How to Smell Good: A Guide for Men

Updated on December 8, 2018
Jayne Lancer profile image

From behind the beauty counters of some of London's most renowned department stores, Jayne advises on skin & hair care, makeup & fragrance.

Even if you think you're already a lost cause, there's actually a whole bunch of different things you can do to help reduce your B.O. and keep you smelling good—and this article will show you how!
Even if you think you're already a lost cause, there's actually a whole bunch of different things you can do to help reduce your B.O. and keep you smelling good—and this article will show you how!

There are many reasons why a man might not smell good, like bad breath, sweaty feet, the wrong cologne, a smelly workplace, or (the most obvious) B.O., but it's easy to banish bad body smells.

This article will tell you what causes body odor and share a whole bunch of ways for you to reduce it—many of which are totally natural—and keep those funky smells under control. Just because you're a man doesn't mean you can't smell great most of the time!

How Do You Reduce Body Odor?

Body odor, or B.O. for short, is the obnoxious, cloying stench of stale sweat. It cannot be masked by strong fragrances, and even if it could, smelling good doesn't mean reeking of perfume—especially not if you're a guy. If you want to minimize body odor, start by attacking its cause.

What Causes Body Odor?

As with all bad smells of an organic nature, the culprit is bacteria. Sweat by itself doesn't really have a smell, but it does provide an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive.

Body odor is caused by the bacterial decomposition (or breaking down) of shed skin and hair cells and a fatty substance called sebum, which is basically a combination of sweat and fat secreted through the skin's sebaceous glands. Because bacteria thrive in a moist atmosphere, they are prevalent in areas of high perspiration, like armpits, feet, and the groin—especially if that area isn't exposed to much ventilation.

Additionally, men have more sweat glands that are larger than women's, which means the former just sweat more overall. The intensity of that stink, however, can be caused by various factors, including genetics, diet, environment, stress, clothes, detergents, and smoking habits.

Note: For more information on why you might be smelling bad (even after you shower), check out this super helpful Bellatory article on 7 Causes of Chronic Body Odor Even After Bathing.

How Is Sweat Produced?

Your body secretes two different kinds of sweat from two different types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine.

  • Eccrine glands: These exist all over your body. They produce sweat in response to heat and humidity, but also due to stress, anxiety, nervousness, anger, sexual arousal, and certain foods. This fluid is mostly just water and salt and basically odorless.
  • Apocrine glands: These ones are a different story. They can be found in areas where you grow the most hair, such as your groin and armpits. (Though they can also be found in the breasts, eyelids, and ears.) The sweat these glands secrete consists of lipids, protein, carbohydrates, and ammonium. The main reason this sweat smells so bad is because the bacteria breaks down the protein and fats and turns them into acids, which in turn releases stinky chemicals.

A Man's Guide to Smelling Good

Smelling good isn't actually all that difficult. Just follow these 10 simple rules:

  1. Bathe or shower daily with a soap-free body wash.
  2. Trim body hair by all means, but never shave it.
  3. Shave your head if you work in a smelly environment or smoke tobacco. Otherwise, wash your hair daily or apply dry shampoo.
  4. Use deodorant under your arms.
  5. Make sure all your toiletries and cologne are of the same fragrance, or choose unperfumed toiletries that won't clash with your cologne, which should never be cheap. Apply cologne sparingly if at all.
  6. For fresh breath, meticulous oral hygiene is essential. Get in the habit of "pulling" coconut oil each morning.
  7. Maintain a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Drink alcohol in moderation.
  8. Wear foot deodorant if you suffer from sweaty feet, and place charcoal inner soles in your shoes.
  9. Launder your clothes regularly, change your underwear daily, and never use fabric softener.
  10. Try to reduce stress and treat your anxiety and depression.

Washing with soap propagates odor-causing bacteria.
Washing with soap propagates odor-causing bacteria. | Source

1. Don't Wash With Soap

Only a high standard of personal hygiene can keep body odor at bay, but soap and water may not be your best option.

Daily showering and bathing washes away decomposed cells and sebum, which gets rid of odor, but using soap-based products is counterproductive in the long term.

Soaps are composed of oils or fats mixed with strong alkali solutions, such as sodium hydroxide. They are surfactants that lower the surface tension between a liquid and another liquid, gas, or solid, which enables soap to emulsify (or mix) two substances that normally do not blend together. This is why soap has been used as the main way to wash yourself, because it can mix with oils on your body, enabling you to wash them away with water.

