We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Body odor is the perceived unpleasant smell our bodies can give off when bacteria that live on the skin break down sweat into acids.
Some say it is the smell of bacteria growing on the body, but it is actually the result of bacteria breaking down protein into certain acids.
It is also known as B.O., bromhidrosis, osmidrosis, or ozochrotia.
When a body gives off a scent others may find unpleasant, it is known as body odor.
Body odor usually becomes evident if measures are not taken when a human reaches puberty. People who are obese, those who regularly eat spicy foods, as well as individuals with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, are more susceptible to having body odor.
People who sweat too much, such as those with hyperhidrosis, may also be susceptible to body odor. However, often the salt level of their sweat is too high for the bacteria to break down. It depends on where the excess sweating is occurring and which type of sweat glands are involved.
Sweat itself is virtually odorless to humans. It is the rapid multiplication of bacteria in the presence of sweat and their breaking down of sweat into acids that eventually causes the unpleasant smell.
Body odor is most likely to occur in the following places:
- pubic hair and other hair
- belly button
- behind the ears
- the rest of the skin, to a lesser extent
Body odor can have a pleasant and specific smell to the individual and can be used to identify people, especially by dogs and other animals. Each person’s unique body odor can be influenced by diet, gender, health, and medication.
Body odor is caused by bacteria breaking down sweat and is largely linked to the apocrine glands. Most body odor comes from these.
These glands are found in the breasts, genital area, eyelids, armpits, and ear. In the breasts, they secrete fat droplets into breast milk. In the ear, they help form earwax. Apocrine glands in the skin and the eyelids are sweat glands.
Most of the apocrine glands in the skin are located in the groin, armpits, and around the nipples. In the skin, they usually have an odor. They are scent glands.
The apocrine glands are mainly responsible for body odor because the sweat they produce is high in protein, which bacteria can break down easily.
What causes foot odor?
Most of us wear shoes and socks, making it much more difficult for the sweat to evaporate, giving the bacteria more sweat to break down into smelly substances. Moist feet also raise the risk of fungi developing, which can also give off unpleasant smells.
A large concentration of apocrine glands is present in the armpits, making that area susceptible to the rapid development of body odor.
The following steps may help control armpit odor:
1) Keep the armpits clean: Wash them regularly using anti-bacterial soap, and the number of bacteria will be kept low, resulting in less body odor.
When armpits have hair, it slows down the evaporation of sweat, giving the bacteria more time to break it down into smelly substances. Shaving the armpits regularly has been found to help body odor control in that area. Reusable razors are available to purchase online.
3) Deodorant or antiperspirant: Deodorants make the skin more acidic, making it more difficult for bacteria to thrive. An antiperspirant blocks the sweating action of the glands, resulting in less sweating. Some studies, however, have indicated that antiperspirants may be linked to breast cancer or prostate cancer risk.
This study suggests that current research is inconclusive on the risks of antiperspirant sprays.
Deodorants and antiperspirants with natural ingredients are available to purchase online.
Tips on preventing foot odor
Smelly feet are less of a problem socially than underarm B.O. because the unpleasant odor is usually contained by shoes and socks.
However, the smell may become obvious if the person with smelly feet visits a home where shoes are taken off before entering, as is the custom in various countries and homes.
The following steps may help control foot odor:
1) Wash your feet at least once a day: Warm water is better at killing bacteria than cold water. Make sure you dry your feet thoroughly afterward, including in between your toes.
2) Socks: They must allow the sweat to evaporate. The best socks are those made of a combination of man-made fibers and wool. Wear a clean pair of socks each day.
3) Shoes: If you wear trainers or shoes with plastic linings make sure it is not for long. A leather lining is better for sweat evaporation. If you have a problem with sweaty feet, do not wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Shoes do not completely dry overnight.
Bacteria thrive on dead skin. If the soles of your feet have patches of dead skin remove them with a pumice stone. These are available to buy online.
5) Deodorants and antiperspirants: Ask your pharmacist for special foot deodorants and antiperspirants. If you have athlete’s foot, you should not use deodorants or antiperspirants. Treat the fungal infection with appropriate medication.
6) Walk around barefoot: Whenever you can, walk around barefoot, or at least slip out of your shoes regularly.
The following steps may help control body odor:
Wash daily with warm water: Have a shower or bath at least once a day. Remember that warm water helps kill off bacteria that are present on your skin. If the weather is exceptionally hot, consider bathing more often than once a day.
Clothing: Natural fibers allow your skin to breathe, resulting in better evaporation of sweat. Natural-made fibers include wool, silk or cotton.
Avoid spicy foods: Curry, garlic, and other spicy foods have the potential to make some people’s sweat more pungent. Some experts believe a diet high in red meat may also raise the risk of developing more rapid body odor.
Aluminum chloride: This substance is usually the main active ingredient in antiperspirants. If your body does not respond to the home remedies mentioned above, talk to a pharmacist or your doctor about a suitable product containing aluminum chloride. Follow the instructions given to you carefully.
Botulinum toxin: This is a toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum; it is the most poisonous biological substance known. However, very small and controlled doses are today being used in various fields of medicine. A relatively new treatment is available for individuals who sweat excessively under the arms.
The individual is given approximately 12 injections of botulinum toxin in the armpits – a procedure that should not last more than 45 minutes. The toxin blocks the signals from the brain to the sweat glands, resulting in less sweating in the targeted area. One treatment can last from two to eight months.
Surgery: When self-care and medicinal measures are not effective at treating severe body odor, a doctor can perform a surgical procedure called endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS) that destroys the sweating-controlling nerves below the skin of the armpits.
This procedure is a last resort and runs the risk of damage to other nerves and arteries in the area. It can also increase sweating in other parts of the body, known as compensatory sweating.
Some medical conditions may change how much a person sweats. Others can alter how we sweat, changing the way we smell. It is important to see a doctor to identify these conditions.
For example, an overactive thyroid gland or the menopause can make people sweat much more, while liver disease, kidney disease, or diabetes can change the consistency of sweat so that the person smells differently.
You should see your doctor if:
- You start sweating at night.
- You start sweating much more than you normally do, without any logical reason.
- You have cold sweats.
- Sweating disrupts your daily routine.
You should also see your doctor if your body smells different than usual. A fruity smell could indicate diabetes due to high levels of ketones in the bloodstream. Liver or kidney disease can often make the individual have a bleach-like smell due to a build-up of toxins in the body.1-3