How to Smell Good: A Guide for Men

Updated on January 10, 2019
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 are many things you can do to help reduce 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 are many things you can do to help reduce 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, share several ways of reducing it – many of which are totally natural – and how to keep it under control.

You'll discover that being a man doesn't mean you can't smell great most of the time!

How to Get Rid of Body Odor

When complaining about body odor (or B.O. for short), we're referring to 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 offensive smells of an organic nature, the culprit is bacteria: sweat doesn't smell bad in itself, but it does help create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

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. Bacteria thrive in a moist environment, so they’ll obviously be prevalent in areas of high perspiration, like armpits, feet, and the groin. This is exacerbated by the fact that these areas are usually covered by clothing.

But men have another problem: have you ever wondered why women seem to sweat less? It’s because men have more sweat glands, which are also larger. This, however, has little to do with the smell itself or its intensity, which is determined by various factors, including genetics, diet, environment, stress, clothing, toiletries, and lifestyle.

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 cover the most of the body. They produce an odorless sweat, consisting of salt and water. Secretion is stimulated not only through heat and humidity, but also stress, anxiety, nervosity, anger, sexual arousal, and certain foods.
  • Apocrine glands are found where body odor tends to be more cloying, like the groin and armpits, as well as the nipples, eyelids, and ear canal. Although the substance secreted consists of lipids, protein, carbohydrates, and ammonium, this in itself isn't the cause of odor. It's a bacterial breakdown of the lipids and protein that results in the release of the ill-smelling vapors we call B.O.

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.

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.

Soap is composed of oils or fats mixed with strong, antibacterial alkali solutions, such as sodium hydroxide (or lye, as it’s better known). Working as a surfactant, it enables water to mix with excess oils on the skin so as these can be rinsed away.

Although soap kills bacteria, it also raises the skin’s pH level, creating the sort of alkaline environment in which bacteria breed most rapidly. Therefore, use a soap-free body wash instead, which allows the skin to retain its natural, slightly acidic pH level of 5.5. This will make it more difficult for bacteria to colonize, meaning you'll smell sweeter for longer, even when pursuing strenuous activities.

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

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 Daily 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. Deodorize Your Underarms

There's more than one way to deodorize the underarms.

Using an antiperspirant deodorant is the most obvious. It not only masks underarm odor, it also helps reduce sweat production, thus minimizing the ability of bacteria to breed. Use daily in the morning and consider a second application after strenuous activities or stressful situations.

Don't be deterred by recent health scares; just make sure your deodorant doesn’t contain harmful aluminum, which most don’t nowadays.

If you'd nevertheless prefer a more natural product, there are many organic deodorants that use no artificial ingredients at all, while proving as effective as those that do – the only drawback is that they tend to be a little more costly.

Alternatively, you could make your own: simply mix baking soda and cornstarch to a ratio of 1-to-1 and apply to your armpits with a cotton ball or an old shaving brush.

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 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 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 cleaning 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 a tongue scraper.

7. Eat Healthy and Drink Lots of Water

The aroma of certain foods can linger for up to 12 hours on the breath and 48 hours on the skin, the latter being more noticeable in men than women due to more numerous and larger sweat glands.

Before important dates, avoid foods with high levels of odor-causing sulfurous compounds: these are the ones that permeate sweat and saliva. They include onion, garlic, red meat (particularly lamb), and all processed foods, as well as artificial flavorings and preservatives.

Here some additional tips for cleaner-smelling skin and breath:

  • Drinking plenty of water flushes the system to keep both the skin and breath smelling fresh. Aim to consume the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses a day. In case you find this difficult, it’s easier to get down flat rather than carbonated water.
  • Apart from its other numerous health benefits, green tea is a great preventative remedy for bad breath. Just one or two cups a day alkalizes the mouth, thus hindering the colonizing of odor-causing bacteria.
  • The more alcohol you consume, the less efficiently the liver can process it. As a result, a certain amount is released through the sweat glands, which is what causes the telltale alcohol stench that follows a night out. To make matters worse, alcohol-induced dehydration leads to a dry mouth, which, as previously mentioned, is a cause of bad breath. When out socially, drink in moderation if at all.

An equal mix of baking soda and cornstarch not only works as an underarm deodorant, but can help minimize strong foot odors, too.
An equal mix of baking soda and cornstarch not only works as an underarm deodorant, but can help minimize strong foot odors, too. | Source

8. Deodorize 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 off your shoes, use a deodorizing foot cream or spray. Products with added menthol work best.

Equally effective is the baking soda and cornstarch remedy mentioned above as an alternative for underarm deodorant. Just apply to the soles using a cotton ball or an old shaving brush.

Pay attention to your footwear too; doing so may not only minimize the problem, it could solve it completely:

  • 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.
  • Use 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 will continue to breed on your clothes after you've undressed, which is why they need regular laundering. Clothes worn next to the skin are the worst affected, so change your underwear daily. If you need a dress shirt more than once before laundering, wear it over an undershirt.

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.

Not only do unpleasant odors cling to clothes, but to towels, bedsheets, and pillowcases, too. Launder regularly not only for reasons of hygiene, but to prevent stale smells transferring to your skin and hair.

Don't use fabric softener when you do your washing—it makes a man smell "mothered," which is always unattractive.

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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