The People's Perspective on Medicine

New Solutions for Body Odor

Nobody wants to smell, but sweating isn't the problem. Body odor is caused by bacteria that live on the skin. Here are some solutions for body odor.

Americans are obsessed with sweat. We spend billions on antiperspirants in the quest to suppress body odor.

Nobody wants to smell nasty, but perspiration isn’t the problem. Sweat doesn’t stink. Body odor is caused by bacteria that live on the skin, breaking down the fats and proteins from sweat into aromatic acids.

Centuries ago, when it was hard to wash regularly, people tried to mask unpleasant smells with perfume. Although many underarm products contain fragrance, the primary strategy is to reduce sweating.

Are Antiperspirants the Best Solutions for Body Odor?

Antiperspirants rely mostly on aluminum salts that plug sweat glands and reduce the amount of perspiration reaching the surface of the skin. Recent research shows that this is no mere mechanical action. Instead, aluminum salts make sweat proteins clump together and stick to the walls of the sweat glands (Bretagne et al, Soft Matter, May 24, 2017). As a result, less sweat means less bacterial activity and reduced underarm odor.

What Are the Unexpected Consequences?

Less sweat also means that specialized glands in the underarm (apocrine glands) will not function normally. Kris McGrath, MD, is a Professor in Medicine-Allergy-Immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. McGrath is concerned that if apocrine glands are plugged by antiperspirants, there may be unexpected consequences.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, he suggests:

“An unintentional, inadvertent, and long term hormone exposure may occur from transdermal absorption of sex hormones and pheromones (androgens) from axillary apocrine sweat gland obstruction by aluminum-based antiperspirants. The global rise in antiperspirant use parallels rises in breast and prostate cancer incidence and mortality rates.”

Dr. McGrath proposes that when apocrine sweat glands in the axilla [armpit] are obstructed, both male and female hormone levels may be altered. Few people realize that sweat glands in the underarm area even make hormones and pheromones (sex attractant chemicals). For the FDA, Dr. McGrath’s hypothesis must seem preposterous. After all, the FDA requires antiperspirants to reduce sweating in the underarm area by definition. How could the basic premise of such products be called into question?

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Are Antiperspirants Safe?

Many Americans are unaware that there have been quite a few questions raised in the medical literature of late about the safety of antiperspirant ingredients. Researchers have noted that aluminum salts have estrogenic activity and that they promote the growth of breast cells (Sappino et al, Journal of Applied Toxicology, March, 2012). The authors of this study from the Division of Oncology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland, conclude that

“Our observations do not formally identify aluminum as a breast carcinogen, but challenge the safety ascribed to its widespread use in underarm cosmetics.”

This doesn’t mean that antiperspirants cause breast cancer, but some investigators worry about a potential link (Darbre et al, Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, Nov., 2011). We are likely years away from definitive studies proving either the safety or the danger of aluminum-based antiperspirants. However, scientists studying a mouse model (Mandriota et al, International Journal of Cancer, Dec. 15, 2016) concluded:

“Our findings demonstrate for the first time that concentrations of aluminium in the range of those measured in the human breast fully transform cultured mammary epithelial cells, thus enabling them to form tumors and metastasize in well-established mouse cancer models. Our observations provide experimental evidence that aluminium salts could be environmental breast carcinogens.”

Do aluminum antiperspirants contribute to neurological disorders? The evidence is inconclusive, but aluminum is an acknowledged neurotoxin (Maya et al, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Oct. 2016).

Do We Have Other Solutions for Body Odor?

Where does this leave the cautious consumer? Deodorants (without sweat-stopping aluminum) are one option. In addition, people have come up with many home remedies to help control body odor in part by keeping bacteria levels under control.

Rubbing alcohol is one reader’s approach:

“I use isopropyl alcohol. It’s in a little squirt-top bottle, and after showering I squirt about a teaspoonful in each hand and apply it under my arms. The alcohol is allowed to air dry a couple minutes before I dress, lest clothing absorb the alcohol before its bactericidal mission is accomplished.

