It’s a fact of life: We all smell. Sure, some people may be stinkier than others, but there’s no avoiding the dreaded body odor. The good news: You can take a few mindful steps to minimize your stench that don’t just involve dousing yourself in perfume.
Pay attention to these stinky hot spots:
“When a foot is in a sock and a shoe, it’s hot, it’s dark, and it’s moist,” says podiatrist Andrew Shapiro, a spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association. This sets up the perfect environment for bacteria or fungus to thrive in. Even more gross: The white, crumbly crud that you often find between your toes is just skin cells that are decomposing—and getting smelly. And when your feet sweat in your shoes, the sweat has nowhere to go.
What to do: Don’t wear the same shoes every day, and take your sneakers off immediately after you exercise, says Justin Ko, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford University. Try wearing moisture-wicking socks and breathable footwear (leather, not plastic). To keep feet clean, make sure to wash them with soap and water—and thoroughly dry them with a towel. Applying baby powder or talcum powder can help absorb sweat, too.
Heavy sweater or not, bacteria tends to form in hairy areas like the armpits, which can cause your pits to stink.
What to do: Wait at least 15 minutes after you get out of the shower to apply antiperspirant (blocks sweat) or deodorant (masks smells)—they work best when you’re completely dry. Shaving your underarms also makes a difference. “Hair tends to hold smell,” says Richard Doty, PhD, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Also, try wearing undergarments that absorb perspiration and do your best to stay cool. If you’ve tried everything and still can’t escape underarm funk, ask your doctor for a prescription-strength antiperspirant.
When foreign objects (think dirt and insects) find their way inside a moist ear canal, they can start to decay and create a foul odor. And, when sweat or water gets trapped behind wax, it can start a stinky infection. “[Your ear] is like an incubator,” explains otolaryngologist Wendy Stern, M.D., chair of the media and public relations committee for the American Academy of Otolaryngology. In more severe cases, you can develop ear infections, which may cause a smelly pus to come out of your ear.
What to do: Stern recommends for those that are prone to outer ear inections to occasionally clean your ears with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol using an eyedropper—not cotton swabs!— to reduce bacteria production. In fact, a swipe with a Q-Tip may just push wax further in. Visit the pool a lot? Try waterproof earplugs for added protection from things like swimmer’s ear.
We all get it every once in a while (darn you, garlic!), but chronic halitosis (bad breath) can indicate a more serious medical condition.
What to do: It goes without saying, but make sure to brush and floss your teeth twice a day. You can also add an old-fashioned gargle (a tablespoon of salt mixed with six ounces of warm water) to your morning routine because sodium kills bacteria that can cause bad breath. And during the day, try to drink as much water as possible. The more you consume, the more saliva you create to wash away odor-causing mouth bacteria. Green tea is also a great substitute. Foods and beverages to avoid: milk products (they thicken nasal mucus), chocolate, and alcohol. If nothing seems to help your bad breath, see a doctor to check for any medical conditions that may be causing it.