Help me smell pretty in halter tops!
June 29, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Why do I have body odor when I wear sleeveless things, and how can I prevent this?

I always see people running around in tank tops and strapless dresses. I've never noticed any of them having body odor, not even at outdoor events on hot days. However, I can't even wear a sleeveless top in a cool room without noticing body odor within 15 mins or so. This is embarrassing, and also limits my clothing choices since most non-tshirt options with sleeves tend to be matronly. Btw, I'm NOT looking for clothing suggestions, that was just an example.

The problem isn't sweat, this happens even when I'm perfectly dry. Nonetheless, I have tried certain-dri, clinical strength secret and all the other extra-strong antiperspirant options with no success. I've experimented with all non-prescription brands (do they even make prescription deodorant? I know about prescription antiperspirant) for men and women, in all formulations: roll on, stick, gel stick and aerosol. Nothing seems to make a difference, though aerosol seems to be slightly more effective.

My routine now is stick + aerosol, and I keep a small stick in my purse and "touch up" multiple times through out the day. Sometimes I use body wipes before I apply more, that doesn't seem to make a difference. At best, the touch-ups help mask the problem somewhat, but it does not prevent it.

Basic stats in case my age, health and diet are relevant: I'm female, 30, healthy, not overweight, well hydrated (hydration seemed to come up in previous B.O. questions), vegetarian, don't consume any more garlic, onions or pungent spices than the next person. I don't like many dairy items, so my dairy intake is limited. My diet typically consists of fruit, veggies, water, grains and beans. I don't drink coffee and have a soda or two a week. I'm not a health freak, just a picky eater. The only medications I take are OTC allergy pills and advil when needed.

So, I'm curious about why this happens, and if this happens to everyone but somehow everyone else has a better method to deal with it. More than knowing why it happens, I'd like suggestions about what I can do to prevent this!!
posted by birdlady to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you must smell the same whether you are wearing sleeves or not. Maybe you're just noticing the smell when you wear something sleeveless... probably because you're thinking about it.

You may even sweat more because you're nervous... about smelling bad. When you wear sleeves, you're "confident", so you neither notice nor worry. This is a theory, anyway.

How to break that pattern? Well, it's pretty unlikely anyone will ever be able to smell you outdoors, so wear sleeveless things to all the garden parties and outdoor events you can manage, until it becomes second nature.
posted by rokusan at 9:53 AM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: I thought it might be an issue of just noticing it more when I wear sleeveless things, so a few years ago, I made it a point to frequently do a sniff check and compare levels of odor when I undressed after wearing something with sleeves to odor when I undressed after wearing something without sleeves.

This really isn't a psychological problem, and it isn't created out of a fear of smelling bad when I wear sleeveless things. The nervousness did not precede the experience. I genuinely smell bad (BAD!) when I wear sleeveless things and would be surprised if people weren't able to smell me, or smell me less outdoors, since I've smelled other people's B.O. outdoors. Also, I don't frequently go to outdoor festivals and such, so this is mostly a problem indoors and in close quarters. However, let's just say I am outdoors frequently and people can't smell me, I don't enjoy smelling me when I'm wearing sleeveless things and I'd like to know if anyone has any suggestions to stop the sleeveless B.O. so I can stop offending my own nose.
posted by birdlady at 10:10 AM on June 29, 2009

I had this very problem when I was younger, but it seems to have gotten better with time. What I used to do in college was apply a Desert Essence Blemish Stick to my pits before applying deodorant. The Blemish Stick is a little vial of anti-bacterial liquid that I would pat on and let dry before putting on Secret and it really seemed to work well.

Two caveats, though: it's alcohol-based, so be aware that any shaving nicks are going to sting like mad, and it has lavendar and tea tree oils in it, so it does have a very distinctive fragrance. Personally, I think it smells sort of refreshingly herbal, but it's something to try at home before going out in public. (Very close friends reported that I did not smell especially perfume-y.)
posted by corey flood at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have the same problem. I've found that using the nighttime Certain Dri *every night* and then using the daytime formulation *every morning* works pretty well - have you tried this? I know that the nighttime Certain Dri says that after a while you won't need to use it every night, but in my case this hasn't been true - nightly use is key.