“This has worked well for me over about 30 years. I had to find something because all the deodorants gave me a rash.”

A woman offers this similar solution:

“I have found that dipping a cotton ball in witch hazel [which contains 14 percent alcohol] and applying it to the underarms keeps me odor free.”

Another reader appreciates white vinegar:

“I use white vinegar in a spray bottle. I’ve had good results for over 15 years.”

Here’s another acidic solution:

“When I was growing up, my mother suggested I apply lemon juice under my arms at least once a week while I was taking a shower to avoid using deodorant.

“I rubbed my armpit with half of the lemon and left the juice on for about five minutes while I washed. Before I ended my shower, I used soap and water to remove the lemon juice. I have never needed deodorant.”

Another reader found a new use for Listerine:

“I have suffered from foul-smelling armpits as far back as I can remember. None of the deodorants I tried helped at all. As a result, I decided to try Listerine, though I was worried that I would smell before the day’s end. Instead, I was actually fresh when I got home.”

Don’t Forget MoM!

Perhaps one of the most unusual solutions for body odor is applying the laxative milk of magnesia to the underarms.

One woman reported:

“For years I have had problems with allergy to deodorants. They caused terrible underarm itching. I tried milk of magnesia and it works. Not only does it stop the odor, NO MORE ITCH!”

Luckily, you can buy house brand milk of magnesia (MoM) in any pharmacy. But how will you apply it?

People have come up with a variety of ways to get it on their underarms. Some pour a little into the palm of a hand and slosh it on. That can be a bit messy. Others soak a cotton ball and dab the magnesium hydroxide (the active ingredient in MoM) onto their underarms. One person bought a spray bottle and spritzed his underarms.

Our only concern about these approaches is the fact that the milk of magnesia laxative one purchases in pharmacies relies on sodium hypochlorite as a preservative (household bleach). Some people may prefer not to use a chlorine-based product on their underarms. That’s why we developed The People’s Pharmacy Milk of Magnesia Roll-On Deodorant.

Regardless of what home remedy you may choose to control body odor (vinegar, alcohol, witch hazel, lemon juice or milk of magnesia), we hope one of these inexpensive approaches might offer a surprisingly effective way to avoid body odor as summer heat increases underarm perspiration.

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
    Aluminum-Free MoM (Milk of Magnesia) Roll-on Deodorant
    $6.75

    We have heard from many readers that MoM (milk of magnesia) makes a terrific deodorant that does not irritate the skin. Our unscented aluminum free roll-on is effective, gentle, and contains no aluminum whatsoever.

    Aluminum-Free MoM (Milk of Magnesia) Roll-on Deodorant
    Citations
    • Bretagne A et al, "The mechanism of eccrine sweat pore plugging by aluminium salts using microfluidics combined with small angle X-ray scattering." Soft Matter, May 24, 2017. DOI: 10.1039/c6sm02510b
    • McGrath KG, "Apocrine sweat gland obstruction by antiperspirants allowing transdermal absorption of cutaneous generated hormones and pheromones as a link to the observed incidence rates of breast and prostate cancer in the 20th century." Medical Hypotheses, June 2009. DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.01.025
    • Sappino AP et al, "Aluminium chloride promotes anchorage‐independent growth in human mammary epithelial cells." Journal of Applied Toxicology, March, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1002/jat.1793
    • Darbre PD et al, "Aluminium and human breast diseases." Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, Nov., 2011. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2011.07.017
    • Mandriota SJ et al, "Aluminium chloride promotes tumorigenesis and metastasis in normal murine mammary gland epithelial cells." International Journal of Cancer, Dec. 15, 2016. DOI: 10.1002/ijc.30393
    • Maya S et al, "Multifaceted effects of aluminium in neurodegenerative diseases: A review." Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Oct. 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopha.2016.07.035
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    Has anyone tried cornstarch? I use white vinegar under my arms after I wash or shower, and when I get dressed I rub a little cornstarch under my arms to take away the stickiness. It’s soothing and this regimen has worked well for me for decades.

