If It's You They Are Talking About…
Do's and Don'ts of Gym Hygiene (Part Two )

As explained to me by dermatologist Socouer Oblepias of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM), BO or body odor is most commonly caused by the unhappy combination of poor hygiene, armpit sweat and bacteria. The other reasons are diet, lifestyle and underlying medical problems.

Washing and bathing
The first line of defense against BO is to thoroughly wash the armpits twice a day (more if you have BO of gigantic proportions). Oblepias said that many people with BO only do a perfunctory cleaning of their armpits. They either do not take enough time to wash or they miss out certain areas.

What kind of soap would be the most effective? I thought the answer would be anti-bacterial soap. But if experiments at RITM and Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts are anything to go by, ordinary bath soap may be just as effective. However, both experiments were about washing the hands and not cleaning the armpits so it is possible that the results of the studies do not carry over to armpit hygiene.

The Tufts University experiment found that for regular soap to be effective, the hands had to be thoroughly soaped for a certain amount of time. The researchers found that singing "Happy Birthday" twice was just the right length of time to remove as much bacteria as possible. No harm done applying this strategy to armpit cleaning (though you might sound a bit foolish if you sing loudly) except that Oblepias warns against scrubbing too vigorously because it can damage the skin.

Interestingly enough, RITM found that alcohol-gel hand sanitizers were the most effective in removing the greatest number of bacteria from the hands. But before you run off and buy bottles and bottles of hand sanitizers to turn them into "armpit sanitizers", Oblepias warns that excessive use of these products can be drying and irritating to the skin.

Proper use of deodorants
Every single person I have ever had to talk to about BO did not use a deodorant. I have heard reasons ranging from it causes cancer to it makes them less macho (?). Deodorants (I use the term loosely to also mean anti-perspirants) have a dual purpose: They make the armpits smell better and, more importantly, they stop them from sweating (remember that less sweat means less food for those nasty bacteria).

One of the reasons that clients have given me for not using a deodorant is that it darkens their armpits. Oblepias says it could be preservatives and other ingredients in commercial deodorants that literally darken or stain the skin of certain susceptible individuals. It could also be a case of 'contact dermatitis" or an allergic reaction to those ingredients. When the allergy subsides, the skin is "scarred" with a darkening effect. Oblepias says that it is very possible to be using a specific brand of deodorant for a few months and then suddenly develop an allergy to it.

If you are one of those people who won't use a deodorant because it darkens your armpits, have mercy on the people around you by using old-fashioned 'tawas" or crystal aluminum chloride to keep armpit sweating under control. Oblepias says that if you don't relish using tawas, then you can buy aluminum chloride from the drugstores. Look for a 15 to 20% formula. If you sweat a lot, go for the 20%.

If you exercise and do not use a deodorant, the bottom line is that you probably have BO to some degree depending on your particular genetic make-up (some people sweat less than others). You will also have BO if you do not apply your deodorant well. Here are some tips to prevent nasal damage to society.

I asked Dr. Oblepias if there was any truth to the notion that the armpits develop a resistance to a specific type of deodorant. In other words, what used to work three months ago no longer works in keeping you smell-free. She said she doesn't know of any scientific studies proving it but she believes the theory is possible because the body does develop resistance to such substances as antibiotics, steroids, skin products, and coffee. Commercial deodorants use different formulations and active ingredients so it is possible that the skin gets immune to their effects.

Odor molecules are tenacious creatures that can ruin your favorite workout gear. Like gremlins, they lie dormant in the fibers of the fabric just waiting to be activated into action by a little sweat. To prevent this from happening, have your exercise clothes washed as soon as you can. Do not leave them overnight in your gym bag or in your bathroom hamper because the odor monsters will multiply. If in spite of this, you find that your beloved outfit has developed a suspicious odor, try using a detergent with odor-eating properties. There are also special commercial solutions available either locally or abroad that effectively remove stubborn odors.

Oblepias also suggests changing underclothes frequently. She said some people have the bad habit of using the same bra or sando for a few days. These people cannot smell the odors that have accumulated on these underclothes but other people sure can!

Hope for smelly feet
The same tips to prevent smelly armpits apply to preventing smelly feet including, believe it or not, using a deodorant. Yes, armpit deodorant will work just as effectively to control sweating in the feet. Oblepias recommends using a roll-on deodorant on feet that have been thoroughly washed and dried. She says that athletic shoes need to be aired between workouts and not stuffed into a dark damp locker or bag.

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