Dr. Nina Radcliff
Usted tiene axilas apestosas. Avete ascelle puzzolenti. Mayroon kang kilikili amoy.
Let’s face it — telling someone, or having someone tell us, that “you have stinky armpits” doesn’t sound good no matter what language is used. So what’s behind the stink?
To Decrease Bromhidrosis (the medical term for chronically unpleasant underarm odor): What is sweat?
A clear, salty liquid (98 percent water, 2 percent dissolved salts and waste products) that is produced by glands in our skin. On average, we have 2.6 million sweat glands. They are found throughout our body EXCEPT in our lips, nipples, and external genitalia. Fun fact: the lining of our outer ear has modified sweat glands that produce earwax.
Why do we sweat? For most intents and purposes, we sweat to cool off (e.g., hot weather, exercise); it is our body’s built-in air-conditioning system.
Here’s the science: when sweat evaporates from the surface of our skin, heat goes with it and allows us to cool off. When it is humid, our body is less efficient at decreasing its temperature. Humidity means that the air is saturated with water vapor and cannot take any more. In other words, sweat cannot evaporate and take the heat with it. Fun fact: we are constantly sweating, although we do not notice it.
Sweating can also be dependent on our emotional state — being nervous or scared. Most of us can attest to this when we speak in public, meet with our boss, or walk down the aisle.
Ok, I get why we sweat, but why does it stink? Sweat does not actually have an odor. The bacteria found in our armpits love to feed on our sweat and is responsible for the release of the unpleasant odor. Fun fact: Evolutionists believe that underarm odor helped attract primitive humans to their mates. My take on it: gone are those days!
Is it better to decrease how much we sweat or focus on the odor? That is the $64,000 question. Antiperspirants keep our armpits dry by decreasing sweating with ingredients that plug the sweat glands. It is recommended that it be applied at bedtime to allow for absorption so that its effects last throughout the following day. On the other hand, deodorants function to make our armpits hostile to bacteria while oftentimes adding a pleasant scent. Many underarm care products combine the beneficial effects of both an antiperspirant and deodorant. This gives us the best of both worlds. Fun fact: the FDA
classifies antiperspirants as drugs and deodorants as cosmetics.
What are some ‘do-it-yourself’ tips to decrease underarm odor? Rule of thumb: foods that have a strong aroma before we eat them are likely to linger in our system and contribute to unpleasant body odor; for example: garlic, curry, onions, blue cheese and cabbage.
Additionally, alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods can also stimulate body odor. Consider using an antibacterial soap when bathing and ensuring that armpits are dry before getting dressed.
That’s not enough; what are some alternative treatments? Although the name may suggest magical powers, there is science behind witch hazel and why it may help fight underarm odor. First, is that it is an astringent and contracts tissue, thereby decreasing the production of sweat. Second, the naturally refreshing scent can help fight unpleasant armpit odor. After showering, consider applying witch hazel with a cotton ball, or pre-soaked pad. Alternatively (or in addition), rubbing alcohol can kill off sweat-eating, odor-causing bacteria. Consider applying rubbing alcohol to our underarms after bathing. Be aware that it may cause irritation to the skin, especially after shaving.
Baking soda is not just for our refrigerators or kitty litter boxes. Its ability to naturally neutralize odors can help tackle our underarm stink. Consider applying baking soda to a clean, wet washcloth and then applying it to the underarms.
If these tips and tricks do not seem to do the trick, our doctors may consider some advanced therapies, including Botox injections (decrease the activity of muscles and overactive glands); iontophoresis (mild electric current is applied to disrupt the production of sweat); or oral or topical antibiotics (kills odor producing bacteria).
Gone are the days when underarm odor helped attract mates. In this day and age, we want to be “odor-free” so we can raise our arms to ask questions, when in church, or riding a roller coaster, without offending bystanders. Let’s not sweat it.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.
Dr. Nina Radcliff