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All about body odour, deodorants and the natural way forward

Wake up. Brush. Flush. Bathe. Eat. Dress up. Spray. — has become the new norm

Wait, but what’s the ‘spray’? Deodor­ants, ofcourse! Deodor­ants have moved from being just a niche per­son­al care prod­uct to an every­day must-use prod­uct. Pleas­ant body odour today extends well beyond being just an indi­ca­tor of good per­son­al hygiene and also plays a role in one’s social life, per­son­al con­fi­dence and pre­sen­ta­tion.

It is inter­est­ing to note that the char­ac­ter Satya­vati from the Mahab­hara­ta was known as Mat­sya­gand­hi (smelling like fish) and lat­er she was giv­en a boon of musk fra­grance and she came to be known as Gad­ha­vati.

Today, deodor­ants seem to be to go-to solu­tion to deal with body odour. This is a mat­ter of con­cern with regard to both the individual’s health, as well as the envi­ron­ment, as most deodor­ants come loaded with tox­ic chem­i­cals. When we talk about air pol­lu­tion, what comes to our mind right away is vehi­cles and traf­fic fumes, bliss­ful­ly unaware that some among the most envi­ron­men­tal­ly dan­ger­ous pol­lu­tants lie in our deodor­ant bot­tles, masked by flow­ery and enchant­i­ng fra­grances.

Over th

e last 5 years, the 3000cr deodor­ant mar­ket in

India has grown by 30%, mak­ing deodor­ants one of the fastest grow­ing sec­tors with­in the con­sumer goods sec­tor in India.Deodorants were only intro­duced into the mar­ket as late as 1888 by ‘Mum’. 1960s saw a host of deodor­ant brands which used aerosol, until it was banned. In 2018, the glob­al antiper­spi­rant and deodor­ant mar­ket is esti­mat­ed to be worth about 72.7 bil­lion USD.

Did you know that body odour is a com­plex phe­nom­e­na that is influ­enced by many fac­tors, includ­ing a person’s diet, health, age, genet­ics and of course, per­son­al hygiene. In this arti­cle, let us under­stand about body odour, deodor­ants and explore some nat­ur­al reme­dies to keep body odour under check and learn how to pre­pare sim­ple and chem­i­cal free deodor­ants at home.

Why is body odour produced?

Sweat­ing, as we know, is our body’s nat­ur­al mech­a­nism to reg­u­late the tem­per­a­ture. Body odour, how­ev­er is a more com­plex phe­nom­e­non. To under­stand body odour, let us first look at per­spi­ra­tion and the sub­se­quent action of bac­te­ria on the sweat.

The sweat glands in our body which are respon­si­ble for per­spi­ra­tion are of two types:

Eccrine glands: Eccrine glands cov­er most of our body’s skin sur­face and the sweat they pro­duce is main­ly made up of water and salts, both odour­less. Apoc­rine Glands

Apoc­rine glands are main­ly found in the armpits and they kick into action after puber­ty due to hor­mon­al action. The sweat they secrete is full of pro­teins and fats, which are odour­less. Armpits, being moist and humid, helps mil­lions of bac­te­ria thrive. These bac­te­ria feed on the pro­teins and fats pro­duced by apoc­rine sweat glands and con­vert them into stinky and unpleas­ant smelling com­pounds, which caus­es body odour.

What influences body odour?

Hygiene: Poor per­son­al hygiene is one of the pri­ma­ry caus­es of bad odour, since it gives more time and lay­ers of sweat for bac­te­ria to feed on. Armpits, being moist and with­out oxy­gen, eas­i­ly become breed­ing grounds for anaer­o­bic bac­te­ria and pro­duce a foul smell, if not cleansed and kept dry. Sweat­ing while exer­cis­ing, play­ing and dur­ing out­door activ­i­ties in the sun is quite com­mon. How­ev­er, not wash­ing your sports­wear, bathing irreg­u­lar­ly and allow­ing the sweat in your armpits to accu­mu­late are main con­trib­u­tors of body odor.

Diet: Research reveals many inter­est­ing insights on how dif­fer­ent types of foods alter our body odour. A study was con­duct­ed to under­stand the effect of meat con­sump­tion on body odour. Sev­en­teen male odor donors were on “meat” or “no-meat” diet for 2 weeks wear­ing axil­lary pads to col­lect body odor dur­ing the final 24 h of the diet. Fresh odor sam­ples were assessed for their pleas­ant­ness, attrac­tive­ness, mas­culin­i­ty, and inten­si­ty by 30 women. Results of repeat­ed mea­sures analy­sis of vari­ance showed that the odor of donors when on the no-meat diet was judged as sig­nif­i­cant­ly more attrac­tive, more pleas­ant, and less intense.

Dif­fer­ent foods pro­duce dif­fer­ent byprod­ucts upon break down by our body and get secret­ed. The bac­te­ria, then inter­act with them and pro­duce a smell. Cru­cif­er­ous veg­eta­bles like cau­li­flow­ers, cab­bages and broc­coli con­tain sul­phur com­pounds which pro­duce a “rot­ten egg” smell. When bac­te­ria act on them, they pro­duce more sul­phur con­tain­ing com­pounds, caus­ing very bad body odour.

The char­ac­ter­is­tic body odour pro­duced post the con­sump­tion of alco­hol is often unmiss­able and stinky. Alco­hol gets bro­ken down into acetates and acids in our body and they get secret­ed through the sweat, mak­ing it a breed­ing ground for bac­te­ria.

