and deodorants differ. Deodorants use perfume to mask the smell of body odour, as well as alcohol (or another antibacterial agent) to kill bacteria. In contrast, antiperspirants typically contain aluminium chlorohydrate, which temporarily plugs pores, preventing sweating from occurring in the first place. If excessive sweating is a problem, antiperspirants (particularly the roll-on formulas) tend to be longer-lasting and more effective. If you’re having no luck with over-the-counter products, GPs can prescribe a stronger solution.
Read about the Wellbeing Team’s tried and trusted deodorants and antiperspirants…

Should I avoid parabens and aluminium? 

Many deodorants are now promoted as ‘paraben’ and ‘aluminium-free’. While effective marketing strategies (both have been incorrectly linked with increased breast cancer risk), there is no cause for concern in either case. For more information about parabens, be sure to read our tell-all article. In the case of aluminium, the EU Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety continues to deem aluminium chlorohydrate a safe, effective and non-invasive solution to excessive sweating. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence recommend it by prescription and there’s no convincing evidence to suggest that it increases breast cancer risk.

4. Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake

Though not detrimental to overall health, caffeine is a stimulant and can temporarily increase heart rate and activate sweat glands. Cutting back on coffee may help to prevent inconvenient sweat patches or body odour.

When a toxin enters our system, the body works to break down and excrete it as quickly as possible. Alcohol is one such ‘toxin’ and, while it’s mainly metabolised in the liver and disposed of in our urine, some is excreted in sweat. For this reason, we may notice increased sweating after one too many glasses of wine.

5. Restore hormonal balance

Hot flushes and night sweats are a common symptom of estrogen decline during the perimenopause and menopause. In these cases, supplementing estrogen with HRT can resolve the issue swiftly and safely.

For more information about HRT (including eligibility; the risks and benefits; and how to talk to your GP) be sure to download Liz’s bestselling e-book, The Truth about HRT. 

6. Medical intervention

When all else fails, removing overactive sweat glands can help to treat life-limiting sweating and body odour. It’s worth noting, however, that compensatory sweating in other areas of the body is a common side effect of such interventions.

Botox is also used as a more permanent antiperspirant as it blocks signals between the brain and sweat glands. This treatment is popular in those that need sweat-free palms at work (surgeons, for example) and involves between 10-20 injections to the affected area. Though not painless, the treatment tends to last between 6-9 months. 

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