Why do armpits smell even when you use your deodorant or after showering?
Does that sound like a familiar question?
For many of us, armpit stink can pop up after a good workout, in the middle of the day at work, or even right in the middle of a date (yikes!).
And sometimes, no matter how much you shower, douse yourself in perfume or slather on deodorant, it just won’t let up.
So what causes excess armpit odor? And most importantly, what can we do to stop and prevent it?
Why Do Armpits Smell
Armpits smell when bacteria mix with your body’s sweat and secretions in that area. The most notorious odor-causing bacteria is Staphylococcus hominis.
Other bacteria that are present include Corynebacterium, Propionibacterium, Other Staphylococcus and Micrococcus bacteria.
So how do bacteria cause smelly armpits?
On the body, there are 2-4 million sweat glands. The majority of these sweat glands are eccrine, whereas the remaining are apocrine. Both types of sweat glands are prevalent in our armpits.
These sweat glands produce perspiration when a person works out or becomes too hot; the sweat dries out and cools the body. People may also perspire as a result of stress and strong emotions.
Generally, the secretions from the sweat glands are odorless. However, when these odorless secretions end up in the armpits, they interact with the active microbiota, and they’re broken down inside the bacteria, which produces an odor.
Video: What causes body odor
What Can Trigger or Worsen Smelly Armpits
Things that can cause or make armpit odor worse include:
- Diet (for example, eating spicy and sulfurous foods)
- Hot weather
- Hormonal changes (like in hormonal imbalance syndrome or puberty)
- Having a condition like diabetes, kidney disease, or liver diseases
- Certain types of medicine, such as antidepressants
- Hyperhidrosis (a condition that results in excessive sweating)
There is also a diagnosis that doctors have pinpointed to refer to the excess armpit or body odor. This is called Bromhidrosis.
Related Article: Hand Sanitizer as Deodorant for Underarm Odor – Is it Safe
When Deodorant & Showering Won’t Help Armpit Smell (Bromhidrosis)
Bromhidrosis is a condition that occurs when the bacteria on your skin break down sweat and produces an abnormally offensive smell.
This odor is more pungent and persistent than ordinary body odor.
Bromhidrosis is an umbrella term for general body odor that includes armpit odor and it can be either apocrine or eccrine in origin.
In some cases, body odor results from the interaction of microorganisms on the skin with lipid-rich apocrine gland perspiration.
These two substances combine to form thioalcohols, which are substances with a sulfur, onion, or raw meat-like odor.
So if the perspiration under your arms smells like onions, you could have apocrine bromhidrosis.
On the other hand, if you have eccrine bromhidrosis, your skin’s keratin is softer due to the perspiration produced by your eccrine glands.
Bacteria may break down keratin more easily the softer it is. A stenchy odor results from this breakdown process.
How To Recognize If You Have Bromhidrosis
Bromhidrosis is the kind of armpit stink that will not go away even after you shower, cleanse and deodorize your armpits.
Here are some things to compare when it comes to regular armpit odor and bromhidrosis:
|Hygiene Practice||Regular Armpit Odor||Bromhidrosis|
|Shower||Gets rid of the odor||Does significantly improve odor|
|Apply Deodorant once a day||Prevents odor for most of the day||Only prevents odor for a few short hours|
|Apply extra-strength antiperspirant deodorant||Keeps odor away for a long time||Only keeps odor away for a short time|
Most of the time, you can detect bromhidrosis from its distinct scent.
Additional, but common symptoms of this condition include:
- Constant (and sometimes overpowering) body or armpit odor
- Body odor or armpit within 30 minutes of showering or bathing
- A cheese or meat-like smell coming from your armpits or groin
- A garlic or onion-like smell coming from your breasts, armpits, or groin
- Social anxiety due to strong odor
How To Treat Excess Armpit Odor (Bromhidrosis)
Thankfully, there are a host of things you can do to stop smelling like onions:
1- Use antibacterial or germicidal soap
Use antibacterial washes that gently but effectively cleanse your skin. It is recommended that you choose a gentle liquid or cream body wash over solid soap, and avoid scented products.
2- Remove excess Armpit hair
Having excess hair in your armpit area is the perfect way to keep it moist and makes it a good breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria.
Oil and dirt also accumulate on and around the hair shaft and follicles. You should regularly remove your underarm area.
3- Remove or wash sweaty clothes immediately
Removing excess sweat from your body, even if it is on your clothes, gives bacteria less time to break it down. Less sweat = less odor.
4- Take regular warm baths or showers
Warm water can clear debris from your skin and also help kill bacteria. Shower twice a day and pay close attention to extra sweaty areas.
