DO YOU SMELL? 16 unexpected things that could make you, well, smell – and how to freshen up fast You know you’re slightly pungent after a hard Spinning class or garlicky dinner. But it turns out that some less expected factors-like how quickly you get dressed in the morning, the amount of carbs you eat, or whether you snore – can also affect your BO, breath, gassiness, and more. Here’s how to fix it, fast.
1. YOU DON’T TOWEL OFF AFTER SHOWERING
A speedy post-shower rubdown may end up causing a problem later on. That’s because moisture can get trapped between folds of skin, like below your breasts, under your love handles, or even between your toes, says Marina Peredo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Smithtown, New York. “There’s no access to air there, and it’s easier for bacteria and fungi to multiply and mix with sweat, causing odor and irritation,” she says. Fix it: Peredo recommends this trick to her patients: “After you dry off, set a blow-dryer to cool and wave it over your belly, groin, feet-anywhere that gets uncomfortably sweaty.” You can also sprinkle an absorbent powder with antifungal properties onto your skin or in your shoes. Try Zeabsorb-AF, available at drugstores.
2. YOU LOVE CHICKEN TIKKA
Foods with pungent ingredients, such as curry, garlic, and other spices, can not only cause bad breath, but also a bit of a body odor. When digested, these foods produce several stinky sulfur-containing gases. Most of these byproducts are metabolized in the intestines and liver, but some, such as allyl methyl sulfide, are absorbed into the bloodstream and released through your lungs and pores, an effect that can last for a few hours or more, says Debra Jaliman, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Fix it: You can temporarily mask bad breath with mouthwash or by chewing a bit of fresh parsley, mint, or fennel seeds, but you’ll have to wait until your body is done digesting before all the odor is completely gone. Sit down to a spicy meal in good company; it’s tough to smell it on others if you all eat the same thing, says Richard Price, D.M.D., spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Avoid garlic-rich chow in the hours before an important meeting or date.
3. YOU BRUSH-BUT ONLY YOUR TEETH
Neglect your tongue, and your breath may not be as fresh as you’d like. Your tongue is covered with thousands of small hair-like projections called papillae, which can trap and harbor tiny scraps of food. So even if you brush and floss regularly, small remains from your meals can hang behind, collecting bacteria and emitting hydrogen sulfide vapors-also known as bad breath. Fix it: Mouthwashes may help, but the best way to remove bacteria, dead cells, and food debris from the crevices of your tongue is with an inexpensive tongue scraper. Brushing your tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush works well too. Gently clean as far back as you can without gagging. Also, switch to a toothpaste that contains chlorine dioxide or tea tree oil, a powerful disinfectant with a pleasant, eucalyptus-like smell.
4. YOU’RE UNDER SERIOUS STRESS
When an urgent project drops on your desk, sweating is part of how your body naturally handles the pressure. Our bodies are smart. The famous fight or flight response mechanism-yep, the same one that helped our ancestors outrun saber-toothed tigers-increases sweating so that we don’t overheat while we’re battling it out. Fast-forward a few thousand years, and hectic days at the office can produce those same sweaty palms and sticky underarms. Fix it: Try sage tea. It contains the astringent tannin and several antiseptic compounds that may act to calm down the sympathetic nervous system, which is what triggers all those stress symptoms. Sage tea should reduce overall perspiration if sipped frequently in small quantities throughout the day. To make it, steep 1 to 2 teaspoons of coarsely powdered dried sage leaves in hot water and leave covered for 10 minutes to ensure all the active ingredients have been released
5. YOU’VE UPPED YOUR FIBER INTAKE
Fiber-packed foods are great for your health, but they may leave you feeling a little gassy. Unfortunately, the reason some fiber-rich foods-such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans-keep you feeling full longer is the same reason that they can cause gas, according to the Mayo Clinic. This type of fiber, called soluble fiber, doesn’t get digested until it reaches the large intestine (other foods typically get digested in the small intestine, earlier in the digestive process). Here, healthy bacteria in your gut break down the fiber, which produces hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and even methane. Eventually, these smelly gases have to go somewhere-and they often exit in the form of flatulence. Fix it: Add these foods to your diet over a few weeks so your body can adjust. If you use a fiber supplement, be sure to take it with at least 8 ounces of water and drink plenty of liquids throughout the day-fiber won’t move easily through the digestive system without it.
