Passing the Sniff Test: What to Do When You Belatedly Realize You Have B.O.

just realized i smellToday’s reader mail comes from a reader with a serious problem…

I happened to see my mother at lunchtime today and when I walked over to her, she had a strong reaction – she said I smelled! I had just come from work and was going back to work, so I was obviously very upset. When I inquired a little further, she said that I actually have a body odor issue, apparently on a somewhat regular basis. I was shocked. First because I truly had no idea; second because neither my mother nor sisters nor other close friends have ever given me any indication I had a problem. Now I’ve moved on to mortification. I’m reliving every moment of my professional and professional life and wondering if I’m thought of as the stinky girl.

I realize that I need to take steps like finding a stronger deodorant-antiperspirant (I thought my old one worked fine), dry clean my suits more frequently (I used to do it once every few months), etc. But is there anything I can do to address the negative impact this must have had on my image – professional and otherwise?

To give a little more background info: I’m nearly 32 years old and have been working in my current job for a little over a year. I just received a very decent raise at my review. I’m also happily married to a man who has never mentioned that I have any body odor issues. At the same time, I don’t doubt my mother’s word…we’re close and she’s said she’s hesitated telling me for quite some time. (I wish she’d told me sooner!)

I have vowed I will never be smelly again. Do you or your readers have any other advice for damage control?

Wowza — we’re sorry to hear this. We’ve already talked about antiperspirant and deodorants here (with tons of great recommendations from readers in the comments). In terms of other tips — we would guess that drycleaning once every few months is fine, so long as you’re wearing decent layers beneath the suit.  For example, if perspiration is a problem, don’t wear sleeveless shells — wear t-shirts or other pieces with sleeves.  We hate to say it, but you may also want to reconsider your underwear and your drycleaning situation — skimpier underwear might necessitate more frequent cleanings.  (We had a lot of good comments on specific brands of boy shorts on this post.)

In terms of other things that might be causing odor — if you can, give your shoes a “day off” in order to air out — there are also odor-eating things that can be placed in shoes.  If you wear sweaters or other pieces multiple times before washing, keep those clothes in a different spot than “clean clothes.” (For example, I try to wear sweaters at least twice in order to prolong the life of the sweater; I have a separate place where I keep those sweaters after I’ve worn them.)  You may want to consider putting a dryer sheet or two, or cedar balls, in that spot.

Finally: you may want to see a doctor — we’ve heard of instances where a body odor issue could be medically related.

Now, in terms of damage control – for our $.02,  do not say anything to folks.  First, it sounds like it hasn’t been a hindrance in your advancement (you got a new job in the midst of a recession, you just got a raise).  Second, what would you say?*  Just make the problem disappear and things should be good.   Readers, what say you?

Pictured:  196/365 Need new shoes, originally uploaded to Flickr by stuartpilbrow.

* This author’s personal backstory here is that I did a great job of screwing up my eyes a while back.  Allergies, dry office air, and overuse of contacts (paired with typical office blunders like staring at a monitor without blinking enough, working for really long hours, and so forth) — I had basically been exfoliating my corneas.  After I finally got on a good treatment course there was a serious concern about what, if anything, I should say to superiors I worked with.  After all, my eyes had been bloodshot for months — what if they thought I was on drugs, or that I was in my office crying all day?  My father and other friends pleaded with me to not say anything, and, ultimately, I didn’t.  Looking back, I’m convinced that was the right call for my situation.

Comments

  1. I’m sorry, this is a rough situation to be in. I use Secret Clinical Sport deodorant, and it has made a big difference for me. I am also someone who can’t wear shells under suits. Sleeves for me please! I heard somewhere that you should wear your shoes one day, then give them two days off. Also if you wear a different pair of shoes on your commute, it helps keep your work shoes fresher. You might want to consider bringing extra trouser socks/hose to change into after lunch if foot odor is a concern.

    • Anonymous :

      I keep baby powder/arm and hammer foot powder in my office desk for smelly/sweaty feet.

    • I used to have mild BO when I wore sleeveless shells with suits (I live in a very tropical place). I would avoid those, and opt for 100% cotton layers with short/long sleeves under suits. i think the synthetic blends can really add to the BO issue. Keep a foot spray handy at your desk too.

  2. Anonymous :

    um yeah. So, no comments yet. Guess people arent really sure what is being asked or whether to jump in.

    I would love to know what perfume people wear. I use lotion from Bath and Body Works – my faves are Cherry Blossom, Japanese Cherry Blossom, abd the new P.S. I love you. I dont really smell them anymore after I put them on, but I am frequently getting complimented and asked “what are you wearing, you smell great!” But, sometimes I think I would like something a bit more sophisticated for dates, or evenings out, or what have you. The last time I wore perfume was in high school and was Obsession or something like that. So, what are your faves?

    • Please, please don’t wear perfume or other heavily scented products to work. Some of us get migraines from chemical fragrances, and we can’t avoid it at the office.

    • Please, please do not wear fragrance or scented lotion in the office. It is intolerable for many smell-sensitive people. Bath and Body Works products in particular make me very ill.

      • newassociate :

        agreed. bath and body works and victorias secret (both owned by the limited corp, not coincidentally) make me ill. please, please refrain. even if these products smell great to you, other people may not feel that way. instead, they may feel dizzy and nauseous.

      • Ditto — I have a colleague who is a BIG fan… some of those scents spell instant migraine for me.