    I recently started making my own deodorant, using shea butter, coconut oil, baking soda (the serious ingredient), a little arrowroot, and some lavender oil. Many recipes are available on line, and I didn’t even go to the trouble to melt the oils. Also, seconding what someone said above, diet does matter. When I stopped eating sugar, I found that underarm odor was less intense.

    For body odor that does not respond to above suggestions and regular over the counter deodorants, see your health care provider. Bacterial infections, yeast, and certain metabolic problems can cause body odor. Often inexpensive topical medication, or diet changes can easily cure the problem.

    Fully effective methods I’ve used:

    – 1 tea spoon of baking powder under each arm every three days.

    – Chlorohexidine soap, at 4%. Smaller concentrations are used for mouthwash. Also effective as dandruf shampoo and easier sold as a pet shampoo.

    – Rubbing alcohol rubbed into armpits every 2-3 days.

    Am pleased to hear your views and solution, but I want to know exactly what I can use to remove body odor, not armpit odor. I have it over 3 years and I have used deodorant and experience sprays and it have never worked. Can I use milk of magnesia with body odor? Please help me.

    Look to your diet. My son ate a lot of cold cuts and when he stopped them; he smelled good again. It took awhile for that to happen but the nitrates in the cold cuts were the culprit.

    I have this awful smell all over my body. If I apply perfume, the smell became worse. I have wasted a lot of money trying all kinds of perfumes. I prefer to stay indoors, I don’t socialize. I am a prisoner in my house.

    Hi Maria. Try using Hibiclens. Wet your underarms then rub some on for like one minute then rinse and use crystal deodorant after and regular deodorant too if you want. I know how it feels but Hibiclens is the only thing that works for me. Let me know how it works. You can get those at Walmart or Walgreens.

    I have used colloidal silver for years and it works very well. Buy it from any health food store and put it in a spray bottle. The silver is a natural antibacterial but is non-toxic to the body. Odorless and colorless also :)

    I used baking soda with lemon and it is really really best…..
    but it made my underarm dark..

    This past few weeks I’ve been suffering from severe body odor.. Although I know that I have body odor, it’s not as foul as before.. I don’t know what to do.. I’ve been using deos for years and I never had problem with them, but now all of a sudden I’m suffering from severe body odor even if I’m not sweating.. Two hours after I showered, I start to smell awful. I don’t smell it myself, but I know it when I start to smell because people around me have this weird expression while looking at me, so I know they can smell it and that it was me.. It’s so embarassing.. the odor even goes around the whole room.. What should I do??

    My son has a body odor that is not associated with sweating. It permeates his clothing, bedding, his car – everything he comes in contact with. He doesn’t smell it himself so the subject is, of course, hard to bring up. I am wondering if MM under his arm pits and sprayed in the groin area would help him?

    Try a chlorohexidine 4% soap, sold as hospital disinfectant, wound disinfectant or pet shampoo. Generics from Walgreens and Rite Aid work better than pricier Hibiclens. Amazon is a good source for gallon sized. Also works on itches, rashes and dandruff. Safe, as also a mouthwash at lower concentrations. This soap and a good l, coarse loofah once a week will do wonders.

    Also, a very slightly bleached bath, soaking for 15-20 min.

    I also have body odor, but only this past few weeks that I became aware that even though I don’t sweat, my body produces the foul odor.. and like your son, I don’t smell it myself too.. I don’t know what to do as well, and to think that I’m a young woman, it’s so embarrassing to the people around me..

    I have had armpit odor for about four years now and I have tried everything like baking soda,white vinegar milk of magnesia, lemon juice I have tried them all but nothing seems to help… and when I’m around ppl I get so embarrassed especially at school every time I have to go in public I feel like crying… but my boyfriend doesn’t seem to have a problem with that… please help me I don’t know what to do anymore and I’m only 17yrs old I cry everyday and my head hurts so much!!