It's not a perfect solution, but the best I've found.
posted by chez shoes at 10:35 AM on June 29, 2009

The alum crystal type deodorants work by inhibiting bacterial growth which is responsible for the smell of BO--a fundamentally different approach than other deodorants (which mask the smell of BO with a different odor) and antiperspirant (which inhibit you from sweating in the first place).

My guess is, when you wear cloth over the area the slight amount of sweating you do there--even when using a strong anti-perspirant--is wicked away by the cloth giving it a chance to spread and dry before the bacteria (which thrive in a warm, moist environment) get a chance to gain a foothold and grow.

Without cloth wicking away the moisture it just stays on the surface of your skin, the bacteria multiplies like crazy, and you get a smell--perhaps even with just a hint of moisture.

Anyway, that's just a theory and might be wrong, but trying the alum crystal-type products, which inhibit the bacterial growth, thus stopping the odor problem at its source, seems worth a try.

To use: Shower or bathe first, then wet the crystal and rub it in the area, which covers the area with a bit of alum. When you sweat the alum solution is slightly acidic which is apparently a PH range the BO bacteria don't really enjoy.

In my experience it works at least a little better as you use it for a while (ie use it every morning after showering for a week or so).

Typical product is like this (not that I recommend that one particularly, it's just the first one that came up via google). You can generally buy something similar in a place like a health food store.
posted by flug at 10:40 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Back when I lived on Guam (read: hot and humid) I drank a lot of coffee and not a lot of water (read: I was stinky). I found a salt crystal deodorant (called the Thai Crystal then, I think) that seemed like it might be a good idea, as I cannot STAND the scent of most commercial deodorants. It was 7 bucks for a little smoothly-shaped hunk of salt that you'd wet and rub in your armpits. Despite its seeming simplicity and new-age hopefulness I gave it a shot. It worked like a charm and I've been using them ever since (though now I drink more water than coffee and live in a much milder climate).

These things are much more widely available and cheeper now, and the only differences between them and regular deodorant/anti-perspirant is that A) they don't have a scent, B) you wet them just prior to use and C) they work. These things don't prevent you from sweating; rather, they raise the Ph of your armpits so that smelly bacteria are no longer accommodated there. If you sweat a lot you might have to re-apply more than once a day, but once in the morning has been good for me since I started using them.

You may have to use it for a couple of days before you notice a distinct change of (or lack of) smell, but I've been very impressed by the effectiveness of these little things. Good luck.
posted by Pecinpah at 10:46 AM on June 29, 2009

My boyfriend uses little alcohol swabs, like the kind you would get swabbed with before an injection. He rubs them in his pits, lets the residue dry for a moment or two, then uses his regular deoderant. He swears it makes a big difference, and I've certainly never smelled him being stinky.
posted by np312 at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2009

Baby powder might work well here, to absorb moisture. Doesn't work for everyone, but worth a try.
posted by Citrus at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2009

In addition to a possible switch in your deodorant / antiperspirant routine you may also want to check your posture. I notice that I'm more smelly in sleeveless shirts as well and I figured out that it's because my skin was touching other skin (as opposed to sleve material). When I am conscious of keeping good and losse-flowy (I don't know how to really describe it) posture, there is more airflow to my pits and les skin to skin contact than when I sit slouched over my desk for hours.

Changing posture may not be the total solution to your problem, but it may give some insight into whether this is one of the causes, since you say you are'nt as stinky in sleeved garb.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:27 AM on June 29, 2009

Likely cause: sleeved clothing wicks sweat away from your skin, helping the sweat evaporate quickly. This retards the growth & metabolism of bacteria which turn your sweat into smelly metabolites.

