To understand underarm odor you must first understand where it comes from. The short answer is, body sweat and bacteria. The human body contains two types of sweat glands: eccrine glands, which are all over your body and open directly into the skin, and apocrine glands, which are found in areas where hair follicles are abundant. When your body temperature rises, it releases sweat as a cooling mechanism [source: Mayo Clinic].
For the most part, sweat itself is odorless. But sweat released from the apocrine glands is considered a fatty sweat. When you become nervous, your body contracts tubules or small tubular structures in the glands and forces the sweat to the surface. The odor is a result of this bacteria breaking down the fatty apocrine sweat, biodegrading so to speak. So what can we do to prevent or at least curb this?
The best way to prevent underarm odor is to prevent sweat. But that's easier said than done. Antiperspirants do help. An antiperspirant containing active ingredients (ingredients that are activated by the body), such as aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly and aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly prevent sweat from accumulating. Without sweat, the bacterial biodegrading can't occur, therefore minimizing underarm odor [source: Mayo Clinic].
Deodorants are also useful in masking underarm odor. While they won't prevent perspiration, fragrances in deodorants cover up the smell left behind by the bacteria. Body sprays are popular but don't do anything for perspiration. Most antiperspirants also contain deodorants so they play a dual role -- staving off odor while fighting off sweat.
If regular deodorants are not enough, doctors can prescribe clinical strength antiperspirants high in aluminum chloride. Some over-the-counter alternatives such as Gillette Clinical boast prescription-strength results.
Since we're aiming to stay dry as a preventative measure to underarm odor, consider your wardrobe. Clothing made from natural fibers, such as cotton and bamboo, allow your skin to breathe better than synthetic materials, like polyester and spandex. More air circulation means drier armpits.
Personal hygiene -- washing your armpits and body -- is another critical element in preventing underarm odor. It goes hand-in-hand with odor prevention.
But preventing underarm odor is one thing. Eliminating it once you have it is another. Let's get into that in the next section.