5- Wear anti-odor and/ or sweat-proof garments
Most anti-odor clothing features silver or copper, but for a more healthy and natural alternative, look for shirts made with hydrogen peroxide.
There are also underclothes made with sweat pads that can help to keep your underarms dry.
6- Use extra-strength or prescription deodorant
If over-the-counter products do not cut it for you, consult your doctor or dermatologist to explore prescription-strength deodorants and solutions.
7- Use Essential Oils
Some essential oils have very strong antimicrobial properties which could help to kill bacteria and at the same time give your armpits a nice fresh smell.
But to use essential oils on your armpits it needs to be mixed or diluted. You can click here to read the Best Essential Oils for Armpits & How to Use them Correctly
Prevention of Excess Armpit Odor
All of the measures above will be greatly helped by practicing good armpit care and hygiene. This includes:
8- Have a good Armpit Care Routine
With Daily cleansing
Use your most effective cleanser (one that is also gentle and will not irritate the sensitive underarm skin)
And Exfoliation twice a week
You do not need to exfoliate your armpits every day, but you should do it at least twice per week (for some, even three times). Exfoliation will help to remove dead skin cells and any product, sweat, or bacteria build-ups.
While you ideally want to keep your armpits dry, you do not want to have dry skin. Dry skin will irritate and damage more easily, which will only worsen the odor.
Use a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid, which will penetrate the skin’s barrier without leaving a slick, moist layer on the surface of your skin.
Related Article: Dry Armpits: How to Correctly Moisturize & What to Use
10- Control Underlying Causes
If you have any conditions that might be an underlying cause for your excess armpit odor, or if you are taking any medications that can cause it. Then it is best to see your doctor and discuss how you can get the causative conditions under control.
11- Adjust Your Diet
If your diet is a contributing factor to your smelly armpits, you should consider gradually adjusting your diet to include foods that do not worsen your odor.
Let your body gradually but effectively detox. Some odor-fighting foods include odor-fighting foods instead:
- Lemons, oranges, and grapefruits
- Green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach
- Fresh herbs
- Whole grains
12- Keep your armpits dry
Damp skin is a conducive environment for odor-causing bacteria.
If you have a condition like hyperhidrosis (excess sweating), you can manage excess odor by doing what you can to reduce excessive sweat and keep your armpits as dry as possible.
Related Article: 10 Quick & Easy DIY Natural Remedies For Smelly Armpits
Medical Treatments For Smelly Armpits
Bromhidrosis can also be treated with antibiotics, laser hair removal, Botox injections and/or sweat gland removal surgery.
1- Topical antibiotics (or creams and gels containing antibiotics)
These function by eliminating bacteria on the skin that produce odors before they mix and react with sweat and underarm secretions.
Consult your doctor about receiving a prescription for erythromycin and clindamycin, two typical medicines for bromhidrosis.
2- Electrolysis (Electric Hair Removal)
Bromhidrosis can also be treated medically by electrolysis, often known as electric hair removal. However, regularly shaving or waxing your underarms might serve as a temporary fix.
To address excessive sweating, some doctors may inject small quantities of Botox into the armpits. Through the inhibition of sweat gland activation, Botox injections can reduce excessive sweating.
It takes around 4-5 days for most individuals to see any effects, but the results often stick around for at least 4-6 months. The injections can only be done by a doctor.
4- Sweat Gland Removal Surgery
Surgery to remove sweat glands should only be used as a last resort because it is very invasive and may have very serious long-term side effects. After trying every other non-invasive therapy option, then consider this one.
Recommended Products To Help With Smelly Armpits
1- T Thompson Tee Sweatproof Undershirt
This undershirt is designed with absorbing sweat pads that keep the armpits dry. It does not look bulky and maintains a sleek, dry look. It is chemical-free and toxin-free, and it is washer and dryer safe.
Click here to check out T Thompson Tee Sweatproof Undershirt for Women on Amazon.
Click here to see the T Thompson Tee Sweatproof Undershirt for Men on Amazon.
2- Hibiclens Antimicrobial and Antiseptic Soap and Skin Cleanser
This soap is commonly used by doctors in clinical settings and is well known to be effective against bacteria and germs.
The main ingredient is chlorhexidine gluconate which continues to fight underarm bacteria even after it has been washed off. It is best used twice daily to reap the full benefits.
3- Secret Clinical Strength Invisible Solid Antiperspirant
This deodorant contains aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex which blocks sweat glands from producing sweat. It is said to provide 48-hour protection from odor and sweating.