If you’re wondering how to get rid of bad body odor naturally, read on. There are a number of natural remedies that work to reduce odors.
Most of us assume sweat is to blame for things like body odor, sweat-stained t-shirts, and smelly feet. But when it comes to body odor, the real culprit is bacteria.
And while sweat and bacteria are not inherently bad for you – they CAN make for an embarrassing odor. For most people, a daily shower, clean clothes, and a swipe of antiperspirant can keep unpleasant smells at bay. But those who sweat excessively, or who want to avoid aluminum-based products, may have a harder time staying fresh.
How Sweat Works
Sweating, also called perspiration, is the release of a salt-based fluid from your sweat glands. Sweating is a normal, necessary body function that helps you regulate your body temperature.1
Why Do You Sweat?
When your body heats up – whether it’s because of exercise, work, stress, or the outside temperature – your brain kicks into gear and tries to cool you down. It does this by sending a signal to emit liquid out of your body’s millions of sweat glands.2
Different Types of Sweat Glands
Now, whether that sweat will cause body odor depends on what type of sweat gland the perspiration is coming from. There are two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine.
Eccrine Sweat Glands
The majority of your sweat glands are called eccrine sweat glands. They’re located all over your body, and they produce a lightweight, odorless sweat that is mostly salt and water. Eccrine sweat glands secrete fluid onto the surface of your skin, where it’s meant to cool your body as it evaporates.3
Eccrine sweat glands can be found on:
- Soles of the feet
- Palms of your hands
Apocrine Sweat Glands
Apocrine sweat glands are typically larger and more productive than eccrine sweat glands.5They’re concentrated in the areas of your body where you have plenty of hair follicles, like the scalp or underarms.
Apocrine sweat glands open up into hair follicles. When they secrete fluid, it’s released through the hair opening in the skin.
The type of fluid they release is heavy and protein-rich. Unlike eccrine sweat, apocrine sweat is mostly released when your body is under emotional stress.6
The fluid itself is mostly odorless – until it comes into contact with the bacteria that normally lives on your skin. Bacteria can easily break down the protein in apocrine sweat. This combination of apocrine sweat and bacteria is what we know as body odor.7
What About Foot Odor?
Your feet produce a lot of sweat all day long. In fact, your feet have more sweat glands than any other part of your body. Plus, most of us keep our feet covered by shoes and socks all day, which makes it difficult for sweat to evaporate.8
When this built-up sweat and the normal bacteria on your feet mix, you can have a strong case of stinky feet.
What Causes Excessive Sweating?
Everybody sweats – it’s perfectly normal and natural. But a small percentage of the population suffers from a condition known as hyperhidrosis or “excessive sweating.” With hyperhidrosis, you sweat more than usual for no obvious reason.9
Typically, this is either a genetic condition caused by a different medical condition, or a side effect of medication. People with hyperhidrosis tend to experience symptoms such as:
- Clammy hands or feet
- Excessive sweating for no apparent reason
- Notable sweating from your underarms that soaks through and stains your clothes
- Sweating that interferes with your life or relationships10
Be sure to consult with your doctor if you’re concerned about hyperhidrosis – he or she will know what’s best for your own individual needs.11
Causes of Body Odor
Body odor occurs when the bacteria on your skin feed on the lipids from apocrine sweat glands. Bacteria tear apart the outer shells of the proteins in your sweat, which releases an odor. But why is some sweat more unbearable? Here are a few reasons:
- Some pungent foods containing fat-soluble compounds (i.e. red meat) can dissolve in your body fat and release into your sweat, causing it to smell.12
- Caffeinated drinks, like coffee or tea, can elevate your blood pressure and cause you to stress-sweat.
- Foods containing sulfur – like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage – can change your body odor.13
- When you’re nervous, the sweat you produce smells worse than exercise sweat. That’s because this sweat contains more apocrine secretions.14
- Synthetic fibers like rayon, polyester, and nylon make you smell worse because they trap bacteria.15
- Menopause, menstruation, and pregnancy can cause you to smell different.16
- Some medications can cause an increase in sweating and sweat smell.17
- Poor hygiene can allow bacteria to build up on your body, causing foul odors.18
Why Choose Natural Remedies Over Antiperspirants?
It may sound surprising – but if you suffer from body odor, your own antiperspirant or deodorant may be to blame.
