BODY odors are usually associated with sweat, and sweating has been part of human experience ever since the time of our first parents.—Gen. 3:19.
Though one does not want to be needlessly offensive to others, there is such a thing as being overly concerned with banishing B.O., as it is called. After all, there is the vanity of human nature and the tendency to go to extremes. Taking advantage of this human weakness, the advertising industry in a number of countries has been largely responsible for the development and sale of a wide variety of deodorant preparations that are said to banish B.O.
According to an American Medical Association committee, “There are many deodorants and antiperspirants on the market—enough to have kept Adam free from body odor and excessive perspiration throughout his long life—and perhaps even enough to satisfy today’s consumer.” Critics claim, however, that due primarily to advertising, all body and mouth odors are considered as undesirable and need to be banished, even though body odors are normal and even considered desirable among some societies.
Yet it does seem that an interest in keeping B.O. under control is a desirable thing.
Actually, you are perspiring all the time whether you notice it or not. There is what is called the insensible sweat. By means of it the average person gives off about a quart of moisture a day.
In contrast, there is what is known as sensible sweat, meaning that which is very apparent to the senses. Usually our bodies produce sensible sweat when the temperature is very high, when we are working hard and if we are excited or under some emotional stress.
Depending upon conditions, one’s body may give off from about three pints to as much as five gallons of perspiration a day!
The Sweat Glands
Our bodies have two kinds of sweat glands; the smaller and far more numerous—some two to three million—are the eccrine glands. These account for most of our perspiration.
The other, and less numerous, are known as the apocrine glands. These are much larger but are situated chiefly in the underarm and genital areas. It is what they exude that chiefly results in B.O. It seems that these are sex related, as children before the age of adolescence and old folks are not greatly bothered with underarm B.O.
Contrary to what one may think, it is not perspiration itself that is necessarily offensive. Rather, it is when the perspiration is worked on by certain bacteria or fungi that disagreeable odors are given off. Thus the breakdown products actually cause the B.O.
What Can Be Done About B.O.?
What causes some persons to have a strong and unpleasant body odor, and what can be done about it? A common reason why some have B.O. is that they are wearing underwear in which they have sweated profusely. While sweat itself, under normal conditions, is quite odorless, garments in which we have sweated tend to have a strong odor because of the action of bacteria. So one remedy would be to change the underwear more often.
It is good to keep in mind, too, that the normal functioning of one’s underarm sweat glands is exaggerated by nervous tension, and B.O. may result rather suddenly. Hence, one who has perspired due to nervous tension may find it advisable to wash under the arms as soon as an opportunity presents itself.
Another reason why some persons have B.O. is that they are thoughtless or negligent as to personal cleanliness. In fact, some doctors believe that lack of personal cleanliness is the “common denominator” involved in the majority of B.O. problems. Taking baths or showers regularly will certainly help. Water and soap reduce body odor by washing away bacteria and glandular secretions. But what if water is very limited? Then a sponge bath can be taken.
True, dermatologists warn that too frequent bathing is not good for the skin, primarily due to the fact that soap used when bathing either causes irritation or removes too much of the oil from the skin. If this is a problem, then mild, nonirritant soaps and bath oils are recommended. Even if a person is extremely sensitive to soap, one can get clean without using soap. A noted allergist, Dr. Waldbott, said regarding this matter: “A patient can take his daily baths without soaps and cleanse his body sufficiently by gently rubbing the skin with a dry towel after the bath.”
Many persons find that bathing is not enough to solve the problem of B.O., and they use some form of deodorant or antiperspirant preparation. These are available in a great many forms—liquids, powders, creams, roll-on types, sticks and aerosol sprays.
Perfumes and colognes help to mask over disagreeable odors with more pleasant ones. Creams made of petrolatum act by absorbing the odor. However, simply applying a deodorant does not remove the bacteria. Therefore, it is wise to bathe first, and then apply the deodorant materials.
Popular also are the antiperspirants. They are considered drugs in that they affect a body function, in this case, sweating. They can cut down the sweat as much as 50 percent, and that for several hours. Their most common active ingredient is a form of aluminum salts such as aluminum chloride and aluminum hydroxychloride. As to these antiperspirants, the volume The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics (Fourth Edition), by Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman, says: “Aluminum salts are known to cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. The mechanism of action of antiperspirants is not completely known. It is generally agreed that these agents are astringent [having the property of shrinking tissues] and that this action is largely responsible for their ability to reduce skin secretions.”
This work also points out that certain ingredients in deodorants, used to reduce the number of bacteria on the skin, may also cause allergic reactions. So if one experiences skin irritation with any deodorant or antiperspirant, one might experiment with other products that are less irritating. At all times one should wash before applying such products, as repeated applications without washing can cause serious irritation.
Should most or all of the conventional products cause irritation or if one simply wants to avoid them, one might be able to find natural products. The book Our Poisoned Earth and Sky, by J. I. Rodale and staff, mentions such a product that contains an especially absorbent type of “fuller’s earth, a fine clay used in the textile industry to ‘full’ or cleanse cloth.” According to this source, “it neither prevents perspiration nor masks it, but it does attract and hold moisture.” Similar products may be available, depending on where one lives.
The aerosol sprays in particular are popular in “feminine hygiene.” These are easy to use and have a pleasant fragrance. It is said that in 1971 American women spent $67 million on them—but not advisedly.
Thus Consumer Reports (published by a nonprofit organization) in its January 1972 issue published a 3,000-word article entitled “Should Genital Deodorants Be Used?” It began by stating that America’s advertising business “has created a demand for a product of questionable value. It’s a possible health hazard as well.”
The article pointed out how little research had been done as to the health hazards of these products before they were marketed—the law not requiring the testing of cosmetics. It also showed that the advertising is sex-oriented rather than hygiene-oriented, playing upon women’s (and men’s) concern for pleasurable sex relations.
More than that, the article revealed that a number of women have had serious complications as a result of using these products and that several large lawsuits have been instituted by those harmed by these products. After making the point that these aerosol sprays could not do anything that soap and water could not do better, the article ended with the advice: “The answer to the immediate problem of genital cosmetics is simple. Don’t use them.”
Making much the same points are the comments of Dr. Eleanor B. Easley, Clinical Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University Medical Center. Writing in a professional medical journal, June 1973, she stated: “These preparations are not merely unnecessary and/or ineffective. They may be harmful. We have observed severe sensitivity reactions from some of them. Madison Avenue advertisers—with eyes wide open, I would think—exploit feminine insecurities for profit.”
Because of these facts the United States Food and Drug Administration has asked that the following warning be printed on each can of such sprays: “Caution—For external use only. Spray at least 8 inches from skin. Use sparingly and not more than once daily to avoid irritation. Do not use this product with a sanitary napkin. Do not apply to broken, irritated, or itching skin. Persistent or unusual odor may indicate the presence of a condition for which a physician should be consulted. If a rash, irritation, unusual vaginal discharge, or discomfort develops, discontinue use immediately and consult physician.”—New York Times, June 21, 1973.
So, being overly concerned with banishing body odors could lead to unwise use or overuse of a product, resulting possibly in complications. But if you do have much contact with people, it would be well to give thought to keeping B.O. under control, as your effectiveness in dealing with people may be interfered with if you are careless in such matters. In brief, let the Golden Rule govern you: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.”—Luke 6:31.