B.O.? Uh Oh! How to Cope With Body Odor

There are ways to lessen the stink—and a new service helps friends tell friends they smell.

Winds carried a foul-smelling gas cloud across hundreds of square miles in northern France.

Winds carried a foul-smelling gas cloud across hundreds of square miles in northern France.

By + More

So you smell, huh? Nothing sends 'em running like a serious case of B.O. Forget the fancy outfit, the blown-out and styled hair. One funky whiff or two and, yikes, you're alone at the party. Calling body odor embarrassing doesn't exactly do it justice. But, phew: Experts say it's entirely preventable and treatable. "I have patients who find it really debilitating," says Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "It's so bad that they have a hard time going on job interviews and dates. But there are little things you can do to easily make a difference."

First up? Understand where that odor comes from. Our bodies have two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands are all over the body and open directly into the surface of the skin. They produce a thin, odorless, watery sweat that helps cool the body with evaporation, says dermatologist Jessica Krant, founder of the Art of Dermatology practice in New York. Apocrine glands develop in areas with lots of hair follicles, like the scalp, armpits, and groin, and "generate a more waxy, fatty sweat that contains cellular debris that is attractive to bacteria," Krant says. Hormones, stress, and caffeine, among other factors, can increase the production of aprocrine sweat. Though sweat itself is virtually odorless, it's a breeding ground for bacteria, which break the sweat down into acids and cause that unpleasant smell.

Want to banish B.O.? Try these strategies:

Be clean. Shower daily, especially with antibacterial soap—it'll help keep the bacteria your skin under control. "Hygiene is good," Day says, though she adds that "over-showering doesn't help." Be mindful of what's in your shampoo and conditioner: "Some products contain ingredients like olive or coconut oil, and they don't easily wash out," Day says. "Then they become rancid and smell." And don't forget your feet. Dry them thoroughly after bathing, since microorganisms thrive in the damp spaces between your toes.

[See Beware of These Hidden Causes of Acne.]

Watch what you eat. Some types of food will cause you to sweat more than usual, and contribute to rankness. Cut back on offensive ingredients that create body odor, like garlic and onions, Krant says. And tone down the hot peppers, since these and other spicy foods may also trigger sweating.

Use a strong antiperspirant or deodorant. Deodorants don't prevent sweating, but they do mask the smell the bacteria produce on your skin. (Like the name suggests, it de-odorizes.) Antiperspirants contain aluminum chloride, a chemical that reduces sweating. If you're worried about B.O., opt for an antiperspirant, unless you're allergic, Day says. Stronger prescription versions are available, too. Apply it at bedtime, even if you're going to shower in the morning.

See a doctor. Don't write off B.O. as a smelly nuisance. An underlying health condition could be the culprit. "Bromhidrosis is a medical condition that causes abnormally stinky sweat that is very difficult to manage—far beyond what you'd smell like after a couple days without showering after daily gym workouts," Krant says. Diabetes, urinary tract infections, and stomach problems could produce a strong, fruity odor, as can conditions like liver disease, kidney disease, thyroid problems, and menopause.

[See 9 Best Foods for Your Skin.]

Carry wipes. No shower? No problem. Pre-moistened towelettes can be your saving grace. Carry them with you when you're heading to a job interviewing or spending a long day on the road. "If you put them on without even washing, it'll make a big different and neutralize out the odor," Day says.

Remove excess body hair. No, you don't have to go for a full-body waxing session. But get rid of it where you can. "Hair tends to attract a lot of bacteria, so make sure you're shaving," says dermatologist Debra Jaliman, author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist.

Consider botox. It's not just for wrinkles: In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Botox to treat severe underarm sweating. These tiny injections block chemical signals from the nerves that stimulate sweat glands; treatment typically lasts seven to nine months and costs upwards of $1,000. "It's incredibly powerful, because it's so reliable," Day says. "It can be life-changing. I have patients who never say thank you for anything who call me from across the country to say thanks."