Help Me Become the Least-Smelly Person Around

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Photo: Candace Gottschalk/Getty Images

Because there's no such thing as a dumb beauty question, we're reviving our beauty Q&A series.

Question: Hey, what’s that smell? It’s me in the middle of the day. And yes, I can tell when I smell and I wear deodorant. What do I do?

Answer: As SoulCycle instructor Charlee Atkins, who teaches 15 classes a week, says, “Embrace the sweat.” Personally, I don’t really buy into these scary-sounding procedures like Botoxing your armpits because where does the sweat get redirected to? Where does the sweat go? I just picture it coming out from your kneecap in a geyser.

The truth is, though, that body odor isn't really caused by sweat. As dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur explains, “Sweat itself doesn’t have an odor, but the moisture can cause a buildup of bacteria,” which then leads to B.O.

Humans have two different types of sweat glands that produce two different types of sweat. Eccrine sweat glands are the major sweat glands in the body. They create what is simply salty water — what you envision Gatorade commercials taste like. Apocrine sweat glands are located around hair follicles (like your pits) and create a different type of sweat that mingles with bacteria. They're the ones that can make you smelly.

Dr. Marmur says, “Sweat from an apocrine gland is infused with fat that is ingested by bacteria in hair follicles, which can ultimately lead to body odor.” Interestingly, the amount that we sweat, and thus the body odor we produce, varies depending on the number of apocrine sweat glands we have. “No two people have the same number of apocrine sweat glands on the body, but their distribution is typically the same. This sweat gland is found in the underarms, ear canal, eyelids, groin, and wings of the nostril. Studies show that East Asians have many fewer apocrine glands and have less body odor,” Dr. Marmur states. So, if you're Asian, congratulations! This could also partially explain the reported dearth of deodorant options in countries like Japan.

Since your sweat can’t be tamed, your best bet is to target the bacteria. Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi suggests using an antibacterial soap, but even that gets complicated. Generally, to be considered antibacterial, a soap must contain an ingredient called triclosan, but although it is currently approved, the FDA is taking a second look to see if it has an effect on hormone regulation. Perhaps try this natural, antibacterial soap that has over 683 positive reviews on Amazon and doesn't contain triclosan.

And yes, you can always use deodorant, but that simply masks your stench. Dr. Tanzi suggests a combination — a solid antiperspirant-deodorant along the lines of Dove Anti-Perspirant Deodorant, applied morning and night. 

Professional sweater Atkins, whose place of work literally has anti-odor rules, keeps three deodorants in a constant rotation. “I have an actual one, a designer one, and a more hippie/bohemian one,” she tells me. She loves Malin + Goetz’s Eucalyptus Deodorant (that's the fancy one) and the EO Organics Lavender spray (the hippie option). She also favors the classic Men’s Speed Stick, which she likes for its masculine scent.