If antiperspirant doesn't work, then perhaps you could wear clothes that have a mini-sleeve? The kind of sleeves that are form-fitting and end just below the shoulder?
posted by randomstriker at 11:58 AM on June 29, 2009

I wonder if it's the clothes making the smell. Some clothes and shoes just get funky and there's nothing you can do about it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:04 PM on June 29, 2009

Similar problem. NOTHING stops my armpit odor; I've gotten out of a thorough shower still smelling. I wash with a gentle exfoliant, and I've found that baby powder before deodorant and as touch up throughout the day really helps. Caveat-- you can't wear dark colors.
posted by nax at 12:34 PM on June 29, 2009

I'm going with what flug and Pecinpah said, try the crystal deodorant stones. I have one armpit that smells bad by the middle of the day no matter what I am wearing or what sort of antiperspirant I use - unless I use the deodorant stone.
I use the solid kind that I just wet down and rub on after my shower, and it keeps me odor-free for the whole day and night. As long as I use it every day, I never have bad smells in my pits, even after exercise or public speaking stress.

And I buy my crystal stone at any local grocery or drug store (except Target doesn't seem to carry them in my area). They aren't expensive and they last a good half-year.
posted by Brody's chum at 1:05 PM on June 29, 2009

(uh, to clarify: I have two armpits, but only one of them smells bad)
posted by Brody's chum at 1:08 PM on June 29, 2009

Using baking soda and lemon on my pits has worked great for me, tried it one day when i ran out of regular deodorant. That crystal stone stuff never worked for me at all, dunno why.
posted by lizbunny at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2009

Another +1 for Crystal Deodorant.
posted by Nerro at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2009

I keep a travel-sized deodorant in my purse for just such occasions. If you are ever out and don't have any deodorant, rubbing some hand sanitizer under your armpits will provide a temporary de-smelling. And yes, baby powder works great, in any skin folds where you wouldn't normally wear deodorant too. A friend and I usually apply it under our boobs to prevent sweating.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I'm glad I'm not alone in this problem (though I'm not glad the rest of you have to deal with it too).

I tried a crystal deodorant stick years ago. Possibly 15-20 years ago. I think it worked well for a while and then it stopped working. I'll give it a try again, since so many of you have had success with it. Do you all combine it with separate antiperspirant, or you just use it on its own?

I've tried alcohol swabs, anti-bacterial soap, baking soda (though never with lemon) and talcum powder, all with limited to no success.

Some additional answers:
chez shoes - I used certain dri off and on for a while, it was prior to them launching the daytime formula. I found after time that certain dri didn't stop the odor, and using a separate deodorant for touch ups was bad news (created a sort of burning rubber smell to go along with the body odor). If the crystal doesn't work out, I'll try it again with the daytime formula.

weekendjen - the posture issue makes sense. I'll pay more attention to my posture and see if that helps along with the other suggestions.

randomstriker - I find that the majority of women's shirts with mini-sleeves are only a shoulder cover, but the underside of the mini-sleeve is open, making is much like a sleeveless shirt in the open to armpit sense. There are some that are similar to what you've described, but they are few and far between!

cool papa bell - I know what you mean, synthetic fibers can do that. However, this happens with cotton too. As far as I've noticed, any odor comes out in the wash so I don't think I don't think the odor is there before I put on the shirt.

brody's chum - I understood what you meant. I have a friend with the same one-pit problem.

Thanks again for the suggestions. I'll try them out and report back.
posted by birdlady at 3:28 PM on June 29, 2009

I seem to remember reading somewhere that the reason aerosol deodorants seem to work better, because with roll-ons you've got a two-way street: you're rolling the deodorant/anti-perspirant on, but you're also rolling bacteria off, and into the applicator. So every time deodorant goes on after that, it's got a little cocktail of bacteria pre-mixed in.
Try washing with something antibacterial before putting any product on. Some of those deodorant/alcohol wipes might be helpful for freshening up, as well--try googling "deodorant towelettes".
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 6:16 AM on July 1, 2009

I had the same problem. I stunk up every piece of clothing. I have also used certain-dri and got a horrible rash. The problem is bacteria. If you kill that, you won't get an odor. I use odurkure brands. They have sprays and soaps that have been magical for me and they are natural from what I understand. Good luck!
posted by my2boyz at 3:00 AM on July 28, 2009

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