6. YOU SNORE LIKE A BANSHEE
Blame those nighttime noises for cover-your-mouth morning breath. Sleeping with your mouth open dries out your oral cavity, enabling dead cells to accumulate and decompose on your tongue, gums, and cheeks. This is what causes morning breath. Fix it: Skip the nightcap. Alcohol before bed can make snoring worse. Placing an adhesive snoring strip across the bridge of your nose can help by enhancing breathing. In the morning, in addition to brushing your teeth and tongue and flossing, gargle with a small cup of acidic lemon juice to kill odor-causing bacteria. Then eat plain unsweetened yogurt, which contains healthy lactobacillus bacteria, a probiotic that competes with and replaces the reeking bacteria in your mouth. The lemon-yogurt combo instantly neutralizes odor and lasts 12 to 24 hours, says Mark Moyad, M.D., M.P.H., director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
7. YOU EAT ON THE RUN
If you wolf down lunch in mere minutes because of work deadlines, you may have a burpy afternoon ahead of you. Chewing too fast and drinking through a straw can cause you to swallow too much air. You release most of this air, which contains nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, from the stomach by burping. What’s left makes its way through the digestive tract until it is eventually expelled through the other end-as gas. Fix it: An hour-long lunch break may be unheard of these days, but do give yourself enough time to chew properly, without gigantic bites. Put down your fork while you munch to slow down, if necessary. Also, don’t eat when you’re anxious, upset, or stressed-it can interfere with digestion. On hectic days where you know you’ll eat quickly, take two enteric-coated peppermint capsules (500 mg each) three times daily, recommends Ronald Hoffman, M.D., author of Alternative Cures that Really Work (Rodale, 2007). Peppermint kills bacteria that cause bloating and relaxes gastrointestinal muscles for smoother digestion.
8. YOU ONLY USE DEODORANT
Make sure your white stick contains antiperspirant too. Deodorants only temporarily mask your BO-they don’t prevent your body from releasing sweat, says Peredo. “Antiperspirants actually plug your sweat glands, which stops you from excreting sweat,” she says. Fix it: You really need only an antiperspirant, but if you want that ocean breeze scent, at least pick a product that has both deodorant and antiperspirant. If you’re a big-time sweater (especially in sticky summer months), apply it before you go to sleep. You perspire less at night, so more of the antiperspirant’s aluminum-based active ingredient is pulled into sweat glands. The effect can last 24 hours or longer, even if you shower in the morning. If this doesn’t help, ask your doctor about prescription-strength antiperspirants, such as Drysol or Xerac, which contain aluminum chloride.
9. YOUR SCALP IS FLAKY
Dandruff isn’t the problem-it’s the hiatus from hair washing that makes your mane smell gamey. “It’s a common misperception that dandruff occurs when your hair scalp is too dry,” says Peredo, a myth that makes people wash their hair less. This, combined with the fact that an irritated scalp may be more of a bacteria breeding ground, can make your tresses smell. “In fact, dandruff happens when your hair is too oily.” Fix it: Washing your hair with shampoo regularly may help get the flakes in check. If not, try an OTC dandruff shampoo. Look for ones with zinc pyrithione, an antifungal/antibacterial agent that can de-germ your scalp (found in Head & Shoulders or Selsun Salon), or with coal tar, an ingredient that slows down your skin cell-shedding process (like Neutrogena T/Gel). If the dandruff still doesn’t go away after a few weeks, see your doctor or dermatologist. You may need a stronger prescription-strength product or steroid lotion.
10. YOU TAKE A PRESCRIPTION DRUG
Check your medicine cabinet-it could be the source of your not-so-fresh breath. Hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs-for everything from allergies to high blood pressure to depression-can cause dry mouth, one of the most common triggers of bad breath. They may block the action of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that tells nerves to switch on the salivary glands. Fix it: Ask your doctor to adjust your dosage or suggest an alternative medication that doesn’t list dry mouth as a side effect. In the meantime, frequently sip water to stimulate the production of saliva, which keeps the mouth moist and clean. Limit coffee consumption and try to breathe through your nose, not your mouth, to avoid drying it out further. OTC saliva substitutes can also help keep your mouth moist, according to the Mayo Clinic. Look for ones containing carboxymethylcellulose or hydroxyethylcellulose to help thicken saliva.
