One of the common body odours, which comes from the underarms is known as underarm odour. Armpit odour is an embarrassing condition and common in the society.
The human skin contains two types of sweat glands.
Most of the sweat glands belong to this group. These glands secrete sweat with water, salt and contribute to the regulation of body temperature.
Apocrine glands are common in the underarms, scalp, areola, groins, and around the navel. These glands produce sweat with sebum (protein and fat containing substance).
Human sweat is usually odourless, but bacteria, which live on the skin breaks down the protein and fat producing the smell.
Causes of underarm odour
Corynebacterium, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and propionibacteria are responsible for underarm odour.
Foods and drinks
Garlic, cumin, onions, fish, alcohol, caffeine, curry powder, other spices, fried and baked foods can aggravate your underarm odour.
East Asians such as Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans have a lesser number of apocrine glands. Therefore, they are less prone to underarm odour. Armpit odour is determined by a gene known as ABCC11. If you have dry earwax (also determined by ABCC11 gene), you may be less prone to armpit odour. A genetic disease known as Trimethylaminuria can cause more underarm odour due to inability to break trimethylamine in the body.
Most of the diseases, which have been mentioned below cause armpit odour due to excessive sweating.
- Bromhidrosis or Osmidrosis – excessive sweating with foul odour
- Apocrine bromhidrosis – excessive secretion of sweat from apocrine glands
- Stress and anxiety
- Diabetes mellitus
- Some arthritis conditions
- Liver diseases
- Kidney diseases
- Some gastrointestinal problems (such as constipation)
- Deficiency of zinc or magnesium
- Fungal infections
Drugs and chemicals
- Acetaminophen (Paracetamol)
- Tobacco smoking
Men have an excess underarm odour than women because they are more active and produce more sweat. Armpit odour is common in women following menopause due to excessive sweating.
Lifestyle and hygiene
If you do not bathe daily, sweat will accumulate and aggravate the underarm odour. Dirty clothes or textile without breathable fabrics also can cause armpit odour.
How to manage underarm odour?
- Bathe twice a day.
- It is better to soak in a warm bath with three cups of tomato juice, which act against the bacteria in your armpits. Then, use an anti-bacterial soap to clean your underarms.
- After washing your armpits, dry them with a dry, soft towel. Do not use damp towels.
- Wash your underarms before going to bed.
- Remove hair from your armpits regularly, because the hair prevents evaporation of sweat.
- Use a deodourant with an anti-bacterial effect. Most of the deodourants add scent too.
- Use antiperspirants at bedtime because they have ingredients (such as aluminium salts), which prevent sweating.
- Wash antiperspirants in the morning. Then, apply some distilled white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or witch hazel and keep for about three minutes.
- Another option is to sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch or baking soda on the armpits and keep it for a few minutes. They will absorb the body odour and moisture.
- Wash your underarms with a solution of one cup of water and one teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide.
- Choose anti-bacterial soaps, deodourants, and antiperspirants, which are less likely to be skin irritants.
- Always wear clean, loose-fitting, cotton clothes. They will absorb sweat from your body well and allow air circulation around the body.
- Wash your clothes regularly. If your clothes are smelly, soak them with baking soda for about one hour and wash. For clothes with oily sweat, add a cup of white vinegar to your wash. Hang your clothes outdoors to dry.
- Identify foods and drinks, which cause underarm odour. Try to avoid them as much as possible. (Such as garlic, onions, cumin, alcohol, caffeine, curry powder, other spices, fried and baked foods)
- Stop smoking.
- Manage anxiety and stress.
- Manage other medical conditions, which can aggravate underarm odour.
- Minimise the use of drugs and chemicals, which cause armpit odour.
- Drink adequate water daily (eight glasses of water a day) because hydration will facilitate the elimination of toxins, which can cause body odour.
- If you cannot manage underarm odour with these measures, meet your doctor. They will prescribe prescription-strength antiperspirants and/or some drugs to prevent excessive sweating. Sometimes, they will give botulin injections to prevent the activity of overactive sweat glands. Another option is to pass a mild electric current through your underarm skin while it is submerged in water. This procedure is known as Iontophoresis and inhibits the sweat production. Your dermatologist may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics to reduce the bacterial flora in your armpits. If you have severe hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), they will do a small operation to remove sweat glands and nerve fibres, which stimulate sweat glands in your armpits.
(Photo courtesy: Elvert Barnes)