You may have heard all about the gut microbiome, but did you know your skin has its own unique microbiome too? This collection of good and bad bacteria could be to blame for your whiffy underarm odour – the good news is, you have the power to change it. Here’s how.
The skin microbiome is made up of thousands of species of bacteria – and the moist environment under your armpits happens to be the perfect nesting ground for these guys. The issue arises when your sweat hits the bacteria – now, even those with a good microbial balance aren’t immune to a bit of B.O. – but those with a poor balance are especially likely to suffer from the room-clearing type of stench. It all comes down to the pH balance on your skin – while the typical pH level of the underarms should be around 5.8 in men and 6 in women, we start to see an increase in bad odour at a pH of 5. Unhealthy habits, abrasive deodorants and soaps can all tip the balance out of neutrality. The result? Bad B.O. Here are a few ways to tip your skin microbiome – and pH balance – back into your favour to get you smelling like a rose in no time.
Switch your soap up
Your soap could be doing more harm than good – some soaps are loaded with chemicals that inhibit the good bacteria on your skin. The result? An imbalanced skin microbiome and out-of-whack pH levels. To get things back on track, you’ll want to opt for pH balanced soaps – Dermaveen and CeraVe are good options, but do a bit of research to find a product that matches your price range and location. Soaps with tea tree, peppermint or lemongrass oil are also ideal, these will help keep the stink away without the use of harsh parabens.
Note: It’s also worth switching to a natural deodorant – many popular varieties tend to interfere with the skin microbiome. Parabens, aluminium and baking soda tend to have an abrasive effect on the skin, which can alter your pH levels, increase dryness and up your risk for infection.
Make some dietary changes
There’s nothing like sugar to throw a microbiome out of whack – whether it’s your gut or your skin, the sweet stuff has a habit of wreaking havoc. While most of us might point the finger at onions or garlic, sugar is an underestimated culprit for releasing your inner stench on the world. It’s believed that the sugar left in our bloodstream post sweet fix can actually alter the nature of our sweat and skin bacteria, creating a change for the worse when the two of them come together.
- Fresh fruits and veggies – spinach, watercress and kale have a good dose of odour-reducing chlorophyll, and while cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower can cause a bit of an unpleasant odour, we reckon the good outweighs the bad here with their vitamin and mineral content!
- Green tea – the abundance of antioxidants helps bad body odour and breath too, so you can kill two birds with one stone!
- Citrus fruits like lemon
- High fibre foods like legumes, nut and seeds
Don’t eat these:
- Ultra-processed foods like cereals, frozen meals and chips
- High-sugar foods like commercial baked goods, confectionery and sauces
- Red meat
- Deep-fried foods
It’s time to switch out your synthetic clothes for natural fibres like cotton, bamboo wool and linen. This is because the synthetic stuff wicks our sweat away and then traps the moisture and bacteria into its tightly woven fabric strands – this is why you may notice some of your synthetic tee shirts smell bad from their last use, even after you’ve washed them! These fabrics really don’t want to let go of your underarm bacterial festivities, so not only are they quick to start smelling, they’re likely to hold onto the smell too. Take a look at the notorious stench-promoting fibres to steer clear of:
- 100% polyester – a combination can be more smell-resistant.
Natural fibres, on the other hand, give your skin space to breath, preventing that bacterial reproduction party that would otherwise be taking over your underarms. They reduce the build-up of moisture, thereby cutting down those odour-producing microbes and improving the imbalance of bad to good bacteria.
Time to destress
Stress is one of the major contributors to foul-smelling body odour – ever noticed when you’ve been panicking and running late for an appointment, your underarms end up a little more whiffy than usual? Research shows that stress sweat does in fact smell worse than regular sweat! Not only does the sweat have an acrid smell, but you end up with more of it – in fact, when you’re stressed, your armpits expel around 30 times more sweat than they otherwise would. It’s also excreted from the apocrine glands, which creates a thicker kind of sweat which combines with the microbes already living it up on your skin. The result is not pretty – you end up with an exacerbated odour that puts the Bog of Eternal Stench to shame. Here are a few tips to lowering your stress levels:
- Getting a bit of exercise each day can offer a stress release as it releases those feel-good endorphins.
- Cutting out added sugars is one of the best ways to give your body a break and getting those stress hormones back in order.
- Taking time for deep breathing exercises and meditation can be good stress-releases.
- Seeking out a therapist can be beneficial to those with chronic stress, and that's 74% of us!
Remember, some parts of your odour can’t be changed – a lot of your smell comes from your genetics. But there are a number of lifestyle factors that, with a few of these tweaks, can have you smelling fresh and clean.
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