        I’m a fan of unscented hand cream at work – It might not be fancy, but Lubriderm Advanced Therapy for extra dry skin is my favorite

    • Nevadamtnbear :

      My two favorites for evening/special occasions are Chanel Chance and Oscar de la Renta. For me, both are a light fragrance that can be applied subtly and are not overpowering – I use my hubby as the *sniff* test on overpowering as he is very sensitive to smells and these are agreed to be light and very, umm, personal.

      • I second Chanel Chance … I love it … IMO it has just the right blend, and is not “too” much

      • :-)

        I had a boss that wore that. She was bipolar and (we later found out, in the early stages of brain cancer). She was erratic and would be nice, then mean, throw things etc. I knew her from before the changes, and had a really hard time with her deterioration. After working there awhile, I would be ill to my stomach when I knew she would be in the office (which was about once a week – as she worked out of the office more than in). We never knew what to expect, and whether someone was going to end up in tears or if was going to be a wonderful “fun” day.

        It got worse and worse, and finally she had to retire. Well, to this day, my tummy cramps and my heart pounds when I smell Chanel Chance. She has since passed away :-( so I know I know she won’t be the person I am smelling, but reaction is the same nonetheless.

    • This has been discussed here and on other boards I’ve been on and there are many, many people who have adverse reactions to strong scents and find the “cheap” ones (drug store, Bath & Body works, etc.) particularly offensive. I personally like the sweet scents, but since I’ve heard the advice so often, I avoid all perfumes at the office.

    • The original poster did say that she was looking for something to wear on dates and evenings out so…..

      Fragrance is such a personal thing and it’s hard to make suggestions. I’d check out some of the fragrance blogs such as perfumeposse and perfumesmellinthings for suggestions and scent descriptions/reviews. Go to Sephora and ask for samples; lots of samples. Also Aedes de Venustas and Luckyscent are good on line sources for fragrances and they provide samples as well, though you will have to pay for the samples.

    • dude…I am so tired of the off-topic threadjacks here.

    • I wear light perfumes such as Clinique’s Happy or body sprays from Body Shop (e.g. White Musk) to work. For evening, I like ‘Lily & Spice’ by Penhaligon. CK’s Eternity is also an old classic.

      • Don’t wear perfume to work. Just don’t. Many people have allergy issues, and do you want people thinking “um, daisies” while you try to argue your point of view/taking a deposition/etc.? At my firm there is a no perfume or cologne rule and people who violate it get a visit from the HR manager because there are people with such severe allergies. If you have BO issues, covering them up with perfume is not a solution. (Don’t wear it on flights either. PLEASE.)

        • Wow, I wish I worked at a fragrance free work. Certain perfumes trigger migraines for me and I really hate having to ask people to stop wearing their favorite scent. A few years ago a woman absolutely refused to believe her perfume was the cause of my ailments and I had to get HR involved and it got really ugly. It is not just that we don’t like the scent – it can trigger nausea and extreme headaches, not to mention sneezing, scratchy throat and weepy eyes. And whatever you do, please never spray perfume on an airplane!

          • We just had a situation with a woman spraying perfume in the bathroom. I literally couldn’t breathe in there, felt like I was drinking perfume, and spent the rest of the afternoon feeling like a cat trying to get out a hairball. It was so bad it lingered for HOURS. We had to get HR involved. I just don’t get people. No perfume at the office. None, ever, for any reason, no, no, no. Sorry. I know some people wear lovely scents and know how to apply it correctly, but so many people think they do and don’t that the best policy is no perfume or scented products.

      • I LOVE Penhaligon! My favorite is Bluebell. Never tried Lily & Spice. Will check it out.

        • I wear Nina Ricci perfume – it comes in a bottle that looks like an apple, I think it’s called Nina. I have serious reactions to certain scents – mainly florals – horrible headache-y. This scent has never bothered me, though. I think fruit based scents are the solution. (for me, anyway.) And, on the topic of wearing perfume in general… a lady’s scent should never precede her. If I can smell you from more than a foot away, it’s too strong.

    • I am going to have to try some of these out! I am with the majority here in saying please don’t wear scents to work and especially not those cheap, sickeningly sweet, chemical-y moisturizers. Ugh. I am not particularly sensitive but still do not enjoy having to smell those.

      As for favorite scents, I love love love Jo Malone scents. Have the grapefruit and the lime basil & mandarin, and I think they’re both pretty fresh-smelling and still light and unobtrusive. Most of her scents are pretty great. Also have Calypso (light, floral but not sweet) and one of the Diptyque fragrances that’s really rich and woody, great for fall/winter. Glad perfumes last a long time bc I hardly ever wear them.

      • L from Oz :

        Go Jo Malone grapefruit! Absolutely my favourite, and I will confess to wearing it to work – however, it’s unobtrusive enough that you’d have to be about 5cm from me to notice.

        Just wish it wasn’t quite so expensive…

    • A perfume saleswoman explained this to me years ago – When shopping for perfume, your sense of smell gets tired very fast (the sensors in your nose that tell you what you smell), so most perfume counters/stores have bowls of coffee beans to wake them back up again so you can smell the next scent, and tell the difference (or they all blend together) – use it.

      If you’re planning a perfume shopping trip you may want to bring a small ziplock bag of some beans with you in your purse so you can make the wisest purchase.

      • i always wondered why they had coffee beans. thanks for the explanation.

        i’m one of those allergy/sinus pain sufferers who gets EXTREME pain from scented lotions and triggy happy perfume wearers. that being said, i recently purchased acqua fiorentino by creed – it smells so good. i’m kind of amazed that i don’t get a headache when i spray it on myself. it’s a nice sweet citrusy scent.

