Last week I tore the medial collateral ligament in my left knee snowboarding. It was the first run of our Utah trip, and swerving to avoid a downed skier, my good deed did not go unpunished. Hobbling and depressed, I spent the next several days in a funk – literally! Stressed about all the fresh powder I couldn’t enjoy, I dosed myself with massive amounts of chocolate and did the unthinkable – used antiperspirant. Normally I keep my pits fresh and detoxed with lots of sweaty yoga and running, but as the funk from being sidelined set in, and against my better judgment, I opted for a few spritzes.
Thus began a Sisyphean slide into an unwinnable war with my microbes.
The two main types of bacteria under your armpits are Staphylococci, which have very little smell, and Corynebacterium, which are a lot funkier. Aluminum salts in antiperspirants have a greater impact on Staph, leading to a compensatory increase in the population of Corynebacterium. So regular use of antiperspirants can actually make you more, rather than less smelly.
Adding stress to the mix really funks it up. You have two kinds of sweat glands: eccrine glands on your skin, and apocrine glands in damp, hairy areas like your armpits and groin. Eccrine glands secrete odorless water and salt when it’s hot or when you’re exercising, which helps cool you down as it evaporates. Apocrine glands release a milky white substance when you’re stressed that combines with the bacteria in your armpits and groin to create smelly body odor.
But the chocolate was the nail that really sealed my stinky coffin. Cows on the feedlot have malodorous gas because of an increase in pathogenic microbes like E. coli that a diet of corn, instead of grass, produces. We suffer the same shift in our personal aroma when we overindulge in lots of sugar and not enough plant fiber.
Who knew snowboarding could be so hazardous!
Looking for a microbe-friendly alternative to your antiperspirant? Going completely deodorant and soap free is ideal, but on those days when you just need a little something extra, try these natural (Environmental Working Group (EWG) verified) options: Soapwalla, Purelygreat for men, Purelygreat for women, Be Green Bath & Body, and Qet Botanicals.
By: Dr. Robynne Chutkan