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Does shaving armpit hair reduce smell?

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Quick answer

Shaving armpit hair can help reduce body odor, but it is not a complete solution. Sweat itself is odorless, but bacteria on the skin break it down into compounds that smell. Shaving removes some bacteria and sweat-soaked hair, reducing odor. But deodorants, antiperspirants and regular washing are also required to limit smell.

Does shaving armpit hair reduce odor?

Shaving armpit hair can help reduce odor, but it does not completely eliminate it. Here’s why:

1. Armpit hair holds onto odor

Armpit hair provides a large surface area for sweat to accumulate. The sweat soaked up by armpit hair provides nourishment for bacteria living on the skin. These bacteria break down sweat compounds into smelly substances like isovaleric acid and androstenone. Shaving removes the bacteria-harboring hair, reducing available surface area for odor-causing bacterial activity.

2. Shaving exfoliates the skin

The act of shaving itself exfoliates the top layer of skin cells from the armpit. This exfoliation removes some bacteria from the skin’s surface. With fewer bacteria left on the skin, there is less breakdown of sweat into odorous compounds.

3. Stubble has a shorter lifecycle

Newly shaved armpit stubble lays closer to the skin than unshaven hair. This makes it more difficult for sweat and bacteria to accumulate on the short hairs. The stubble also has a shorter growth phase than unshaved hair. It does not have as much time to trap sweat and bacteria before being shaved off again.

Why does armpit hair trap odor?

Armpit hair provides an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive and produce body odor:

It has a large surface area

Armpit hair is dense and has a large surface area for sweat and bacteria to accumulate on. The small hairs provide many nooks and crannies for bacteria to settle into.

It absorbs sweat

Armpit hair is hygroscopic, meaning it easily absorbs moisture. The hair follicles readily soak up sweat from the apocrine glands in the armpits. This provides ample moisture for bacteria.

It has oils and proteins

Sebum and keratin proteins from the hair follicles provide nutrition for bacteria to feed on. The bacteria consume these compounds and proliferate.

It traps heat

Armpit hair insulates the skin and retains heat in the armpits. This warmth fosters bacterial growth.

It has old cells

As armpit hair grows, old cells are sloughed off the hair shaft. This builds up keratin debris in the armpits that bacteria can break down.

How do bacteria cause body odor?

Your armpits contain apocrine glands that secrete a fatty sweat. This sweat itself has no odor, but bacteria on the skin feed on it and produce smelly metabolic waste products. The main steps are:

1. Apocrine glands secrete sweat

Specialized apocrine glands in the armpits and genital area produce a thick, oily sweat. This sweat contains proteins, lipids, and minerals.

2. Bacteria break down sweat compounds

Corynebacteria and other skin bacteria consume and digest compounds in the sweat secretion. Common armpit bacteria include Staphylococcus epidermidis and species of Corynebacterium, Propionibacterium and Staphylococcus.

3. Bacterial waste products have an odor

The bacterial metabolism of sweat produces smelly substances like isovaleric acid, ammonia, and sulfanylalkanols. Different bacterial species create different signature odors.

4. Body odor wafts into the air

Volatile odorous waste products evaporate off the skin into the surrounding air. The characteristic armpit stench announces itself.

Does shaving completely eliminate odor?

No, shaving armpit hair does not completely stop body odor. Here are some reasons why odor can still occur:

– Sweat glands are still active

Shaving only removes hair, not sweat glands. Apocrine glands will continue to produce sweat for bacteria to feed on.

– Bacteria remain on the skin

Shaving removes some bacteria clinging to hairs, but does not sterilize the skin. Plenty still reside in the armpits.

– Stubble regrows after shaving

Armpit stubble returns within days after shaving. The growing hairs soon require shaving again to limit bacterial activity.

– Dead skin accumulates

Shaving exfoliates skin, but dead cells build up again soon after. Debris stuck in armpit stubble feeds bacteria.

– Hair follicles exude oils

Sebaceous glands around hair follicles continue secreting oils. These skin lipids nourish bacteria even after shaving off the hairs.

Other odor prevention hygiene tips

Practicing good hygiene is important, whether you shave your armpits or not. Other tips to prevent body odor include:

– Bathe regularly

Wash armpits daily with antibacterial soap and water to remove sweat, bacteria and debris.

– Use antiperspirant

Antiperspirants contain ingredients like aluminum salts that block sweat glands. This starves odor-causing bacteria.

– Apply deodorant

Deodorants have antibacterial agents and fragrance to kill bacteria and mask odors.

– Wear clean clothes

Avoid trapping smells in clothes by wearing fresh shirts, dresses, and base layers.

– Trim armpit hair

If not shaving, regularly trimming armpit hair can help reduce surface area for bacterial activity.

