Here’s a fun fact: sweat doesn’t stink. That’s right, the sweat your body produces — especially during a workout — is odorless. That fragrant body smell actually derives from “bacteria that break down proteins into acids, which then give off odors,” according to Jessica Wu, MD, a Los Angeles dermatologist.
Now, all sweat is fair game to this bacteria takeover, but certain sweat zones can be a little funkier. You probably know what we’re talking about, but just in case, Dr. Wu spells it out pretty well. “Apocrine glands, a type of sweat gland found in your armpits and groin, secrete sweat that’s high in proteins. When bacteria come in contact with the proteins, it breaks them down into odor-causing acids.”
And that is how your otherwise odorless sweat can turn into your body’s own version of stinky acid rain! Once those odor-causing acids infiltrate a shirt, bra, shoe, sock, bag, or towel, your best game plan is to always be up wind. The longer you ignore a sweat-stained item, the greater the stench.
“If your sweaty clothes sit around for a while before you have a chance to wash them, the bacteria multiply, and have a longer time to break down proteins—which means a stronger stink,” explained Dr. Wu. Now, your clothes stink and that makes you smell bad!
Here are her four suggestions (plus one of ours) for tackling the funk at the source and before it takes over the locker room!
1. Wash workout clothes (including socks) as soon as possible after sweating. Remember, she said the longer you allow dirty gym clothes to break down those proteins, the stinkier mess you’ve got to work with. Plus, clean fabrics won’t break down as quickly, meaning the investment in nice gym clothes will last longer.
2. Re-apply antiperspirant before working out. Beat the stink before it can start, or at least mask it. Dr. Wu recommends Dove for women or Axe dry spray for the guys.
3. Shave or trim hair in your underarms and groin. Sure, maintained body hair can be aesthetically pleasing, but Dr. Wu says that the longer hairs give bacteria a very plush place to grow. And by now we know more bacteria equals more stink.
4. Use antibiotic wipes to reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin. For some of Dr. Wu’s patients, fighting stubborn body odor requires a prescription for antibiotic wipes.
5. Take a shower. Take a shower at the gym or hit it when you get home, but the sooner you rinse the sooner you’ll clean your skin of the odor-producing bacteria that’s feeding off of your fresh sweat. If you can’t, using the wipes Dr. Wu recommended or a similar product is an acceptable substitution.