Some studies have shown that antiperspirants can actually increase the level of odor-causing bacteria in your underarms.19 Others show just the opposite.20
Some people claim that chemicals like aluminum in antiperspirants can cause serious health issues.21 Yet many others say that it doesn’t.22,23 (As you can see, the results on this are inconclusive.)
In the end, you’ll want to listen to your own body and your doctor’s advice. If your deodorant is working just fine, stick with it. But if you’re stuck wondering how to eliminate body odor, be aware that there are plenty of natural solutions that could work for you.
How Can I Prevent Body Odor Naturally?
1. Change Your Diet
Your diet can have a huge impact on your body odor. Certain foods can alter the smell of your sweat when their components break down and combine with your skin’s bacteria. Many of these foods can also affect the smell of your breath.
Foods to avoid:
- Cruciferous veggies, like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and bok choy
- Meat, especially red meat
Foods to add:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Protein like eggs and tofu
- Low-carb dishes25
2. Drink More Water
Water flushes out toxins, which your body then removes through sweat, urine, and stool.26 When you’re trying to fight bad odor, you want to keep your body clear of toxins. Drinking plenty of water can also dilute the pungency of certain foods – like garlic, asparagus, and meat – that may make you stink.27
3. Apply Natural, Aluminum-Free Deodorants
Struggling to find a deodorant that works for you? Why not try going the natural route to fight body odor? These days, there are a ton of natural deodorants on the market. Natural deodorants range from crystal deodorants formulated from ammonium alum to baking soda and essential oils.
Most natural deodorants won’t stop you from sweating like an antiperspirant would, but they will combat the bacteria that makes you smell.
Popular deodorant ingredients, like tea tree essential oil and coconut oil, also have proven antibacterial properties.28,29
Test out a few natural deodorants and see how your body reacts. If you have sensitive skin, you may not be able to handle concentrated levels of baking soda. If you notice any irritation, stop using it immediately.
4. Shower Regularly
This may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to combat body odor and underarm odor is to make sure you’re showering regularly. Wash with soap and warm water. Keep your underarm area clean and bacteria-free to help improve your natural scent.
Try to shower right after you work out or sweat so the bacteria doesn’t linger and become trapped in your sweaty clothes.30
5. Wear Breathable Fabrics
Natural fabrics, like cotton and linen, are better than polyester, nylon, and rayon at keeping B.O away. Natural fibers breathe, allowing sweat and bacteria to evaporate.
Avoid fabrics that are too tight and trap sweat against the skin – especially when you’re working out. If you sweat excessively, opt for a moisture-wicking fabric.31
6. Take A Green Supplement
Consider adding a wheat grass, green tea, or a chlorophyll supplement to your daily vitamin routine. Wellness experts have long claimed that chlorophyll acts like an “internal deodorant,” getting rid of body odors from the inside.32 While more evidence is needed to confirm this belief, at least one scientific study supports this idea.33
Chlorophyll also aids in digestion by helping your body maintain healthy gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome can make you smell better.34
7. Check Your Gut Health
Body odor is formed by communities of bacteria that live on our skin.35 But this isn’t the only bacteria that affects what you smell like. Bacterial organisms are found elsewhere on your body too – like your mouth, your underarms, and your gut.36,37
Pay attention to levels of good bacteria on your body – this just may help out your odor problem.
How to promote good gut health:
- Eat a diverse range of foods38
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables39
- Eat fermented foods, like yogurt and kimchi40
- Take a probiotic supplement41
8. Other Natural Remedies
There are many other natural remedies you can apply directly to your underarms to help reduce odor. Here are a few you can try at home:
- Baking soda and cornstarch may help prevent wetness.42
- The citric acid in lemon can kill bacteria. Dilute lemon juice with water and spritz with a spray bottle.43
- Rub some apple cider vinegar on your underarms. ACV may help kill bacteria.44
- Apply rubbing alcohol to stinky shoes (but not directly onto your skin, as it’s too drying).
- Apply witch hazel to your skin – this can lower your body’s pH and kill bacteria.
Try It Yourself
If you’re ready to tackle your body odor, consider going the natural route. Always read the ingredients before you jump in – and if you have any questions about specific ingredients or potential drug interactions, run it by your doctor first.
As with anything new, try one remedy at a time and wait to see how your body reacts. Experiment with a few different methods and see if you can notice a difference in your own body odor. If you’re feeling really brave, ask your loved ones to see if they notice a difference too.
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