    • Noooo… please please don’t wear any of this to work. Perfumes give me an instant headache, especially in the office where I can’t escape them.

  3. I agree with fixing the problem and not saying anything to coworkers!

    On a related note – my long-term significant other’s college aged cousin who has an investment banking internship at a bulge bracket bank this summer has some serious body odor (underarms only, as far as I can tell) issues. I’m not comfortable saying anything to her, even though – like the author – I’d want to know in that situation. My boyfriend has noticed as well and I’ve seen others sort of brace themselves (turn their heads away) when she goes in for a hug. Not to steal the OP’s thunder, but am I generally right in thinking it’s not my place to say anything? (If it is my place, how do I say it?!)

    • Hmmm, I think a cousin’s long-term girlfriend is perhaps the person I would least mind hearing this information from (someone at work being the worst possible person to hear it from, close friends being pretty bad because you care a lot what they think, and strangers being bad because that implies the problem was so huge someone who didn’t know you felt they had to say something). I don’t think there’s a good way to say it, but if your intentions are pure it should come out ok.

    • I think that you’re the perfect person to tell her – just be sensitive about it. I think it would be much easier to hear something like this from an older but not too much older woman who has no personal motive for telling her. It should come off as sort of mentoring, not criticizing. Let her know you do it from a place of concern about her professional success, now that she has this internship opportunity. You could even frame it in a way that makes it sound like you assume she intentionally doesn’t use deodorant – “I know you’re really into natural beauty, but in order to fit in at your internship you are probably going to need to use at least some artificial and chemical products, especially a stronger antiperspirant.” Just take her under your wing a bit and try to help her out as she transitions into the working world. She’ll be embarrassed, but not as much as she would be to hear it from a coworker.

      • I would tell her in a mild/gentle way. You can soften the blow by saying that you think she has mild BO on THAT day (as opposed to always) and no wonder – it’s getting warm, long work hours etc etc. See how she reacts & take it from there.

        Apart from everything else, it could hurt her getting a fulltime job!

    • I think it depends on how close you guys are to the cousin. My cousin and I are like sisters, so it would be awkward for my sig other to say something like that. But if you are closer to the cousin than your sig other, then I agree that you are the perfect person to tell her. If your sig other is closer to the cousin, then he/she should do it.

  4. Anonymous :

    I hate to hear of about others experiencing something I’ve dealt with for years. Apparently, I’m allergic to almost everything out there and as a result (as my dermatologist has said) I’m a “walking Petri dish of bacteria.” One of the simple tips that has helped me the most is using rubbing alcohol. Every morning and every night I slather my arm pits with rubbing alcohol in an effort to kill any of the bacteria lurking there. I even do this after I’ve showered and scrubbed. For some of us, there can still be strains of bacteria that soap alone just won’t kill. I’ve also learned not to EVER let my deodorant touch my arm pits unless they have been totally cleaned and sanitized with alcohol. If not, then I’m potentially putting bacteria on my deodorant and it will simply grow and be ready and waiting for me to apply to my arm pits during my next use. When some people talk about their deodorant just not working any more this is probably why.

    I’m allergic to the chemical used in antiperspirants, so I can only use deodorant products. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to find a deodorant only option for women. My personal choice is Speedstick’s Irish Spring because it smells the least manly. I buy it in bulk and do not hesitate to toss it when I’ve had a smelly day or two and think bacteria might be on it.

    I completely agree about avoiding tanks and sleeveless shirts. I don’t even own anything that doesn’t have a sleeve and completely cover my underarm area (and I live in Florida). I’ve also found that certain fabrics are more difficult for me to wear than others. For instance, I can’t do silk AT ALL. I know that cotton is best for me, but I’m still trying to figure out how far I can go with other materials. Just do a lot of testing and don’t get too upset with you realize certain materials or garment styles aren’t for you. It took me awhile to stop wanting sleeveless items or silk blouses, but now I don’t even think about it. I’ve been working on my issues for years and it is still a learning process. Good luck!

    • Tom’s of Maine has some feminine deodorant-only options, including lavender and tea tree oil. Also, have you tried a crystal deodorant? It solved my husband’s stinky pits, and a small trial stick from Whole Foods has lasted months so far!

    • I recently started to try the rubbing alcohol trick myself. No one has complained about my odor, but I notice it myself at work, and now that you mention it, I particularly notice it when I’m wearing silk or synthetic blend tops.

      In addition to spraying my pits with rubbing alcohol in the morning (and I will try to remember to do so at night), I sometimes spray myself with some of the hand-sanitizing stuff if I notice any odor during the day. It’s a pain, but it really seems to help.

      A question, though – aside from button-downs (which I really don’t like to wear), what style of tops can you find in 100% cotton?

      • I have found that hand sanitizing products nip even really bad BO in the bud immediately.

        Once when I was walking into an interview, I realized my blazer smelled like BO not my body. I was lucky to have some alcohol based clear deodorant (I have to wear men’s deodorant too, no one has ever complained that I smell like a man). I put the deodorant itself on the arm pits of the jacket and it killed the smell. Phew!

        I always always carry a small alcohol based deodorant in my purse, in my car, my desk and just about anywhere I can stow it. You will be happy to have it in an pinch.

    • Chicago K :

      Try Lush products or anything from the health food store (Whole Foods) is generally going to be deoderant and not antipersperant. As already mentioned, Tom’s of Maine is one and can be found at the grocery stores. Avolon Organics is another that comes to mind…I’ve probably tried all of them, and while I can’t remember all the names, if you go to that aisle of Whole Foods you will have about 5 options.

      I wouldn’t recommend the unscented salt crystal types…I just don’t think they work.

