How To Smell Good Without Perfume
We all want to smell good. It boosts your confidence and not to mention, people will want to be around you more (post-COVID, of course). But not everyone is a fan of perfume — especially when it's overwhelming.
If you fit that bill, but still want to smell fresh all day, you’ve come to the right place. We consulted experts on the best way to smell clean and pleasant without going overboard. And it unsurprisingly starts from within.
Director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and dermatologist to the stars Dr. Zeichner tells InStyle that there are a lot of factors that contribute to your natural, uh, scent.
“Our body odor is determined by a variety of factors including our diet, level of sweat, frequency of bathing, and the natural collection of bacteria on the skin,” he shares.
But don’t sweat (pun intended)! We spoke with Dr. Zeichner, as well as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jennifer MacGregor from Union Square Laser Dermatology in NYC as well as fellow derm Dr. Shari Sperling from St. Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey to get some tips on how to smell good — without the perfume.
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Bathe — Frequently!
This one seems pretty self-explanatory, but practicing self-hygiene, is the best place to start.
"Build up of our body's natural oil, known as sebum, can impact body odor,” says Dr. Zeichner. “High levels of oil can create an environment that allows for bacteria and fungi to grow on the skin. As the microorganisms break down the oil, it may give off an unpleasant odor.”
So what can you do to get rid of that bacteria and oil? Bathe!
“Showering less frequently means that dirt, oil, and sweat can build up on the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This often comes with a stronger body odor, which is not harmful, but many may feel [it] is unpleasant.”
Once you have a clean canvas, you can get down to the nitty gritty. And believe it or not, shaving plays a role. Dr. MacGregor suggests that reducing body and facial hair can actually improve your smell.
“Hair doesn’t cause smell, but [it] increases the surface area for bacteria to live and make their smells with your sweat,” she tells InStyle. Try the award-winning Billie razor for a close shave and smooth skin.
But Be Careful with Soaps
Your skin’s microbiome also plays a large part in your smell. According to Dr. MacGregor, your microbiome is your skin’s “friendly bacteria environment,” and like we’ve all heard our mothers tell us — you don’t want to kill off the good bacteria!
“Avoid using specific antibiotic cleansers or topicals to reduce bacteria,” says Dr. MacGregor. “This can cause resistance in other strains and mess up your skin microbiome.”
Dr. Sperling recommends a gentle body wash like one from Dove, while Dr. MacGregor suggests trying a brand like Vichy or La Roche-Posay Toleriane, which both protect your skin’s microbiome.
Be Mindful of Your Diet
This is one you might overlook, but diet really comes into play here, as it contributes massively to most of your body’s functions.
“As food digests and nutrients circulate throughout the body, it can impact the smell of our sweat,” Dr. Zeichner says.
While Dr. MacGregor says the specific foods that create bad B.O. is individual for everyone, there are some foods — like garlic — that are known to create bad body odor. Dr. Zeichner agrees.
“Studies have shown that eating a carbohydrate rich diet may lead to unpleasant smelling sweat, while meat, eggs, and tofu were associated with more pleasant smelling sweat,” says Dr. Zeichner. He adds that cruciferous veggies (think cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and broccoli) can lead to an unpleasant odor — and bad breath.
“[These] vegetables increase the nitrogen content of sweat, so when it is released from your sweat glands and broken down by bacteria on the skin, it may have an extremely foul smell,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean you should avoid these foods — just practice good hygiene after you’ve consumed them. And if you want that extra garlic knot, do it! It’s all about balance.
Make Sure to Wear Deodorant
“Sweat itself does not smell,” says Dr. Sperling. “A condition called bromhidrosis is when sweat encounters bacteria on the skin, which can cause an odor.”
According to Dr. MacGregor, that odor is called thioalcohols — which is just a fancy, scientific word for B.O. Essentially, you should stay as clean as possible (which the shower will take care of) and then use deodorant to reduce scent levels.
According to Dr. Zeichner, your sweat levels also are lower at night, meaning deodorant has more of a head start on keeping you fresh. He recommends applying it right before hitting the hay.
But if you’ve converted to natural deodorant without aluminum, Dr. MacGregor recommends a salt-based underarm stick, like this Crystal deodorant stick. If you require a little more strength, she suggests something like Secret Clinical, an antiperspirant which contains aluminum to prevent sweat. If you find your sweating to be a bit more severe, you can receive high-strength prescription deodorants from your dermatologist to reduce sweat and keep you dry.
Try Fragrance Substitutes
Now if you must add a little extra flavor to this routine, but still want to avoid strong perfumes or colognes, there are a few alternatives. Dr. Sperling and Dr. Zeichner both recommend essential oils. Be sure the kind you purchase is safe for direct skin contact like this Vitruvi lavender oil (which will also help you destress) or safe for consumption like this edible-grade dōTerra peppermint oil.
“Many dermatologists recommend peppermint oil on the tongue to help improve body odor,” says Dr. Zeichner. “The idea is that the oil may enhance the natural smell of sweat when it is broken down on the surface of the skin.”
But as long as you can tolerate the smell, you don’t have to shy away from perfumes. Dr. MacGregor says that fragrance typically isn’t harmful.
“If you like fragrance use it as long as you aren’t allergic or sensitive,” says Dr. MacGregor. “Subtle smells work better for some. It depends what you like!”
All scientific facts aside, at the end of the day, it just comes down to being clean. And there’s nothing wrong with extending that freshness with a little perfume when there just isn’t time for that shower. But please, highly consider showering!
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