Smelly Pits? Let's Talk About It.

 Photo Source: Billie

Photo Source: Billie

Ever been at an airport or supermarket and a certain smell brought you right back to to that time you had a crush on that cutie in third grade? The power of smell is real, folks. And that’s why there is so much power in understanding our own body odors so we can embrace and manage all our ‘smellz.’

What causes body odor?

On to the science! Body odor is caused by bacteria breaking down sweat and is largely linked to the apocrine glands, which are found in the breasts, genital area, eyelids, armpits, and ears. The apocrine glands are mainly responsible for body odor because the sweat they produce is high in protein, which bacteria can break down easily. (1) Who knew that protein can “smell” comin’ out of our bodies?!?! Bacteria loves to break down protein, therefore, it loves to smell!

Deodorant vs. Antiperspirant? THEY AIN’T THE SAME!

What is the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant? Because they ain’t the same thang! Simply put, deodorants prevent body odor by stopping the breakdown of bacteria in the pits. Most deodorants work by making the skin more acidic so that bacteria can’t survive. Soooo…. Deodorant neutralizes the smell of sweat, but it doesn't block sweat production. (Deodorant = still sweating, but smellin’ nice).

Antiperspirant, in contrast, attempts to plug your sweat ducts to stop you from sweating. They do that by including astringents to reduce sweat production by typically using a form of aluminum which is what temporarily plugs the glands. To be considered an antiperspirant, a product MUST contain aluminum. Therefore, because there is no aluminum in deodorant, natural deodorants are not considered antiperspirants. (3) (Antiperspirants = not as much sweat, so you may have a lil’ B.O. smell lingering).

How is natural deodorant different?

After clearing the air about product differences, let’s learn about the chemicals and ingredients that we are filling our pits with!

Did you know that mainstream “organic, all natural product” brands like Tom’s of Maine that have spearheaded the natural deodorant charge still include suspect ingredients (like propylene glycol) in their formula to give the deodorant a slick consistency (even though they derive it from more natural sources, it still falls in the “iffy” bucket). Once in the bloodstream, trace amounts propylene glycol have been linked to kidney and liver damage.

Other natural deodorant brands take the commitment one step further to eliminate all chemicals and toxins. Common ingredients in natural deodorants:

  • Powder or starch for absorption and odor control: Powders like baking soda and arrowroot not only absorb wetness, but they also kill bacteria causing odor.

  • Essential oils for antiseptic effects and scent: Essential oils also have antibacterial properties that fight odor before it starts. These include rosemary, sage, lemongrass and tea tree oil. These oils also add a natural scent to deodorants, and *may* cause a little sensitivity for those with more sensitive skin.

  • Wax for texture: Don’t be alarmed if you find ingredients like beeswax or candelilla wax in your natural deodorant. These natural ingredients add the glossy consistency you’re used to in regular deodorants.

  • Probiotics for bacterial balance: Probiotics are often used in deodorants in order to crowd out bad bacteria and restore bacterial balance.

  • Activated charcoal for absorption: Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been treated to increase the amount of oxygen it contains. The infusion of oxygen makes the charcoal more porous so that it has more surface area with which to absorb bad odors (4)

What to avoid in your ingredients list when picking your poison? Fragrance, talcum powder (linked to cancer) and propylene glycol as discussed (6).

We can smell what you eat!

Garlic and onions probably come first to mind. The volatile sulfurous substances, like allicin, in garlic and onions cause their odor to linger on for hours after we eat them. Mint and turmeric also contain volatile compounds that our bodies release through our sweat. These compounds are absorbed into our blood and our lungs after digestion, giving us not only bad body odor but bad breath as well. (2) Also, people with diets high in meat (specifically read meat) often struggle a bit more with body odor (5).

Pro-tip: If the flora in your intestinal tract is out of balance, it can lead to body odor. Adding more probiotics into your diet (via a supplement or via probiotic rich foods like Kombucha) can help help to neutralize your odor.

TL;DR: How to eliminate body odor naturally

Number one tip: take a look at how your food may be affecting your B.O. We know this may seem obvious, but when armpits have hair, it slows down the evaporation of sweat, which gives the bacteria more time to break it down into smelly substances. Shaving the armpits regularly has been found to help body odor control in that area (1). You can keep your beautiful long locks down there, just be aware of why you may smellin’ a little bit!

So listen, we all have different bodies, different daily routines, different commutes to work, and different stress levels that cause us to sweat (read: sparkle). So with that in mind, pick your poison!