      Good tip on the alcohol, I found that spraying under my arms with a light body spray (the type made with high alcohol content, dove even has some that coordinate with deoderant scents) makes me feel much cleaner. I also saw on Mythbusters that you can use vodka as a deoderizer/germ killer. :P

      • I tried Tom’s of Maine in Lavender after reading about the cancer/autism-for-your-future-children linkages between phthalates that are in many american beauty products (banned in europe) and particularly antiperspirants/deodorants because of the artificial scents. The problem is that it completely dried out the skin on my arm pits–as in they were peeling and itchy! And the scent didn’t seem to stick around at all. I do have fairly sensitive skin but I have never had this problem with conventional deodorants. I would really like to find an all natural one that truly works however–does anyone have any recommendations?

  5. Legally Brunette :

    I’m sorry, this is a sensitive situation. I would make sure that you ask your husband whether he has noticed anything, even if he hasn’t said anything before. I find it hard to believe that you have a “BO problem” if your husband hasn’t said anything about it. Also, if you have excessive sweating in your armpit area (leading to BO), people on this site have recommended Drysol. I use it and have mixed results, but it’s worth trying.

    • this. why hasn’t this poor woman’s husband said anything?!

      • It might be hard to believe, but her husband may be desensitized to her smell. A lot of men I’ve met also don’t seem to be as sensitive to scents as women.

        • Has anyone considered that maybe her MOTHER is the one with the nose issue? If no one else in her life has mentioned the smell, it could be her mother going through menopause or something, and having a heightened sense of smell. Just a thought…

          And as someone who some sweaty issues of her own, I find that you sometimes have to retire clothing more quickly than you’d think, because of fabrics holding a scent.

          • It’s true – when I first read it I thought that her sisters and husband had also smelled it and not said anything, but if this is based solely upon her mom’s comment, maybe the problem is her mother’s sense of smell.

        • Scent plays a big role in sexual attraction – I’d say that while the difference between mild and strong sweat could make her mother wrinkle up her nose, it simply wouldn’t register as unpleasant with her husband.

          • My boyfriend recently told me that I had garlic breath when I met him for lunch an a break from work. I was upset and looking for gum to try to rectify the problem before I went back to the office and he said, “don’t worry, your breath smells like garlic a lot!” Men are so great with things like this…..

  6. I would see a doctor. There are prescription strength deoderants, I believe. I think botox injections are also an option for people who have excessive sweating, but I’m not sure if they help with odor as well.

    Also, what you eat/drink can affect body odor. If you are eating a lot of garlic/onions, I would cut back (there is a chemical in garlic and onions that is excreted through the mucous membranes and skin, so even if you are using breath mints or whatever, you might still smell).

    • Garlic, yes. Or, no, depending on how you look at it. I noticed a couple of years ago that the day after a nice garlicky supper, Mr Sierra’s skin just radiated the smell, and not in a good way. So now, garlic feasts only on Fridays and Saturdays.

    • Anonymous :

      I used to sweat a ton until I started getting Botox injections. Insurance companies are covering this much more these days so it’s a good option. Never had a real BO problem but this nipped in the bud altogether because it eliminiated 90% of my sweating. I started taking Robinul as a way to fill in the gap between treatments (only lasts 3 to 4 months) and it worked so well that I stopped with the Botox altogether. So maybe start there–takes a little getting used to at first (I had dry mouth for two weeks) but those side effects go away entirely.

      • what is this Robinul and how can I get some?
        can I just tell a dr that I think I have hyperhidrosis and see if they’ll prescribe it ? do insurance co’s cover it? any bad side effects?

        thanks!! I’m actually way psyched to hear there’s some pill out there that maybe will help with my sweating issues

        • Robinul essentially just makes you sweat less. You build up a bit of a resistance over time but I’ve been taking it for about a year and a half and just went from half a pill to a whole one once in the morning. Side effects for me were dry mouth and lower alcohol tolerance–but that only lasted for 2-3 weeks and it was never so bad as to not make it worth taking. (More: http://www.ehow.com/about_5459995_side-effects-robinul.html) . I haven’t heard anything about long term side effects or anything more serious but for me it seemed less risky than Botox, which I’ve cut out altogether. (Though it’s a great option and my insurance company covered it 100%–Oxford/United Health–once my doctor wrote them a letter, which is pretty standard). My insurance didn’t even blink with Robinul–it’s used for ulcers, too, I think so it’s a pretty standard medication. I think it’s a wonder drug. I would just tell your doctor you’ve been having a lot of problems b/c of sweating, that it’s severe, and that you heard Robinul can have great effects. Seriously, every time I take it in the morning, I think to myself “thank God I found this.”

          Feel free to respond with more questions–this was such a problem for me in the past that I love helping people out!

  7. I was wondering if anyone has tried this product and if so, what your thoughts were?

    • Haven’t tried it, but looked into it. The fact that it could potentially change your eye color (if it’s blue/green/gray) just freaks me out too much.
      But if you have really sparse lashes, brown eyes, and don’t mind the commitment (you have to do it every night & if you stop, so does the effect), I’d say go for it.

    • For eyelashes – I have sparse eyelashes, but for the past few weeks have started using Talika. It is AMAZING. In just a few days, it has made a noticeable difference, and the lashes coming in are very dark and thick. I can’t recommend this product enough. Based on my limited experience, I think that the gel works best (it comes in a little blue container), but it also has a mascara-brush version that is convenient to put on in the morning (the gel is kind of greasy so you can’t put makeup on top of it). My sister just gave me Lash Allure MD, which I’ve been putting on in the morning too – haven’t used it by itself yet since I’ve been so pleased with the results from Talika, but online reviews of Lash Allure are great. Neither have eye color side effects.

