Have you noticed co-workers inch away ever so slightly when you lean in for a chat? Do friends wrinkle their noses around you, as if they’ve just smelled a rat? The less subtle might frantically fumigate the area with perfume, while others nose-dive into their necklines like shell-shocked turtles.
If these scenarios have you overcome by déjà vu, then the rat, my darling, is probably you.
Anthropologist Louis Leakey theorized that body odor actually helped cavemen survive in prehistoric times, effectively repelling predators the same way a skunk might. So, if you generally hate all other humans, marinating in your own musk is a good strategy. But if you’re not looking to alienate people, or retire to monkhood in a remote cave, you probably need to sweeten up your 'signature scent'.
Unfortunately, body odor is the kind of thing that’s super awkward to talk about, especially for women. The smell-er is scared to offend, and the smellee doesn’t even know they’re smelling offensive.
When I was at university, I had a classmate who carried around the stench of a thousand deceased sailors. Every day, I tried to stage a one-sided stank-ervention. On the first day, I casually whipped out my perfume and nonchalantly asked if she would like some, too. On the second, I pretended I’d received a free hamper I didn’t want. The star product in it? Surprise, surprise – deodorant! Sadly, my efforts were for naught, and her perfume a la putrid persisted. I realized that the only way to get past the situation without hurting her feelings – or my snout – was to establish distance. After all, this isn’t like telling a person they have food stuck in their teeth – it’s more intimate, more out of bounds. All the while, though, I asked myself the eternal question that many before me have asked: ‘Why the hell can’t she smell herself?!’
Well, as science would have it, our noses tires, too. In the same way you’ve learned to mute your mom after a lifetime of nagging, your nose loses sensitivity when it’s bombarded with the same molecules over and over – a sort of ‘Been There, Smelled That’ from your brain. That’s why a smell hits you when you first walk into the room, but goes unnoticed later. It’s also why your friend doesn’t realize she’s sweating so much onion and garlic, she could repel Dracula all the way back to Transylvania.
So what causes body odor and how do you curb it?
First things first, it’s important to draw the line between a passing scent and a problem. Smelling a little funky after cardio day at the gym is natural, and nothing a shower and some deo can’t sort out. What most people don’t know is that sweat itself is odorless – it’s bacteria that buddies up and makes it skunky. The number one reason for BO is a lack of personal hygiene, causing your bacteria to go from benign to beastly; no longer tamed by a simple shower. Other girls get it from their mama, genetically predisposed to body odor. Then there’s stress sweat, secreted from the apocrine glands situated in your pits and private bits. The gland creates a sort of mutant sweat, originating from hormones or stress, which persists even despite OCD-level personal hygiene. To swat away this kind of smell, make sure you always have deodorant at the ready, and ask your doctor to prescribe you a medicated antiperspirant.
You know the adage, ‘you are what you eat?’ Well, it turns out – you AIR what you eat, too. Garlic- and spice-heavy food releases sulfuric gases when broken down, leaving you stinky a couple hours later, so avoid hitting the curry when you’re due a date or meeting. Going on a drinking bender? Don’t expect to wake up smelling like roses. If you binge, your liver’s going to expel through smell – stinky breath and sweat guaranteed.
Sometimes though, BO ain’t as benign – it can be an indicator of a medical condition like an overactive thyroid gland, diabetes, liver or kidney disease. If your BO persists despite all your efforts, you should probably visit the doctor to rule out the above.
With our teeming population and steamier weather, it’s harder to keep BO at bay, whether it’s yours or someone else’s – ever had a near-death experience in a train compartment whilst sandwiched between several – ahem – ‘aromatic’ armpits? I feel you, sister!
But while you can’t control every errant odor-offender in your environment, you certainly can take charge of your own. For one thing, this ain’t Iceland – a shower or two every day is non-negotiable. If you’re a repeat offender, switch your regular soap with an antibacterial one like Dettol Cool Soap
, and prescribe to an industrial-strength deodorant or antiperspirant like Dove Original Antiperspirant Deodorant for Women
. Natural remedies like sage, peppermint oil or apple cider vinegar (St.Botanica Apple Cider Vinegar
) applied topically can work wonders. If none of the above work, there’s also – and we kid you not – Botox injections that block sweat-inducing chemicals in your underarms.
Other than that, wear breathable fabrics, shave sweat-prone areas, and in the words of a wise man or bumper sticker I read once, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and you won’t have to pet the sweaty stuff.”
Smell you later, folks!