Pros and cons of shaving armpits

There are various advantages and disadvantages to shaving armpit hair when it comes to body odor:


  • Removes hair that traps sweat and bacteria
  • Exfoliates away dead skin cells
  • Decreases surface area for odor production
  • Stubble has shorter growth cycle
  • Creates smoother skin for deodorant contact


  • Can cause ingrown hairs and bumps
  • Leads to stubble with sharp ends
  • Requires regular maintenance
  • Does not remove apocrine sweat glands
  • Does not sterilize the armpits

How often should you shave armpits?

Most people need to shave their armpits every 2-4 days for best odor control. Here are some factors that determine optimal shaving frequency:

– Hair growth rate

Faster growing stubble requires more frequent shaving. African-American individuals often have faster armpit hair regrowth.

– Odor production

Those who sweat heavily or produce strong body odor may need to shave armpits every 1-2 days.

– Irritation

Sensitive skin prone to bumps and ingrown hairs cannot be shaved as often. Slow hair growth allows longer intervals between shaving.

– Hair thickness

Coarse, thick armpit hair regrows faster than fine hair. Thick hair requires more regular shaving.

– Activity level

Physical activities like sports cause more armpit sweating. Athletes may need to shave daily.

Shaving tips to minimize odor

Use proper technique when shaving armpits to get the most odor reduction:

– Shave with the grain

Go with the direction of hair growth to avoid ingrown hairs. This allows close shaving while preventing irritation.

– Use a clean razor

Dirty razors harbor bacteria that can infect hair follicles. Use a new or disinfected blade.

– Take a warm shower first

The heat and moisture soften hairs and open pores for an easier, closer shave.

– Exfoliate beforehand

Gently scrubbing with a loofah sloughs off dead cells and debris to expose hairs.

– Use shaving cream

Lather protects skin and helps the razor glide smoothly over contours.

– Moisturize after

Apply light, unscented lotion to soothe skin and prevent itchiness as stubble regrows.

Other hair removal methods

Besides shaving, alternatives like epilation and hair removal creams can also reduce armpit odor:


These methods rip hair out by the roots for longer-lasting removal. Can cause pain and irritation.


Electric devices pluck hairs out mechanically. Less messy than waxing but can nick skin.

Depilatory creams

Chemical hair removers dissolve keratin in hair above the skin. Can cause rashes.

Laser hair removal

Light energy destroys follicles over several treatments for semi-permanent hair reduction. Expensive option.


Electric current is applied to permanently destroy individual follicles. Requires many sessions.

Are there downsides to removing armpit hair?

While removing armpit hair can benefit body odor, there are some disadvantages to consider:

– Can cause irritation

Shaving, waxing and depilatory creams can lead to bumps, rashes and ingrown hairs in the armpits.

– Loses natural wicking ability

Armpit hair helps wick sweat away from the skin. Removing it can cause sweat to drip down the sides of the body.

– Alters natural pheromones

Apocrine secretions left on armpit hair may serve as pheromones. Shaving removes these chemical signals.

– Can increase scar visibility

Scars under the arms become more noticeable without hair cover. Follicles often won’t regrow through scar tissue.

– Requires continual upkeep

Hair removal needs to be repeated regularly as stubble regrows. This can become a chore.

– May nick moles or lesions

Medical conditions like skin tags under the arms are at risk of getting cut while shaving.

Does armpit hair have any benefits?

Armpit hair does have some functions other than harboring odor:

– Wicks moisture away

Armpit hair absorbs sweat from the skin and helps channel it away to evaporate.

– Reduces friction

The hair minimizes abrasion between the underarms and torso during arm movement.

– Cushions impacts

Armpit hair helps cushion the sensitive underarm region from jostles and bumps.

– Regulates temperature

The hair provides insulation to retain warmth in cold weather and ventilation in heat.

– Protects from UV rays

Thicker armpit hair can filter out some ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure.

– Distributes natural scent

Apocrine secretions distribute along the hair and serve as pheromones during attraction.

Cultural attitudes about armpit hair

Views on armpit hair removal differ among cultures:

Western countries

– Shaving became popular in early 1900s with sleeveless fashions
– Depilation marketed heavily to women in 1915-1945
– Shaving now common practice for both genders

Asian countries

– Hair removal less common historically
– Shaving increasing recently due to Westernization
– Still more social acceptance of unshaven arms

Middle Eastern countries

– Islam promotes hair removal for hygiene
– Men often shave armpits after adolescence
– Women commonly remove hair after puberty

African countries

– Varies by ethnicity and region
– Hair grooming rituals ingrained in some cultures
– Shaving access and education improving


Shaving armpit hair can help reduce body odor, but it is not a complete solution. The hair provides a prime area for odor-causing bacteria to thrive. Removing the hair and its secretions decreases available surface area for bacterial activity and sweat buildup. However, deodorants, antiperspirants and regular cleaning are still required. Armpit shaving needs to be repeated frequently to combat the quick regrowth. While shaving is generally safe, ingrown hairs and skin irritation are risks to weigh. Proper technique and moderation are key for maximizing odor reduction from underarm shaving.