    Hello, honey. Has anyone given you any other options? I’ve had the same problem and have noticed less of an offending smell since I started probiotics. I also use Lavilin deodorant. I live in Texas so it gets really hot here, and so far so good. But, I think you’d have to do the probiotics and Lavilin in order to be odor free. I did have odor in my groin area and apply Betadine to it and that helps, too. These products can be the generic store brands. The Lavilin deodorant cream has to brand name, though. Good luck, honey, hope this helps! -Alex

    Aj, it is hard to say if milk of magnesia will help groin odor. It is probably worth a try though.

    Aj, please read my comment above. My natural system works for all body odor.
    Our skin (well the insides of our body as well) is host to a multitude of natural bacteria that live on and in us. When we unbalance our systems with unnatural products with harsh chemicals then we have problems.
    The multitude of organisms that live in and on us become unbalanced and often toxic. Leave the chemicals alone. Support your body’s native culture by nourishing the bacteria in and outside the body.
    Using just water for cleansing, eating a more natural diet, and taking probiotics regularly will definitely help. You might even try diluting some probiotics and rinsing your crotch area with them and then air dry.

    Pls help me out. Can the MoM work for groin odour? That’s the major source of my B.O. Thanks

    omg this stuff was my miracle!!
    I don’t know why my pits were so smelly I drunk so much water but didn’t quite eat right I ate healthy and unhealthy but I am small in weight (120).
    When I showered I scrubbed my underarms either with scrubs or soaps with menthol anything to rid the odor and no matter what I used it was a musty smell under my arms before I even got out the shower I wanted to cry when I kept trying things and it was helpless.
    I continued to google advice and try different remedies every brand of deodorant in a matter of seconds the musty smell started again.
    One day at work an older coworker asked me to step into the bathroom with her and she said I’m not being rude at all but I have daughters and I noticed the smell and I got this for you so I can’t imagine who else smelled me I was soooo embarrassed but she was respectful about it but she got me deodorant and I wanted to die. I found this board and people speaking of this milk of magnesia and I couldn’t wait to buy this stuff.
    I went to Duane Reade and got the big blue bottle went home showered and dried my pits and patted a layer of the liquid under my arms and let it dry for two minutes and it had no scent at all I kept sniffing my underarms in relief I had my family sniffing like what did u do how I was so excited.
    I went through the sea salt, baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, alcohol and more nothing helped.
    This milk of magnesia have me extra confident! The next day I still had no musty smell under my arms I shouted in the morning this stuff works miracles!!
    Anyone with underarm odor that cannot be covered up please I recommend this product you will not regret it!!! Trust me!

    Which brand of milk of magnesia did u used? I already use this product but it didn’t work on me.. so want to know which brand u used?

    What brand of milk of magnesia do you buy?

    For the person who had recommended milk of magnesia, thank you sooooo much. You’ve saved me from embarrassment.
    I never had a problem with sweat and body odor before, but lately I noticed that I sweat a lot and that my underarm smells sour. Deodorant that I usually used, don’t work anymore.
    I tried milk of magnesia, and the sour scent was GONE. I’ve been using it for a week now. Thank you. :-)
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:
    So pleased you got good results. Should you wish a convenient MoM Roll-On Deodorant that travels easily in your suitcase, here is a link:
    https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/deodorant/

    What is the procedure to apply milk of magnesia?

    did you scrub your armpits before using Milk of magnesia? cause I tried this method to but it does not work for me.

    I was told to use no deodorant or lotion during 7 weeks of radiation therapy. I had some Hibiclens cleanser (an antibacterial/antimicrobial), and followed the directions for washing, using it in the shower, with great results. I just used 10-15 drops to wash each armpit for 15 seconds in the shower and rinse. The result was no odor for 24 hours! You can get Hibiclens in any pharmacy.