      On that note – I also have very sparse eyebrows (overplucking in college, sadly), and have had trouble re-growing those. Anyone have any advice?

  8. I see where everyone is going with the suggestion to avoid sleeveless tanks and shells under a jacket, but be careful not to add to much extra in terms of sleeves – they will just make you warmer and cause you to perspire more.

    Also, consider that your suits need to air out outside of your closet for at least a day after wearing before you put them away. That airing out time is crucial to extending your time between dry cleanings.

    Suits with synthetic linings are much less breathable and will also cause more odor than those with linings in natural fibers (i.e. silk, cotton or linen). If you can make this upgrade, it will be worth it. If you can’t afford silk linings in your suits, choose your synthetic linings (polyester, acetate) carefully for the most breathable options.

    • Does anyone know whether “Bemberg” lining (which is a type of synthetic I believe) is as breathable as silk? I’ve bought some very expensive suits that had this, and was told that it’s actually better and no one uses silk anymore.

  9. Does the questioner know what, exactly, smells? Not all BO comes from the same place. First, I suspect that dry cleaning only every few months is insufficient – I would dry clean after every 3-4 wears, and use Febreze or air out the suit after each wearing. I also would recommend against storing suits in the plastic garment bags from the store or cleaner. She shouldn’t wear the jacket outside on hot days, and short-sleeved, breathable tops and clinical-strength antiperspirant will also help with underarm sweat.

    But the smell might not be coming from her underarms or even from sweat. Many people get smelly feet from bacteria, especially if they wear shoes without socks. Perhaps she needs to only wear pants so she can wear breathable natural-fiber socks rather than hose or bare feet. Perhaps she has feminine odor and needs to wear cotton underwear instead of a synthetic fabric. Perhaps she gets sweaty on her commute and needs to change when she gets to the office. If the problem has to do with sweaty breasts or back, a breathable cotton undershirt or quick-drying athletic-style top will help, as will putting on body powder before getting dressed. Or maybe she has bad breath, which can be a sign of gum or mouth disease. Maybe she just eats a lot of a particular food that most people find smelly. There are a lot of possibilities – she needs to identify exactly where the problem is before she can fix it.

    I think it would be a good idea to discuss this with a trusted, impartial friend or a coworker that she knows very well. I would not bring it up widely, and I doubt that bringing it up with a family member or husband will be productive if they’ve been keeping quiet about it so long.

    • This is what I was going to say. Identify the source of the smell specifically, and then address it.

      If her boyfriend has never noticed the smell, it may well be her work shoes or suits (which is unlikely to wear around him).

    • Good point. I would add that if it is “feminine” odor, in addition to changing to cotton underwear, the OP should make sure she doesn’t have an undiagnosed infection. Apparently these things can be mostly asymptomatic for some people.

    • Storing garments in plastic is a NOT a good idea. Retains dampness. Very bad. Cotton bags only.

    • If she’s dealing with chemical sensitivities, Febreze is out of the question.

    • Everything I’ve read about suits suggests that the OP is following the recommended timeline for sending suits to the cleaners. Suits just aren’t designed to be cleaned very often and decent ones should have some odor-repelling properties that will allow the smell to dissipate if it is aired outside of the closet and one doesn’t wear it with sleeveless shirts/shells.

      I have to agree with the jojo that Febreze can just make odor problems worse for people with chemical sensitivities. I cannot tolerate the smell of Febreze at all.

      • Really? I am extremely allergic to/nauseated by fragrances and many cleansers, and I have no problem with *unscented* Febreze so long as I allow it to dry completely before putting the garment on. Scented Febreze makes my eyes, nose and throat burn, though.

        • Febreze can give me asthma attacks. I remember I used it when it first came out (before I had asthma) and just thought that whatever piece of clothing smelled like the original scent + febreze, even after it dried.

          • Weird, because throughout the thread it seems like you and I have similar breathing/scent issues. I just looked at mine (store brand) and the active ingredient is alcohol to kill bacteria and it doesn’t smell at all after drying. Chemical products cause me trouble breathing if I spray them in an enclosed space, but if I spritz febreze on a garment, walk away, and then let it dry I don’t notice any chemical smell or the original smell. I only started using it about a year ago – maybe they have upgraded the formula?

          • I have limited tolerance for smelling alcohol too (same asthma issues- my friends joke I am allergic to pretty much everything!). At this point I just try to stay away from most sprays and use natural products/non sprays when cleaning because it has gotten so bad with the breathing issues.

          • There you go – alcohol doesn’t bother me. Just bleach, ammonia, anything chemical based. True plant or flower-based scents don’t bother me either (to be contrasted with plant or flower “scented” products using artificial fragrances). When I need to freshen up my house I spray a citrus spray that I get at Whole Foods. The only ingredient is orange oil and the smell is strong enough to dispel any lingering bad odors (really – cat litterbox, curry, anything). I don’t think you can use it on fabric, but it’s been a lifesaver for me in my small apartment.

      • Admittedly I haven’t tried it in years, but when I did I found the smell of Febreze nauseating.

