Ew! Beauty: Smelly Armpits

Summer stank is real

Photo via Getty Images

Let’s face it: Along with summer’s heat, humidity, and other sweat-inducing qualities comes a ton of gross beauty problems. From dry, cracked feet to ingrown hairs and chafing, there’s a lot that can hold you back from living the confident poolside life you’re destined to lead. But don’t worry—we’re talking to experts about how to fix them. Welcome to Ew! Beauty.

Summer beauty is something of an oxymoron. Sure, beach hair is great and whatever, but considering the fact that we are otherwise bug-bitten, sweaty, and constantly flush-faced, well, it kind of puts a damper on the concept that is beauty in the summertime.

But perhaps the biggest warm weather beauty bummer isn't so much appearance-based as it is an olfactory problem. I'm talking, of course, about smelly pits. We all know the feeling of getting on the subway and lifting up our arms to grab onto a pole only to be greeted by a whiff of... well, a whiff of dirty hamster cage. Oh, we want to blame it on the dude standing next to us, but deep down in our hearts (and deep down in our armpits) we know the problem resides within us. And our stinky pits. 

So in the interest of keeping the air around us smelling as lovely as possible (we can't do much about the humidity, but sweet-smelling sauna-like conditions are a lot better than the alternative), here's a little guide to the causes of and cure to all of life's problems: pit stank. (Well, okay. It might not be the cure to all problems, but read on to find out why it also might not be that bad.)

What Causes Unwanted Underarm Fragrance Anyway?
The first part of fixing a problem lies in identifying it, and smelly pits are no exception to the rule. The main thing to know about underarm stink is that it's most likely a result of your actually odorless sweat meeting and marrying your body's natural bacteria, thus birthing that indefinable smell that makes you want to crawl under a rock and die of embarrassment. The reason this is a bigger problem in the summer, of course, is that we sweat more at this time of year because the atmosphere suddenly has the temperature and consistency of a steaming bowl of tomato bisque. So if you notice you're a bit smellier in August than you are in March, don't worry. You are not alone. This time of year will pass, and your body will go back to normal.

That said, there could be other reasons for your extra-strong body odor. One of the biggest causes of personal smelliness is elevated stress levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, body odor can be caused by an increase in the "milky fluid" produced by the apocrine gland. This substance is "most commonly is secreted when you're under emotional stress. This fluid is odorless until it combines with bacteria found normally on your skin." And then? Well, then it's stink city. So if you needed yet another reason to try and reduce your stress levels, let it be this: You don't want to smell bad, do you?

And yet another preventable cause for pit stink might just be your favorite shirt, or even your most-loved and thus most-worn bra. It might seem obvious, but if you're wearing the same item of clothing too close to your armpits, some of that mild odor will rub off and multiply in strength, particularly if the fabric it's attaching itself to is of an unforgiving, synthetic nature—which happens to be the case with many bras and even shirts. In other words, the more you wear your fave bra between washes, the more likely you are to smell like fish food. 

But so, what's a smelly person to do? Well...

Stopping the Stink Before It Starts
Since the most likely reason you're stinky is that you're sweating too much, the easy cure to the problem at hand is to just stop sweating. Easier said than done, right? You can't help that you break out into tiny droplets of water every time you leave the sanctity of your ultra-air-conditioned office! Or, CAN YOU? It turns out modern medicine has a cure for just about everything, including excess (or even normal) sweating. In this case, it's possible—and even frequently covered by health insurance—to prevent sweaty underarms by visiting the dermatologist and getting Botox injections. As per the Botox site for severe sweating, the injectable toxin works because it "temporarily blocks the chemical signals from the nerves that stimulate sweat glands. When the sweat glands don’t receive chemical signals, severe sweating is reduced." And ignore any anecdotal horror stories you may have heard: Stopping pit sweat does not mean you'll start sweating excessively out of other parts of your body. That's a myth. 

If you do decide to try Botox, definitely visit a doctor; dermatologists who are certified to use Botox cosmetically are usually able to use it to help with excessive sweating. And, as mentioned, since excessive sweating is viewed as a medical condition, many health insurance companies will reimburse you for the cost of the injections.

On another note, if the preventable cure to your problem is to refresh your underwear drawer, so that your bras smell as fresh as you want your body to, then check out our guide for buying underwear like an adult—an adult who smells really good.

Drugstore Deals
Maybe Botox feels too extreme for you? Maybe you just want to use a drugstore cure. We feel you. There's plenty of great clinical strength cures to try out as well. The trick here is not just getting a deodorant, but looking for an antiperspirant in order to prevent sweating, which will, in turn, prevent stinking. Consumer Reports recommends Certain Dri Clinical Strength Roll-On, Certain Dri Clinical Strength Solid, and Secret Clinical Strength Smooth Solid, all of which are under $10, meaning you don't have to spend a lot to smell just fine.  

Natural Solutions
But what if you don't want to stop sweating? What if you feel like sweating is natural and you're nervous about the idea of stopping your body's natural functions entirely, even if you are interested in making those natural functions a little more palatable for modern times. Well, this is where natural deodorant comes in. Devoid of antiperspirant properties, natural deodorants help neutralize your personal fragrance by absorbing moisture instead of blocking it. Our favorite natural deodorant is Soapwalla's deodorant cream; it utilizes "superfine vegetable powders and clays, as well as lavender, peppermint, and tea tree essential oils to absorb moisture, inhibit bacteria, and ensure a long-lasting and highly effective experience," to which we can heartily attest. Plus, you put it on with your fingers, which takes a little bit of getting used to, but turns out to be a nice way to give yourself a little massage with what feels like slightly grainy hummus. That might sound weird, but it's actually pretty great.

Learning to Embrace the Stank
Finally, though, we do have one bit of advice: Maybe it's time to stop worrying and learn to love the atomic bomb that is your own personal armpit smell. Look, we know the importance of smelling good. It's very, very important to us. But also, we reject the notion that our natural scents are inherently offensive. Sure, if we eat too much highly spiced food, we tend to get a little more fragrant than we're used to. But for the most part, we refuse to believe that how we actually smell could ever be categorized as being bad. Studies have even shown that "the smell of a man's armpits can be relaxing" and that "women’s smelly T-shirts can increase men's testosterone levels and make them act stupid." And what more do you need to know once you've found out that your smelly pits have the power to make men act dumber than usual to attempt to give up on deodorant at least for a little while? Nothing, right? So, you do you this summer, but just remember: There's nothing wrong with a little pit stink. Maybe it'll even help you find love.