11. YOU’RE BETWEEN PERIODS
Who knew? A woman’s monthly cycle can influence how much she sweats. Body temperature rises half a degree midcycle when you’re ovulating, enough to prompt more sweat-and BO, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine and a Prevention advisor. Vaginal secretions increase then too. Fix it: Try a stronger underarm antiperspirant/deodorant midcycle (about 14 days from the day your last menstrual period started) and wear cotton underwear, which allows moisture to evaporate. If you’re noticing a persistent, unusual vaginal odor, check with your doctor; it could be an infection that requires treatment.
12. YOU’VE CUT OUT CARBS
Followers of protein-packed diets may find their breath surprisingly stinky. Ditching bread to slip into your skinny jeans may take a toll on your breath-and your overall health. Some of these high-protein plans have you consuming between 30 and 50% of total calories from protein. Because carbs are your body’s normal energy source, when you consume too few, you start burning your own fat stores for energy, which releases substances called ketones into your bloodstream, according to the American Heart Association. These can make your breath smell funky-some describe it as a combination of nail polish and overripe pineapples. In addition, diets high in animal sources of protein may also have too much saturated fat, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Fix it: Cut out overall calories-not just those from carbs-to lose weight. You should consume at least 130 g of carbohydrates daily-ideally whole grains, beans, and fruits and veggies-to stay healthy.
13. YOU WEAR SPANDEX WHEN YOU WORK OUT
Ditch those form-fitting clothes for a less smelly gym session. Tight, synthetic fabrics, like spandex, rub against skin and can trap sweat. This may cause extra odor, as well as skin irritation, like folliculitis (inflammation around hair follicles) and acne-like eruptions, says Peredo. Fix it: Opt for moisture wicking fabrics that are antimicrobial too. Wool-containing fabrics, for example, naturally inhibit the growth of stink-causing bacteria (one to try: lightweight, itch-free Smartwool). Newer synthetic fabrics, like Cocona, are spun with fibers from recycled coconut shells that provide odor repellent (find it in brands like New Balance and Merrell).
14. YOU’RE A GUM ADDICT
Sugar-free kinds are better for your teeth, but they can make your tummy rumbly, causing flatulence. Our bodies don’t completely digest the low-cal sweeteners, such as sorbitol, found in sugar-free gum. When bacteria in the large intestine break them down, it can cause gas and even diarrhea. Fix it: Soothe your sweet tooth with a cup of peppermint tea instead. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which appears to have a soothing effect on the muscles of your digestive tract, providing relief from gas and gas pain. Or drink a half-cup of cranberry juice a day. It contains phytochemicals that suppress the odor-causing bacteria in your gut.
15. YOU HAVE ALLERGIES
A drippy nose can make your breath smell sour. When nasal fluid drips from the sinuses to the back of your throat, it can stink up your breath. So can breathing mainly from your mouth when nasal passages are blocked because this dries out your mouth. A dry mouth prevents saliva from keeping your mouth moist and clean, making dead cells more likely to accumulate on your tongue, gums, and cheeks. When these cells decompose, they produce an odor. Fix it: Drink plenty of water-not coffee, soda, or alcohol, which can dehydrate you. Decades worth of clinical tests have also found that nasal irrigation, in which the sinus cavities are rinsed with lukewarm salt water, is a safe, effective, and inexpensive way to flush out the mucous that causes halitosis. Rubber syringes, ceramic Neti pots, a plastic squeeze bottle such as SinuCleanse, or sprays like ENTsol all work well. Use warm, distilled water and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt per 1 cup for the Neti pot.
16. YOUR OFFICE HAS A “NO-SANDALS” POLICY
Do you slip your bare feet into pumps? You could have an odor problem at the end of the day. Closed shoes can act as a bacteria breeding ground, trapping moisture and causing that stinky feet stench, according to The Doctors’ Book of Home Remedies. When you skip out on socks, there’s nothing to absorb the sweat your feet produce. Fix it: You can rub an antiperspirant on the bottom of your feet and between toes. It’s also a good idea to dab your feet with an antifungal powder, which will help keep your tootsies dry. At night, dunk feet in a bacteria-killing bath of 1 part vinegar and 2 parts water. You could also try a black tea soak for about 30 minutes. The tannins kill bacteria and close up pores, which keep your feet dryer, longer. You’ll see results in a few days to a week.