With summer comes sweaty, smelly bodies. Aimee Wice talks to skin and nutrition expert Fiona Tuck and dermatologist Dr. Sally de Zwaan about how to stay dry and fresh.
Wetness and odour: the what and why
“Sweating is the physiological response to increased body temperature during exercise or exposure to external heat,” explains Dr. de Zwaan. “It reduces the body’s temperature by evaporating, which causes heat loss from the body. Every person has between two and 24 million sweat glands that span the entire surface of the body, which can produce up to ten litres of sweat in a day.”
So, what exactly is sweat comprised of? “Water, electrolytes (salts), small amounts of heavy metals, medications and organic compounds,” the doctor reveals. And it’s an extremely important response: “failure of this mechanism can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke or hyperthermia.”
But all sweat is not created equal — there are three different types of sweat glands on the body, which each produce a different kind of sweat. Eccrine glands, which are all over the body, are usually odourless and control the body’s temperature; apoeccrine glands are concentrated in the armpits, and are related to excessive sweating; and apocrine glands found in the armpits and also in the groin are odour producing — as this type of sweat is secreted, it’s mixed with sebum (natural oil) found in sebaceous glands, where resulting bacteria produces the odour.
How to prevent and treat wetness and odour
“Certain foods like garlic and curry, alcohol, medications, toxins or rare metabolic disorders can result in unpleasant body odour,” Dr. de Zwaan advises. “Removing underarm hair to prevent bacteria accumulating on hair shafts can also help, as does obvious, simple tips like changing soiled clothing and using perfume or aftershave.”
Tuck adds, “areas prone to warmth and moisture, particularly the underarms, are more prone to body odour, which is why most of us wear an antiperspirant. Antiperspirants actually inhibit perspiration in the area that they’re applied to, and therefore reduce wetness and bacteria. Deodorants, on the other hand, help to mask the smell, but don’t stop the actual perspiration.”
Dr. de Zwaan recommends washing your armpits frequently with antibacterial wash to help diminish smell, and using an aluminium chloride hexhydrate product, such as Driclor. This antiperspirant can work in as little as one week, and can be applied to the underarms, feet or palms. When applied nightly, the treatment helps diminish the amount of sweat your glands produce over time, and frequency of use can be tapered off to once or twice a week. Unfortunately, irritation and rash are common after use of this type of product, which can limit its effectiveness.
Tuck suggests Mitchum, which is a lightweight gel that is both an antiperspirant and deodorant and is meant for daily use. “It’s what I use. It works well, and it never leaves wet patches, white marks or smells.”
If you’re looking for natural alternatives, Dr. de Zwaan suggests choosing a deodorant that contains specific antimicrobial ceramics, such as zeolite antimicrobial ceramics and calcium phosphate antimicrobial ceramics. Try Australian-made Black Chicken Remedies Axilla Deodorant Paste, which contains zeolite. This antimicrobial mineral combats axillary bacteria, which is what causes underarm odour.
Lush also offers a number of amazing and naturally-powered sweat fighters, like the charcoal and lycopodium powder The Guv’ner. Giving you the ability to govern your body odour, this vegan magic dust is simply sprinkled into palms and patted into pits (or anywhere else on the body). Although dark in colour, it won’t ever come off on clothes (even whites!) and is subtly and pleasantly scented with vetivert, patchouli and sage.
For a fresher, brighter and yet still natural take, reach for Lush’s T’eo Solid Deodorant. Rubbed right into skin, this hardworking bar instantly absorbs dampness and funk with fresh green grapes, juniper and citrus essential oils. Tea tree and lemongrass oils offer antibacterial and antiseptic benefits, which keep you clean and smelling fresh.
If you’re after a natural deodorant that works hard, Erica Brooke’s Deodorant Cream Him & Her (available online at orli.com.au) is a good option. Full of organic essential oils,
you only need a pea-sized amount massaged into each armpit to keep you smelling fresh all day long.
The amusingly named No Pong (nopong.com)is another unisex cream that only needs a small bit applied to each armpit after your shower. Made from 100% organic ingredients including coconut oil, baking soda, beeswax and a blend of essential oils, it has a pleasant citrus smell that doesn’t overpower other fragrances you’re wearing.
Tuck also suggests eating a clean diet and reducing your intake of processed and junk foods. Chlorella powder can help to alkalise the body and acts as an internal cleanser and deodoriser — simply add it to smoothies or juices. And don’t forget to wash your sneakers and running shoes to remove the odour and bacteria, which can easily build up when exercising and sweating. You can also look at foot sprays and powders to reduce unpleasant smells.
If summer time sweating is excessive, you may be suffering from a condition known as hyperhidrosis. Focal hyperhidrosis refers to excessive sweating in small areas, such as the palms, soles of the feet, or armpits, and can be brought on by heat, exercise or emotional stress. There are a number of clinical treatments for this disorder, and options should always be discussed with your doctor first. Dr. de Zwaan mentions a few, such as a prescription topical glycopyrrolate, anticholinergic tablets (such as propantheline or oxybutynin) and treatment via a machine that uses a technique called iontophoresis, which introduces ionic medicinal compounds into the body through the skin by applying a local electric current and reduces sweating.
Another option both Tuck and Dr. de Zwaan mention for those suffering distress from excessive underarm sweating is Botox. If a dermatologist administers the therapy in the underarms (but not on other sites), it’s now rebated by Medicare and recognised as a top choice for stopping wetness, and, therefore, odour.