  10. All good advice and I definitely plan to take many of the suggestions into consideration. My mother lives near my office and it seems that the only times I’ve seen her are when I’ve had a stressful running around morning and smell. I keep baby wipes and deoderant at my desk. If it’s been a rough morning, I run to the bathroom to wipe off the armpits and reapply deoderant and I think it does make a big difference. I do confess though on a particularly bad day where I spent all morning in a blazing hot courthouse running between courtrooms on different floors, I did actually skip lunch to hit the mall and buy a new cotton shirt to wear to court in a different jurisdiction that afternoon :)

    • You know, if you’re working in hot weather in un-air conditioned buildings, it’s very possible that all your coworkers and professional acquaintances are sweaty too and you are just used to it and don’t notice that everyone smells a bit less than fresh. After reading your comment, I’m inclined to think your mom is oversensitive and you probably smell fine 90% of the time and the other 10% of the time you’re surrounded by other sweaty people.

  11. For what it’s worth, anyone who struggles with these issues can take heart that there are always people like me with a really unsensitive sense of smell. I think I’ve noticed about three cases of BO in my life and they were all really extreme not-washed-for-six-month type situations.

    • hahaha same here. I think it comes from my high school cross country days – not only were there long post-race bus rides home with a bunch of sweaty teenagers, we used the locker room that the wrestling team used in the winter. That desensitized my already not-very-sensitive sense of smell!

    • I also have (I think?) a weak sense of smell BUT it makes me paranoid that maybe I personally have a BO/breath problem that I haven’t been able to detect, and which no one has called me out on..

      • Ditto.

        I’ve only ever had one coworker that I noticed any BO on, and she was in a severe depression that included not bathing, not washing her hair, not dry cleaning, etc. She smelled worse than anything or anyone I have ever smelled in my life. She was just dirty. (I hear that she got through it and is now doing very well!)

        • AnneCatherine :

          Ditto. Only ever, in 15 years, noticed three coworkers smelling. I do have a weak sense of smell. And others do, too, so any bad smells are lost on the likes of us!

          But I did have this one coworker, and wow, one day she left the office, and someone said something, and it was like a wall of silence came down. We were all like, “I thought it was just me who noticed it. . . ”

          Also, it was the worst smell ever, but it couldn’t be described exactly as B.O. It was closest to, but much worse than, unwashed dog (sorry, just trying to be exact). So I’m assuming, as for the OP, that if she bathes and uses deoderent, she’s not offending the majority of folks, because most people are at least a few feet away and not all up in her armpit/aura/hug range while at work.

  12. One other thing to consider–it might not be you. Could your mother be suffering from some un-diagnosed nuerological issue that may be affecting her sense of smell?

    • OP is here and can probably weigh in, but based on her followup about already keeping baby wipes, etc. in the office, and buying a new shirt one day at lunch, it seems very likely that there is in fact a problem. Though mom could very well be more sensitive than most, so I wouldn’t necessarily concluce that others have noticed to the same extent as her mom.

      • Whoever “K” is…she is not the OP. I am. Not sure why she’s interested in pretending that she is me since I have the embarrassing issue!

        To clarify a few points, since my mother said something, I have asked my husband to smell shirts that I had worn that had not yet made it into the laundry. I smelled them first and noticed an odor that I thought was just an ordinary kind of “me” smell. My husband then smelled them (the armit area – I know, I’m a lucky woman to have someone in my life who is willing to do this) and confirmed that they did have an unpleasant smell.

        What this tells me is that it is the armpits (not a shoe or feminine odor or bad breath), that my mom is right, and that I have apparently become desensitized to my own stinkiness.

        I haven’t tried baby wipes as the imposter has stated, but it isn’t actually a bad idea to have some on hand for emergencies.

        Keep the advice coming. Thanks ladies!

        • divaliscious11 :

          How often to dyou launder your shirts? If the problem is under-arm, perhaps you don’t really need to dry clean your suits more frquently but to try under am shields on your shirts. and it could be that on the first wear, its normal perspiration, but acculuated wear is what gives it time to become smelly. shields could rectify that as well…

          Good Luck, and congrats for being courageous enough to raise the issue.

        • In addition to what divalicious said, there are some laundry detergents that claim to fight odor or continue to release freshness. You could try switching detergents.

        • FWIW, I didn’t think K’s comment implied that she was the OP…just seemed like she was someone with a similar problem.

    • I think there could be a variety of reasons why Mom could be extra sensitive to certain smells. I have asthma and get migraines and find that I am more sensitive to smells than most other people. Something that may not bother others can make me feel really ill. I think it’s probably a good idea to ask your husband, other close relatives, and close friends who will probably be honest about the issue before taking on any drastic measures. It may be that a little body odor that wouldn’t bother most people does bother your Mom, or she has some sort of sensitivity to the deodorant that you use.

  13. Also, stress and nerves can contribute both to the amount of sweat and to its odor. Somehow, perspiration smells worse when caused by stress. Being aware of and managing stress might reduce the issues.

  14. related question – has anyone tried prescription deodorant for excessive sweating? or botox? My pits don’t smell (at least I don’t think they do..), but I do have wetness issues.

    • I tried drysol when I was a teenager. It worked really well, but you have to be very careful with it. You can’t use it immediately after shaving. Also, I had to use it sparingly–too much of it made my armpits burn. It’s very strong, but it did the job. My body has changed since then (thankfully!!), and I no longer have a problem with excess underarm sweating. I would caution someone NOT to use drysol regularly over an extended period of time.

      • I use Drysol in the summer … it lasts for a couple of days and amen to the shaving comment above. I shower at night, apply the Drysol and then shower again the next morning to shave my armpits. I just googled it and there is a lot of info on the web. Be cautioned on her comment above concerning burning. It actually makes my armpits itch. I feel like a monkey as I scratch in my office always hoping no one walks in.

