Keeping underarm odour under control

Keeping underarm odour under control

Monday, December 09, 2019

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IT'S not a pleasant situation to be in — cute as a button, dressed to the nines, and smelly as a skunk. Out of nowhere you notice large sweat stains on your shirt, and the odour that is emanating from your underarms introduces you before you enter the room. You know from the pitiful expressions on the faces of your co-workers that they smell it too, but are too tactful to say it to you. But what happened? You've never been smelly in public before, so what changed? Could it be your hormones? Could it be your diet? Why would your favourite brand of deodorant betray you like this?

Dr Samantha Nicholson-Spence says it might just be that you need a product with a higher level of efficacy. It might very well be a case where you need to switch from a deodorant to an antiperspirant. But what's the difference?

“Deodorant is just a fragrance,” the internist explains. “It only provides a fragrance to mask the odour, but it doesn't stop sweating. It's the proliferation of sweat, followed by bacteria and dirt which get trapped in the sweat, that causes the odour that comes from the underarms. So you can mask the scent with deodorant, but what most people do is use an antiperspirant which stops sweating, which would therefore stop the odour from being created in the first place.”

To know how effective your product is you can check the label which usually tells if its an antiperspirant, a deodorant, or both. You can check the back of the label, too, for the active ingredients aluminium chlorohydrate and aluminium-zirconium tetrachlorohydrate gly, which are the most common active ingredients in commercial antiperspirants.

If you find that a particular brand or type of deodorant/antiperspirant no longer controls your odour like it used to, you might want to consider one that is marketed with men or athletes in mind. They are not necessarily better than the ones for women, but they sometimes contain more of the active ingredients, have stronger odour-masking fragrances, and contain more product, so you get more value for your money.

You might also want to consider whether there is an underlying cause for increased sweat production.

Dr Nicholson-Spence says that while there is not always a medical condition causing heavy sweating (hyperhidrosis), any changes in the body, health issue, or medication that is linked to excess sweating may increase body odour.

“During menopause and perimenopause, for example, many women experience hot flashes which may cause them to produce more sweat,” she says. “Conditions such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), obesity, tuberculosis and diabetic hypoglycaemia may also cause excess sweating to occur. Certain medication including stimulants may also cause this.”

She added: “Also, as children go into puberty the composition of the sweat glands change, so you get more of the odour-producing glands. The sweat composition changes and favours the bacteria, so the odour increases. This is completely natural and there is nothing to do about it but find a suitable antiperspirant/deodorant.”

Many people harbour fears when it comes to the odour-eliminating products, but the internist reassures that there is no need to fear them.

“While people have been suggesting that there might be a link between antiperspirant use and developing cancer such as breast cancer, that's merely a rumour and it is not based on evidence,” she pointed out. “There has not proven to be a direct link or causative link between the two, so there is nothing to fear.”

She emphasised that antiperspirants are not doing a disservice to the body by reducing the amount of sweat that is produced under the armpits.

“Sweat is primarily meant to cool down the body, not to remove waste,” she clarified. “So if it is that you are hot and sweat is produced and can't exit at the armpits because an antiperspirant was used, then it's just going to exit somewhere else.”

—Candiece Knight


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