    I have been doing it for 2 1/2 years so far with no negative outcome. I have completely gotten rid of morning breath, and I really don’t mind the taste. But thank you Carole for the advice. Also, I need to amend my comment about using baking soda for deodorant. I still use it but after a week I noticed that I was breaking out and burning in my armpits. I realized that I wasn’t letting my armpits dry completely before applying. Now, I wait an hour or 2 then apply. Also, right after I shave I only put witch hazel then the next morning I put the b.s.

    Brushing with straight baking soda is too abrasive to the enamel, not to mention tasting terrible.

    I wash my underarms with soap, wipe them with witch hazel and then rub magnesium oil on them (will burn if I have just shaven). It seems to keep me dry and odor free. I also get the added benefit of absorbing magnesium. I am told ingested magnesium does not get absorbed well and thus the cellular level is deficient in some people. Absorbing magnesium through the skin is a better way. So this method helps me keep my magnesium levels elevated and control under arm odor.

    Good news! I decided to try the baking soda since I have been having trouble with my deodorant lately. For about a month my deodorant has not worked. I found myself constantly re-applying, to no avail. So, I switched a few weeks ago to a different brand, it seems to have started breaking me out. So, after reading this article and being reminded of my friend from high school’s grandmother, I decided to try the baking soda.
    For 2 days I have not used deodorant, have applied the baking soda once in the morning then worked outside, exercised, and generally done everything that made me smell in the past, with no negative odor. I am so excited and hope this helps anyone else.

    A friend of mine in high school, said her grandmother has NEVER used doedorant. She sprinkles a little baking soda in her hand and applies it to her armpits after her shower. After reading this article, I think I might start doing that. I already use baking soda instead of toothpaste, and in the laundry, also to clean my sinks. Why not?

    What is the procedure to apply baking soda

    All these recommendations address only external solutions. I haven’t used deodorant in over 12 years because I cleaned up my diet! Yup, got rid of the grocery store oils, don’t buy prepared foods (other than one brand of baked beans..grin). Buy mostly organic stuff and use natural oils such as organic butter, coconut oil, palm oil, rice bran oil and avocado oil (for making my own mayonnaise).
    Only when I have eaten out and had stuff I normally don’t do I get stinky. A soak in our hot jacuzzi does the trick. Also for all you clean freaks out there that soap their bodies daily-you don’t need to do that and destroy the natural balance on your skin. A hot tub every day and no soap works wonders. Only head washing in the sink is needed.
    After 20 years of this regimen my skin does NOT look 66 years old. I use a coconut oil based moisturizer only every few days when my skin starts feeling dry.

    I have used underarm deodorant with no problem for decades, so underarm odor has not been a problem. However, several years ago I noticed an unpleasant odor from areas where skin meets skin, e.g., under my breasts that had sagged and at the base of my abdomen. I realized that those areas were always moist and that drying off after showers didn’t get them thoroughly dry. Easy solution: I started blasting those areas with my hair dryer after every shower. It takes a few seconds, they dry thoroughly, and the odor problem was nixed.

    I used to notice a yeasty odor as I dressed after my shower. I tried baking soda added to the soap and water I bathed with, but what finally helped was applying a small amount of coconut oil under my breasts after towel drying. It is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Now, I use it on most days under my arms as well, using my roll-on deodorant bought in England only some of the time.

    I use castile soap it is real good.

    I tried apple cider vinegar under my arms and that worked for awhile, but became ineffective. I have now been using milk of magnesia and that works great. I buy the generic brand at the drug store rather that the name brand milk of magnesia.

    I am allergic to all known antiperspirants. So my strategy is to reduce the population of the bacteria. Since they like a moist environment I use talcum powder. If I go outside much here in Central Mississippi I have to reapply, perhaps more than once.
    I do like the milk of magnesia idea, as it did good things for my scalp seborrhea.

    Is milk of magnesia available here in the Philippines?

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