        I have to watch fabrics because of wetness… no silk, no polyester and sometimes cotton blouses are a problem. I tend to go with light weight sweaters in the summer – they work great to layer with a jacket in air conditioning.

    • I got a prescription for Drysol when I was eighteen because, while I didn’t have BO, I sweat under my arms like a faucet. Not pretty. And it wasn’t like I was hot… I was stressed at work. In the beginning, I used the Drysol as it was directed – post evening shower before bed, sleep with it on, shower again in the morning, apply usual deodorant. It helped sooo much. Then, I noticed that I have to used it less and less often. Now, I use it any time I notice an abundance of sweating, but now, I only put it on maybe once every few months. Maybe my body has changed enough now that it’s not a problem, but I recommend it to anyone that has an issue with sweat. I believe you can even use it on your hands and feet…
      As for the Botox – my former roommate got injections under her arms to prevent sweating, and she swore it was a godsend. However, I know it was expensive, a little painful, and she exaggerates. She also had to go in for the injections more frequently than one would think. More than twice a year.

      • To the OP, if you and the bf only notice the smell when placing the underarm portion of the shirt up against your nose, it’s probably not a huge deal. Everyone’s pits will smell a bit when you stick your nose in ‘em. I would suggest to not freak out, but maybe just try some small changes first to see if it makes any difference.

        Clearly it hasn’t held you back in any big way professionally. As noted, you’re super lucky to land a job AND get a good raise in this economy.

        Over the years I’ve had some sweat and smell issues, and I’ve had the best luck with Almay Unscented roll on. It’s not carried in all stores, which is a pain, but I’ve found it in the occasional drug store and some BB&B’s, or just purchased it online. Here’s a link. http://preview.tinyurl.com/yc44ty4

  15. housecounsel :

    Backing up a sec, I have been using Latisse for about four months. The stuff is AMAZING. I have some seriously long lashes, and I’ve had several people comment on them (as in, “Do you use Latisse?”) I haven’t noticed any change in my eye color, and I believe this side effect was noticed in people who used the product IN their eyes for its medical, as opposed to cosmetic, benefits.

    On the BO issue, I have to say that I don’t think dry-cleaning suits every few months is sufficient. I dry-clean them after one wearing if it was a long day and I wore a shell or cami. I wear any anti-perspirant with the word “Clinical” in the title, and I find that these work pretty well, but if I’m sweaty, the suit is going to the dry cleaners, even if that means I might be shortening its life.

  16. hugs. This is a tough situation. I’d also suggest perhaps investing in an upright steamer – I find steaming documents really airs them out and lets me get a few more wears out of my dry clean only clothing. Although I agree with the others that a few months may be too long to go between cleanings. Perhaps you can also add some light fragrance (think rosewater or a few drops of lavender) to the steamer water.

    I think they also sell special underarm pads to stick in garments to absorb the sweat. I’ve never tried them but a friend’s sister swears by them.

  17. (er – I meant steaming garments). Long day – too many documents!

  18. I would ask your husband if your mother is right. She may just be really sensitive to any body odor.

    If you are out and about and notice a smell, use a handi-wipe with alcohol in it to kill off the smell. I can’t smell anything because of my allergies, so maybe if you really do have some odor problems, you haven’t been able to smell it because of sinus or allergy issues.

    There is nothing to do for damage control. It hasn’t affected your job and will only make people think you are a little too sensitive if you bring it up.

    I had a similar experience recently. I know I have some eye twitches sometimes, but a stranger asked if I had tourettes. (Her son has it, she wasn’t trying to be rude.) I apparently have a twitch in my eyes and my jaw on a regular basis, and never noticed it. No one ever told me– it took a stranger to do it.

  19. I just want to say that this is an amazing group of women. Lots of good info, some true confessions, tenderness and sympathy. Y’all are really nice gals!

    I hope the OP is feeling the love, here. Go forth and be not stinky.

  20. criminaldefense :

    The issue might be your bra. You might need a more breathable bra. Cheap, polyester bras might be cute, but you might need to upgrade if they are causing a sweating problem. That might even be a sports bra, seriously.

    Oh, and I think we can all agree that polyester undies are a crime against nature.

  21. I can empathize with the OP. At times, my husband informs me that I smell. It seems to be related to hormonal shifts and stress. I encourage the OP to visit the doctor if she has any other symptoms of hormonal imbalances such as extreme weight gain or loss, changes in nails or hair, hair loss, facial or body hair growth, acne, mood swings, etc.

    I have found that odor stems from bacteria on the skin. The only way to kill the smell is through antibacterial products. Currently, I use Dial Gold bar soap followed by a body wash to get rid of that soap film. I also use an antibacterial foot scrub and Secret Clinical deodorant. It is a great idea to not wear the same shoes 2 days in a row. Antibacterial shoe powder helps. Also, I have found some antibactterial socks at Marshalls that leave my shoes and feet stink-free. After my shoes meet acertain point of stinkiness, I throw them out. Nothing else can be done.

    A comment above mentioned that the bacteria on your skin can “infect” your deodorant. I believe this is true, because, I have sniffed my deodorant before I started using antibacterial soap and it smelled like BO. I started sniffing around and realized that my towel that had only been used once after a shower smelled like BO. Maybe the OP should go sniffing around to look for offensive smells. I would like to point out that the first thing that I do when I see my Mom is give her a gigantic hug. I get physically closer to her than I do to anyone in my professional life. Women tend to be more sensitive to smells and are even more sensitive with hormonal shifts such as pregnancy and menopause.

