Buying deodorant is more complex than just wearing what smells nice. Health journalist and personal trainer Cassie White investigates how to choose the right one to banish stinky pits for good.
No-one likes the smelly person at the squat rack. You know the one — dripping with sweat and heaving through every set. Then they walk around during their rest periods, followed closely by a stench that singes your nose hair.
Now be honest: are you that person?
If so, it’s all not all bad. In fact, the solution to your BO issue could be as simple as trying a different deodorant. But first, it’s time to get schooled on the anatomy of sweat.
All about sweat
We have two kinds of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Our bodies are covered with eccrine glands and they produce sweat when we’re hot, such as during exercise. This sweat is cool — it doesn’t stink.
Then we have the less-cool apocrine glands, which are concentrated around our armpits and groin.
“Bad body odour is caused by the secretion from apocrine glands,” explains dermatologist Dr Liz Dawes-Higgs from Northern Sydney Dermatology. “They’re larger than eccrine glands and continually secrete fluid, even when you’re not exercising.”
The substance apocrine glands secrete is different to sweat. The secretion itself doesn’t pong: bacteria on our skin break it down and that’s what causes the smell. “That process can take a few hours to occur,” says Dawes-Higgs.
Which means your best bet in preventing BO is to constantly remove that secretion,
so bacteria doesn’t get the chance to produce that stench, she says.
Simple, best-practise ways to do that is to “use an antiseptic bodywash that contains benzoyl peroxide a few times a week, to cut down on bacteria — especially in the peak of summer,” recommends Dr Brian Morton from the Australian Medical Association.
“And shave, or at the very least cut short the hair under your arms and in your groin to reduce the surface area bacteria can hang out in,” he says.
So, now that you know what causes BO, you can figure out the best product to keep you smelling fresh.
We use the word “deodorant” as a blanket term for any product we spray or roll under our arms, when in fact deodorant is one specific variety of protection. “It’s just a smell,” explains Dawes-Higgs. “So if you’re buying deodorant, all you’re doing is covering up the smell, rather than preventing it. That’s fine, but if you’re exercising, it’s probably not the best choice.”
Long story short, deodorant is best left for the lucky few who don’t seem to sweat and pre-pubescent teens spraying on way too much Rexona or Impulse body spray before school dances. Remember those days?
If you have sensitive skin, some deodorants might also be an issue, warns Morton. “Some people react to either the perfume in these products, or the dispersants that make it come out as a spray when using aerosols.”
Most adults are much better off using an antiperspirant, as these products actually stop the production of sweat. They contain aluminium, which reacts to electrolytes in your sweat and plug up the gland. Whether you use a spray, stick or roll-on is just down to personal preference.
Most brands contain perfume as well, so you’re getting the best of both worlds. Just like deodorant, some people are sensitive to the ingredients, so if you develop any redness or rash, try a different brand, suggests Morton.
Natural crystal sticks
Yep, rubbing a crystal on your pits is a thing. Crystal stick deodorants are made from mineral salts that are said to form a layer of natural protection against pong on your skin. So if you’ve had a reaction to regular deodorant or antiperspirant, it might be time to try an alternative.
“It works by absorbing sweat when you rub the crystal against your skin,” explains Dawes-Higgs. Just like regular deodorant, it doesn’t actually prevent sweat — you rub it on to soak up sweat, which prevents the bacteria from breaking it down and causing a smell.”
Driclor (heavy-duty sweat stopper)
If you’re embarrassed to leave the house each day because of your leaking armpits, no matter how much regular antiperspirant you use, chances are you suffer from hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), explains Dawes-Higgs.
There are many reasons people develop hyperhidrosis, from genetics to anxiety, and even underlying medical conditions. If this is you, the medical-grade roll-on antiperspirant Driclor could be the trick you need. Like regular antiperspirant, it reduces the amount of sweat produced, but on a much stronger scale.
“It’s at the better end of the spectrum, but it can be irritating,” says Dawes-Higgs. “Because it contains aluminium chloride hexahydrate, some people develop dermatitis from it.” However, she says, it’s the best product around if going next level isn’t an option.
Next level (injectables)
If your super sweat just steamrolls through even medical-grade protection, it might be time to consider the seriously hard stuff. “Injections (such as Botox) literally switch off the gland,” says Dawes-Higgs.
“They stop the nerve from stimulating the muscle that’s around the gland, so it can’t secrete fluid.”
It might seem extreme, and yep, it’s definitely painful, but she says injections are the absolute gold standard in fighting hyperhidrosis. It’s effective for about nine months before you need a top-up and the government even subsidises the treatment.
How do you know if this is something you should consider? “If it’s affecting your lifestyle — stopping you from going to the gym, stopping you from socialising, you’re changing your shirt at work or wearing an extra jacket to cover sweat stains because you can’t keep them under control — it might be time,” says Dawes-Higgs.