Although soap initially kills bacteria, it also raises the skin’s pH level, creating the sort of alkaline environment in which bacteria breed most rapidly. But if you use a soap-free body wash, the skin can retain its natural, slightly acidic pH level, making it very hard for bacteria to colonize. This means you'll smell sweeter for longer, even when pursuing strenuous activities.

2. Trim Body Hair When Necessary, But Don't Shave It All Off

Shaving your body hair will not make you smell better. In fact, it could make you smell worse. Hair absorbs moisture, which keeps skin dry and minimizes bacteria—it’s true that bacteria breed on hair, too, but reproduction is slower than on skin, thus producing less odor.

Women have to shave for aesthetic reasons, but men usually don't. If your hair "down there" and under your arms is bushy and unsightly, trim instead of shaving.

3. Wash Your Hair or Use Dry Shampoo

You'll have less than fragrant hair if you smoke tobacco or work in a fatty kitchen or other environment where pungent smells cling. As a man, you can solve the problem by shaving your head. If, however, you like having hair, washing it once a day with a mild shampoo should get rid of nasty smells.

If your hair is oily, daily washing probably isn't a good idea, since it can make the condition worse. If that's the case, freshen it up between washes with dry shampoo. Batiste is the most popular brand for men and can be found at most drugstores. Not only does it make hair smell good, it absorbs excess grease and adds body.

4. Apply Antiperspirant Deodorant to Your Underarms Daily

This may seem like a no-brainer, but that doesn't make it any less important. Applying antiperspirant deodorant to your underarms helps reduce how much you sweat, which in turn minimizes the ability of bacteria to grow in your armpits.

Even if you're interested in using only natural products, there are plenty of organic deodorants that don't use artificial chemicals to keep your sweat and stink levels down. So make sure to remember your deodorant every morning, and think about a second application later in the day—especially if you've been particularly active or stressed.

Cologne will only make you seem more attractive if you keep it subtle.
Cologne will only make you seem more attractive if you keep it subtle. | Source

5. Align the Fragrances of Your Body Wash, Deodorant, and Cologne

Another key element of smelling good is making sure your body wash and deodorant are of the same fragrance as your cologne, or at least don't clash with it. And always choose a high-end fragrance if you want to make a positive impression. Smelling cheap tells the world you lack taste and money.

If high-end toiletries are too expensive for you, use fragrance-free products. Unscented body washes and deodorants won't clash with your cologne (should you choose to wear one), and are healthier for the skin. Deodorants formulated for sensitive skin, for example, are completely without added perfume, alcohol, and harmful aluminum.

How to Apply Cologne Properly

As already mentioned, smelling good does not mean reeking of perfume. Cologne will only make you seem more attractive if you keep it subtle—its effect should work only on the subconscious and should never be the first thing others notice about you.

All you need is a quick squirt on your inner wrists and the pulse points of your neck. If you moisturize these areas beforehand, the fragrance will last longer.

6. Prevent Bad Breath by "Pulling" Oil

Bad breath is one of the most offensive of bad smells. It’s usually the result of a dry mouth caused by medications or insufficient fluid intake. Drink plenty and chew cinnamon-flavored gum—cinnamon neutralizes bad breath more effectively than mint flavors. Gum is also great after meals if you don't have a toothbrush at hand.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss before going to bed, but have you heard of "pulling"? You should do this, too, if you want sweet smelling breath all day long.

Consider "Pulling" With Coconut Oil

"Pulling" originates from the Indian traditional medicine system called Ayurveda, and is the practice of swishing oil around the mouth for 20 minutes in the morning before you clean your teeth. It literally "pulls" bacteria from teeth and gums, and frees the tongue of vile tasting (and smelling) "fur". Use edible coconut oil, which is antibacterial, and always spit it out after you’ve finished—never swallow.

Pulling with oil is much healthier and more beneficial than using a gargle or mouthwash, and its cleansing effect is noticeable the whole day through. It's also more comfortable than using a tongue scraper.

7. Eat Healthy and Drink Lots of Water

It's pretty much common knowledge that your diet can affect how your breath smells—sometimes for up to 12 hours after a meal. What you eat also makes its way out through your body's pores, however, and can affect how your skin smells for up to 48 hours after eating. Additionally, since men have larger and more developed sweat glands, there is also a higher chance of them sweating the scent of certain foods out through their pores.

So it's best to cut back on foods with high levels of sulfurous compounds like garlic and onions, as they can blend into your sweat, saliva, and urine and contribute to undesirable odors. It's also a good idea to reduce your intake of processed foods, artificial flavorings and preservatives and red meat, since all can exacerbate this problem.