  22. I have the same issue. I would apply deodorant several times, wash several times, alcohol my pits…nothing helped. Dry cleaning my workwear didn’t eliminate the residual BO. However! Dry Idea’s Clinical solid does the trick. I bought the roll-on, but it doesn’t work as well. I hope this is helpful-it was a MAJOR source of embarrassment for me for years. PLEASE DONT WEAR PERFUME TO OFFICE

  23. Don’t say anything to your coworkers or bosses. It sounds like your BO problem wasn’t TOO bad if even your husband never said anything. Drycleaning your suits more often is a good place to start. What fabric are your suits made from? certain fabrics don’t “breathe” as well and contribute to more sweating and odor, so you may want to look into blouses with all natural fabrics.

  24. I haven’t seen anyone mention showering daily. I honestly thought everyone showered daily until I got to law school. Granted, I’m southern and most of my classmates are from the Northeast, so maybe it’s a cultural thing. But it’s obvious the ones who don’t shower often enough. They smell, their hair is filthy, and they look dirty.

    I had one classmate tell me this weekend that she only showers every 3-4 days and actually told me I shower too much (it came up when another friend mentioned that classmate wasn’t wearing her typical t-shirts, she replied she couldn’t put a t-shirt on when she had just showered, she likes to dress cuter after a shower.) The worst part? The day before, she wore sandals and I actually noticed that her feet were very dirty. So moral of the story? Shower. Often.

    Also, I can’t use Caress or Dove soap. It builds up on my skin, especially my underarms, and prevents my deoderant from sinking in. I use Dial White Tea glycerine bar soap and love it. I’ve heard from others that body washes, as opposed to bar soap, tend to leave body odors as well.

    And finally, worst case scenario, if you realize your deoderant isn’t working, use Purell or other hand sanitizer on your underarms. It stings like crazy but instantly works to kill the odor-causing bacteria. Good for a pinch and very easy to come by.

    • I agree that showers are fundamental to addressing any odor problem. But just have to defend the Northeast here — I live in NY and people here shower daily!! I actually like to shower at night, too, b/c it seems weird to me to go to bed with everything you collected during the day still on you,so I take 2 daily. But seriously . . . maybe it’s just law school stress making people careless, it’s not a cultural thing!

      • I’m with ya, especially after I’ve just changed the sheets. Definately need a shower before bed!

        • That is VERY good to know, lol. I’ve had friends from all over the country, but this is the first time I’ve been around such a large number of NJ/NYC people, so I thought maybe it was cultural…

    • I think this is a student thing, rather than a north/south thing.

      • AnneCatherine :

        FWIW, and this is totally anecdotal I realize, I am from Miami, where people tend to shower/bathe 2x a day (morning and night). My sister went to Fordham (in the Northeast) and reported that “no one bathes here.” Now, I realize she was exaggerating, but my father, who had gone to Georgetown (more Northeasterly than Miami, at any rate) confirmed that “no one up North showers or bathes, it’s because they are too cold in the winter.” This is, at least, a common belief among some folks in the South, apparently reinforced by observational data at college. Again, it may be more of a “no one at college bathes” thing than “no one in the North bathes,” thing, but, when my cousins moved down here from Pennsylvania, I do have to say, they were astounded (or at least claimed to be) that people showered or bathed in the morning and at night, which most people in Miami do out of necessity and just consider normal. I’m just saying, it’s not the first time I’ve heard this particular belief expressed, that’s all. Again, I think it’s probably more of a college-age issue than a geographical issue.

        • I am from the Mid-West and definitely shower every morning, as do most people I know!! If I did something especially sweat-inducing during the day (i.e., exercise, gardening, etc.) then I would also shower at night. Otherwise, once a day, in the morning, does just fine! Worked the same in college, too!

        • Well, heck, I guess even though I DO shower every day (mostly. sometimes on a Sunday, I won’t shower), I find it funny that you’d shower twice in one day. Talk about drying out your skin! If I did that, I would be an itchy, peeling mess.

          • AnneCatherine :

            Not if the relative outdoor humidity is 90- 95% though, maybe. I never used a moisturizer in my life till I traveled to England once in my 20s and my face almost cracked in half and I was all “Ohhh that’s why people use moisturizers. . . . ”

            In the summer down here you especially have to bathe (shower) twice a day. I’m sure it’s slightly regional, but not necessarily confined to tropical/subtropical climates.

    • 1) This post just saved me a lot of money- I was drycleaning my suits after 2 wears! So, a few months or 3-4 wears at minimum will cut it in half! In fact, I thought 2 wears was “pushing it”!

      2) I agree that it’s a student thing- I’m a 3L and I only shower every other day. I know it sounds a little gross but I wear my hair in a ponytail the second day. Of course if something important is happening I’ll shower more. Drying my hair just takes up so much time and I’d rather use that time for fun or work. When I had a job though, I showered every day. I feel like putting on non-pajama clothes at school is an accomplishment!

    • lawyer-in-training :

      I don’t think that showering less than daily is a bad thing. If you have a body odor problem then of course, but otherwise I don’t think its good for you. Just like washing your hair daily strips it of its natural oils, showering our skin daily (or 2x daily) dries it out and will make us secrete oils at a faster pace than otherwise (thus making us dependent on the frequent showers). I shower 3x a week and feel clean and healthy. I don’t think that the sometimes correlation of people who fail to take care of themselves with people who don’t shower daily should be taken as causation that people who don’t shower daily are dirty.

  25. You may consider switching dry cleaners. I used one local dry cleaner and my clothes smelled aweful AFTER they were cleaned. I hung my suits out to air them out before wearing and it helped a little. I now use a different dry cleaner.

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