Genet­ic make­up: The ABCC11 gene plays a key role in the expres­sion and secre­tion of the odour caus­ing apoc­rine sweat glands and deter­mines the axil­lary body odour. For exam­ple, peo­ple of East Asian descent have few­er apoc­rine sweat glands, mak­ing them less prone to body odour. Muta­tions in the FMO3 gene cause trimethy­lamin­uria. Trimethy­lamine has been described as smelling like rot­ting fish, rot­ting eggs, garbage, or urine. As this com­pound builds up in the body, it caus­es affect­ed peo­ple to give off a strong odor in their sweat, urine, and breath.

Health: Accord­ing to Ayurve­da, unpleas­ant body odour is an indi­ca­tor for Ama or the accu­mu­la­tion of tox­ins in the body. Peo­ple with dia­betes, obe­si­ty, hyper­ac­tive thy­roid, kid­ney and liv­er dys­func­tions also tend to either exces­sive­ly sweat or have strong body odour.

Stress: Research shows that sweat due to stress smells more unpleas­ant than sweat pro­duced due to a workout.This is because sweat due to phys­i­cal work­outs is caused due to the eccrine glands, while stress trig­gers adren­a­line, which in turn caus­es sweat by the apoc­rine glands, which cause the stink. The sweat pro­duced due to ner­vous­ness and anx­i­ety or dur­ing stress also con­tains more tox­ins than the sweat pro­duced by play­ing.

Deodor­ants and Antiper­spi­rants:

How are deodor­ants and antiper­spi­rants dif­fer­ent from per­fumes? Why not just use per­fumes to deal with body odor?Func­tion­al­ly, a deodor­ant and an antiper­spi­rant take on dif­fer­ent roles.

Deodor­antsAntiper­spi­rants1Work by inhibit­ing the growth of or attack­ing the bac­te­ria which pro­duce the odourWork by cut­ting down on the sweat by clog­ging and clos­ing the pores tem­porar­i­ly2Have antibac­te­r­i­al and anti­sep­tic com­poundsHave pow­er­ful astrin­gents3Does not inter­fere with sweat­ingInter­feres with sweat­ing

Deodor­ants are loaded with very tox­ic and harm­ful chem­i­cal com­pounds and their wide­spread use in per­son­al care prod­ucts is debat­able and ques­tion­able. Strong chem­i­cals includ­ing alu­mini­um com­pounds, parabens, tri­closan, Phtha­lates, Diethanolamine (DEA), tri­ethanolamine (TEA), Butanes and Isobu­tanes are some oth­er com­mon­ly used tox­ic chem­i­cals in deodor­ants. These chem­i­cals are haz­ardous both for the per­son and envi­ron­ment as they kill nec­es­sary microbes of the body and sur­round­ing.

Some good hygiene habits that helps reduce body odour :

  1. Cleanse the armpits and oth­er areas which are thriv­ing sites for bac­te­ria to feed on sweat

  2. Yes. Take a bath every­day. If you live in a hot and humid place, which caus­es you to sweat pro­fuse­ly, bathe twice every­day.

  3. Wear easy and breath­able fab­rics like cot­ton which allows the sweat to evap­o­rate quick­ly

  4. Wash and main­tain your clothes well. Change them reg­u­lar­ly.

  5. Drink suf­fi­cient water. Water helps flush tox­ins out of you body and being a neu­tral sub­stance, pre­vents the for­ma­tion of bac­te­ria.

  6. Avoid gar­lic, onions, and exces­sive­ly spicy and fat­ty foods, and meats.

Nat­ur­al reme­dies to keep body odour under check:

  1. Coconut oil: Apply coconut oil under your arms and let it get absorbed into your skin. It con­tains lau­ric acid, which is a mild antibac­te­r­i­al.

  2. Neem: Neem is an excel­lent antibac­te­r­i­al and anti­fun­gal agent. Make a paste with the leaves, apply on your under­arms and leave it for a few min­utes before tak­ing a bath. This will keep your arms fresh and inhib­it bac­te­r­i­al activ­i­ty.

  3. Lemon: Apply­ing fresh­ly cut lemon juice under your arms, leav­ing it to dry, and them bathing also helps fight body odour due to lemon’s antibac­te­r­i­al prop­er­ties.

  4. Rose water: Adding rose water to your bathing water helps, as it is a nat­ur­al coolant and fra­grant.

Mak­ing a Nat­ur­al Deodor­ant

To make a deodor­ant, we need ingre­di­ents to:

  1. Pre­vent micro­bial activ­i­ty

  2. Mask bad odour and impart a pleas­ant fra­grance

  3. Absorb mois­ture and smoothen the skin


  1. Coconut oil — 1 tbsp

  2. Beeswax pel­lets — 1 tbsp

  3. Lemon­grass essen­tial oil — 10 drops

  4. Corn­starch pow­der — 2 tbsp


  1. Melt the beeswax by plac­ing in a con­tain­er in a ves­sel of boil­ing water. (The water should not enter the con­tain­er)

  2. Once the beeswax melts, add the coconut oil and the corn­starch pow­der and mix well until it forms a smooth paste

  3. Add the essen­tial oil and again stir well

  4. Store in a small and dry con­tain­er


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