Here a few more pointers to help combat the funky smells coming from your mouth and skin:

  • Drinking enough water helps flush out your system and minimize bad breath.
  • Occasionally drinking green tea can help alkalize your mouth, reducing the ability of bacteria to grow in it.
  • Alcohol contributes to smelly bowel movements, promotes funky odors from arising out of your pores, dries out your mouth, and minimizes your salivary flow. Excess alcohol that can't be processed by the liver is the primary culprit, however, as it will find other ways to leak out of your body, such as through your pores or urine. So try to drink in moderation.
  • Ingesting healthy amounts of vegetables and other insoluble fibers helps minimize stinky bowel movements. Cruciferous vegetables can make matters worse, however. So be wary of how much broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts you consume.

An equal mix of baking soda and cornstarch can help minimize strong foot odors.
An equal mix of baking soda and cornstarch can help minimize strong foot odors. | Source

8. Deodorize Your Sweaty Feet

Socks smell atrocious in next to no time if you've got sweaty feet. Unless you want to knock people out the moment you take your shoes off, use a deodorizing foot cream or spray. Products with added menthol work best.

Equally effective is baking soda and cornstarch mixed to a ratio of 1-to-1. Apply to your soles using a cotton ball or an old shaving brush, and your feet will remain dry and fresh all day long. This also works well as an underarm deodorant.

Wear the Right Footwear

  • Wear cotton socks and change them more than once a day if necessary.
  • Avoid plastic shoes and sneakers at all costs. Choose leather or canvas if you're prone to sweaty feet.
  • Buy charcoal inner soles: these absorb odor.
  • Whenever possible, leave your socks off during warm weather and sport sandals or flip-flops.

9. Make Sure Your Clothes Are Actually Clean

Odor-causing bacteria continue to breed on your clothes after you've undressed, which is why they need regular laundering. The longer you leave dirty laundry unwashed, the more funky odors are going to cling to them—and thus be that much more difficult to remove. Clothes worn next to the skin are the worst affected. So it's a good idea to wear undershirts beneath your dress shirts when you can and change your underwear daily.

Here are a few more tips to keep your clothes smelling fresh:

  • If you're a smoker or find yourself in a smoky atmosphere, the tobacco stench will cling to your clothes.
  • Garments like coats and suits that can't be washed or cleaned often should be hung out to air whenever possible to freshen them up.
  • Don't use fabric softener when you do your washing—it makes a man smell "mothered," which is always unattractive.
  • Your towels, bedsheets, and pillowcases can also store a lot more unpleasant odors and bacteria than you might think. It's always a good idea to wash these regularly to help prevent those smells from clinging to your skin.

10. Try to Reduce Stress and Treat Your Anxiety and Depression

Going through high amounts of stress, anxiety, and depression can make your apocrine glands sweat high-density steroids, even if you're not doing anything too intense. Someone undergoing extreme emotional stress can sweat just as much as someone who just performed an intense workout.

Seek to avoid stressful situations when you can. Try to do yoga, meditate or engage in other calming exercises to reduce the stress you already have.

As for anxiety and depression, those are extremely complicated issues that are somewhat beyond the reach of an article about body odor. But you should naturally try to do what's best for your own individual mental and emotional health, and try to cut yourself some slack—keeping in mind that such weighty matters are not always entirely within your control.

Biological Factors Play a Role Too

Biological factors like genetics and various medical conditions also play a big part in why you smell the way you do. For instance, Trimethylaminuria (TMAU) is a rare metabolic disorder that inhibits your body's enzymes from breaking down trimethtylamine (TMA), which is a fishy smelling compound found in choline-rich foods. Thus, if you have this (or a different) disorder, you may still be emitting unpleasant odors, even if you follow all of the above advice.

Natural Home Remedies for Body Odor

If you're looking for some additional ways to reduce your body odor that are also totally natural and without artificial ingredients, considering trying out some of these methods:

  • Lemons or Limes: These citrus fruits can help combat stinky smells. You can rub a wedge of either directly into your armpits, or you can mix a few drops of lemon or lime juice with baking soda and apply it as a paste.
  • Sage or Rosemary: Either can be ground up and used as a body powder or brewed into a tea.
  • Tea Tree Oil: If you mix tea tree oil with water, it can be used as a body spray. Alternatively, you can mix it with baking soda and use it as an underarm powder.
  • Witch Hazel: You can soak a cotton ball in this useful astringent and apply it directly to your underarms.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Jayne Lancer


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