Where there’s skin, there’s sure to be sweat glands. Sudoriferous (sweat) glands are ubiquitous throughout the skin – except on the nail beds, eardrums, margins of the lips, and the tips of the penis and clitoris – reaching a density in places as high as 3000 per square inch. In other words, there’s no escaping sweat.
A full two percent of human respiration takes place through skin. Perspiration is our body’s temperature regulating mechanism as well as secondary waste elimination system.
What causes body odor?
Sweat is a mixture of water, salts, urea, sugar and some rich organic acids and is not, in and of itself, terribly offensive. The familiar armpit aroma that we all know so well is the result of the decomposition of sweat by odor-causing bacteria that thrive in warm, moist environments. (So you see, it’s not exactly your fault at all!) Diet has an effect on the composition of sweat. A diet that depends on many rich foods may result in perspiration containing rich waste products. In other words, more food for the odor-causing bacteria.
“Diet’s impact on body odor is apparent,” says essential oil manufacturer Ann Guidry, based in Austin, Texas, “though maybe not clearly apparent. Some people can detect slight variations in olfactory chemistry better than others, just like some people have better vision or hearing than others.” However, since there is no avoiding the pathogenic bacteria that decompose sweat, any metabolically active person is going to produce characteristic underarm odor.
Deodorants vs. Antiperspirants
Deodorants and antiperspirants are both effective against odor, but there are significant differences. Whereas deodorants work to conceal perspiration odors, antiperspirants go a step further and control the source of moisture by lowering underarm pH. Antiperspirants commonly rely on the chemical activity of aluminum salts. The metal salts mix with perspiration inside the sweat glands and form a temporary barrier to the flow of sweat.
Deodorants frequently use ammonium compounds to limit the activity of bacteria and fragrances to mask underarm odor. The aluminum, alcohol, dyes and zinc salts in many deodorants and antiperspirants have been linked to skin and gastrointestinal irritations. Natural ingredients, on the other hand, blend in with body chemistry more efficiently than their synthetic counterparts. Several natural products companies, such as Queen Helene, Jason, Tom’s of Maine and Desert Essence, offer deodorant alternatives that avoid synthetic ingredients and potential irritants.
Natural deodorant compounds take advantage of the odor-fighting and fragrant qualities of herbal extracts such as lichen and sage and essential and botanical oils, such as lavender, peppermint, cedarwood, coriander, lemongrass and ylang ylang. Other popular natural ingredients, relied on for their antiseptic and skin care qualities, include vitamin E, aloe vera, tea tree oil and jojoba. Some deodorants contain sodium bicarbonate, which is a mild alkali that absorbs odor by neutralizing acid byproducts of bacteria. In a pinch, a simple and effective, back-to-basics alternative is to apply talc-free, unscented cornstarch or antibacterial body powder to sweat-prone areas to keep them dry.
Sweat is your body’s natural cooling system, yet body odor is far from cool. But you can fend off odor and dampness with a healthy lifestyle and natural body care products.
- Eat a healthy diet – rich, fatty diets may cause body odor.
- Natural deodorants offer odor protection without synthetic ingredients and potential irritants.
- Or apply talc-free, unscented cornstarch or antibacterial body powder to sweat-prone areas to keep them dry.