Why Do My Armpits Suddenly Smell So Bad?

Prepare yourself for a brief history of my armpits.
Publish date:
April 28, 2015
bad smells, armpits, deodorant, all the smells, odors, body odor

When I was a little kid, few things were better than putting on my mom's deodorant.

I loved slathering on my mom's liquid deodorant with the neato roller ball and powder fresh scent. I loved the way the liquid felt slimy and cold on my skin, and that I smelled "like a grown up".

At that point in my life, deodorant was an extension of playing dress up. Got mom's old strappy heels, pink flowery hippie skirt, and liquid deodorant? GOT STYLE.

Then somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade things got real. Real smelly.

I don't know if that's early for a kid to start getting serious body odor of the armpit variety, but I sure did. Of course, I pretended it didn't exist.

I didn't have the words for it at the time, but in my nine year-old brain I was thinking something along the lines of, "OF COURSE."

"OF COURSE I'm the first kid to have pit-stink. OF COURSE. I'm the tallest elementary school kid ever, I'm the 'CHINESE KID,' I wear Captain EO and 'Vancouver Rocks' hand-me-down sweatshirts that I HATE, I really don't want this mustache, and because my feet are so big I can't get the cool high tops all the other kids have and I have to wear my mom's old black aerobics shoes. YEAH, MOM. THE KIDS DO NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE."

Life was woefully unfair, so I decided that I wasn't going to play along.

I refused to wear deodorant because that would mean it was real. In retrospect, though I know I was the "stinky kid" in middle school, I suspect my issues began much earlier.

The jig was up when, while hanging out with my cousins one day after school, my little cousin Lisa lifted her arm and my older cousin Mari gagged.

"Oh my GOD Lisa," Mari said. "You have B.O. You need deodorant." Holding her nose, she ran off to go play a Nirvana song on her guitar.

Thinking I could gain the upper hand, I laughed at Lisa and said, "You need deodorant?! I'm older than you and I don't even need deodorant!"

Lisa, being the perpetual object of our teasing narrowed her eyes and uncharacteristically snapped back, "Yeah? Well, Mari and my mom say that you don't wear deodorant BUT YOU REALLY NEED TO."

Horrified that everyone knew my "secret", I just sat there in the middle of Lisa's living room mouth agape, mortified. Which OF COURSE caused my face to flush, which made me sweat, which made me smell.

Well played Lisa.

Lisa went back to building some sort of fort out of bedsheets and an old plastic Santa Claus that had somehow found its way into the living room, and I came to the realization that my freewheeling days of deodorantless armpits were gone.

From then on, deodorant was my obsession. My best friend in high school and I would spend our money on every new-fangled deodorant that came on the market.

When "Degree Soft Solid Antiperspirant" came on the market, it was like our religion. It KILLED the B.O. We would giggle to each other during hot Texas days, "Two clicks, three strokes." Those were the instructions on the label of the antiperspirant stick. We may have been weirdos, but we smelled mostly "shower fresh."

My obsession with different kinds of deodorant and antiperspirant continued through college and into my late 20s. I was always trying to find the next "miracle product" that would keep me odor-free and dry the longest.

I never found that miracle product, and always carried deodorant with me, but I rarely smelled like feet and earwax – which is what I think my bad pit-stink smells like. (Have you ever smelled earwax?)

Then when I was 29 I got sick. I won't bore you with the details again, but basically my body went coo-coo bananas and along with psuedo seizures, my skin got uber sensitive. From face to feet, pits to pubes, most commercial products started making skin itch or burn or both.

So after trying A LOT of "all natural" or hypo-allergenic deodorants and living through the horror of smelling like something died in my pits for a month or so, I came out unscathed on the other side with a homemade/semi- homemade deodorant that kicked my B.O.'s ass.

Until now. OF COURSE.

I noticed it about two weeks ago. The stink.

Now let me just say that while I'm hyper aware of my body's odors, that doesn't mean I think that all my body's odors are bad. I actually really like my natural scent.

For the past few years using my homemade deodorant, I've really grown accustomed to what my body smells like. Contrary to what my nine year-old self would ever believe, I'd become one of those people who, unless dirty, doesn't really have much, or any armpit odor.

Maybe it's the deodorant I make, maybe it's my diet, maybe it's one of the many meds or supplements I take. Maybe it's the Great Kitten in the Sky making up for my early onset B.O. and big feet, but pit-stink just hasn't been a worry of mine for some time. I'd moved on to being paranoid about the small village of moles popping up my right forearm.

This is what I get for moving on.

It hit me one afternoon while I was researching scary things for Creepy Corner. I smelled something. Was it my feet? No. The cat box? No. Some weird smell wafting in through the open window? No.

Then I smelled my pits. (Cue cartoon "stinky" foghorn sound)

What the hell? I'd just showered yesterday and I'd slathered a healthy helping of deodorant into my pits just the night before (the stuff usually stays effective for at least a day and a half for me). It wasn't hot out, and I hadn't been rolling around in anything like feet or earwax.

Figuring it was a fluke, I carried on researching scary things, until the scariest thing in the room became my armpits. I had flashbacks of Lisa, her fort, and my sweaty, stinky childhood self.

Finally, I took a shower, hoping I'd be able to wash away the rotten onions I was sure my cat had rubbed into my armpits while I wasn't looking.

Fresh out of the shower, wrapped up in my bath towel, I flopped onto my bed to see how my old friend Gregory House M.D. was doing. Not 15 minutes into the episode, I sniffed my pits and couldn't help but yelp, "What the shit?!"

I didn't quite stink, but I definitely had an unpleasant odor. How was this possible? I'd just taken a shower. A shower where I'd taken special care to gently exfoliate my pits in case there was some gunky, bacteria-laden, build-up in there.

But the odor did grow.

By the next morning, the pit-stink that had horrified me the previous afternoon was back. And while it waxes and wanes despite my best efforts (regular gentle cleansing, even a clay cleansing mask in my pits) it has not gone away for about two weeks.

There are loads of reasons why I could be experiencing this. From my research, these seem to be the most likely culprits:

  • Hormones. I've read that hormone imbalances in women, even slight imbalances can cause changes in armpit/body odor. Occasionally my body odor has changed when I'm on my period, but it's never gotten especially unpleasant. I am going through a hormonal change?
  • Diet. A change in diet towards more processed foods, and away from fruits, vegetable, and whole foods can supposedly cause an increase in unpleasant body odor. I have a weakness for Japanese gummy candy, but aside from that, I've been steadily improving my diet. Also foods like garlic, asparagus, onions, red meat, coffee, and alcohol can make odor worse. I don't eat red meat, or drink alcohol that often anymore, and I've cut down my coffee intake. However, I did recently go on a garlic kick where I straight up ate a whole clove every night to try and accelerate the healing of my lungs from pneumonia. (The old Chinese women in my family swear by garlic for lung ailments.) That was almost a month ago, so maybe it's just working itself out now?
  • Medications. Honestly, this is the cause I'm most curious about. I took so many weird medications for my pneumonia, and for so long, I can't help but wonder if the change in my armpit odor has something to do with this. Some information I found said that antibiotics can cause increased body odor issues. I was on two rounds of pretty strong antibiotics, so could this be a big piece of the pit-stink puzzle? Do any of you medical professional types have any insight?

I'm not worried yet, but I can't help but wonder if my increase in pit-stink is indicative of some medical issue I should pay attention to. I'm probably being paranoid, right? RIGHT?

Has this ever happened to any of you? Do you know what caused it? Were you able to remedy it? How? Help?