Body Odor

Learn about excessive sweating and body odor.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Body Odor?
  2. What causes Body Odor?
  3. Help and treatment for people with Body Odor
  4. Help for Body Odor
  5. More Information on Body Odor

What is Body Odor?

Body odor is one of those subjects that nobody really likes to talk about. It is not pleasant when there is a distinctive whiff of stale sweat in the air. Although, sweat is basically odorless, the smell can be quite awful. At some point everyone has felt a bit sweaty, especially on a hot summer’s day, after a strenuous workout or when having to speak in front of an audience.

Fortunately, when most of us feel like this we simply want to head home, shower and smell fresh again. However, many people sweat excessively and are even unaware that they smell. Not only is this very embarrassing and may not just be a sign poor hygiene but of a more serious medical condition.

There are two types of sweat glands in the skin and they are known as the apocrine and eccrine glands. Apocrine glands develop in areas where there is an abundance of hair follicles such as the underarms, genitals and scalp. Eccrine glands develop over most parts of the body and open directly onto the skin’s surface. Both these glands are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, which controls most of our involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat and sweating.

It is a known fact that men sweat more than women. Children rarely have body odor because the glands in the armpits and genitals only become active during puberty. With the onset of puberty, the sweat glands develop under the stimulation of hormones and protein and the oil production of the skin in the armpits and genitals also increases


What causes Body Odor?

Everyone sweats but how much you sweat, the way you sweat, where and when differs from individual to individual. People usually sweat in hot conditions, after exercising or when they are stressed, nervous or anxious. Some people, who have inherited a tendency to sweat excessively, sweat on their palms and soles. When sweating develops as a result of emotions, it occurs on your face, underarms, palms and soles of the feet.

Body odor occurs as a result of sweat on the skin. Sweat is part of the body’s way to cool down. Although sweat does not smell, the bacteria that normally lives on our skin feeds on it and breaks it down into aromatic fatty acids and chemicals that cause the unpleasant odor.

Certain areas of the skin such as the armpits and genitals tend to give off more of a body odor because these glands produce oily substances and proteins that bacteria feed on. Sweat found on any other areas of the body is salty water which bacteria find difficult to flourish in.

There are several factors that contribute to excessive sweating and
these include:
  • Hereditary
  • Serious illness such as kidney and liver disease
  • Fungal infections
  • Fever
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Hormonal changes such as puberty and menopause
  • Presence of toxins in the body
  • Low levels of male hormones
  • Alcoholism
  • Certain foods and beverages such as spicy foods, garlic, onions, coffee, tea and alcohol
  • Certain drugs such as antipsychotic medications, morphine, aspirin, acetaminophen and thyroid hormone thyroxine.

How is Body Odor Diagnosed?

A medical diagnosis is generally not needed for body odor. However, if you break out into nights sweats or begin to sweat more than usual, consult with your health practitioner. If you notice a change in your body odor, this may be an underlying sign of a medical disorder.

For instance, people who experience a fruity body odor may be suffering from diabetes while an ammonia odor may indicate kidney or liver disease. If you experience a cold sweat, your body may be responding to severe pain, anxiety or a serious illness – get immediate medical attention especially if a cold sweat is accompanied by lightheadedness or stomach and chest pains.

Help and treatment for people with Body Odor

In order to keep body odor under control, first and foremost, it is essential to practice good personal hygiene. Taking regular baths and showers, wearing a fresh change of clothes daily, washing clothing at a high temperature, eating fresh fruit and vegetables as well as drinking plenty of water can make a significant difference in how a person smells.

Using over-the-counter products such as antiperspirants and deodorants should become part of your everyday routine. Antiperspirants reduce the amount of perspiration that the body produces while deodorants eliminate the smell. It is best to shop around when choosing between a deodorant and antiperspirant – antiperspirants are most associated with skin irritation often causing contact dermatitis and red, swollen itchy skin.

Antibacterial and antiseptic solutions containing chlorhexidine and aluminium chloride are available from pharmacies and help to reduce the amount of bacteria.

In excessive cases of body odor (hyperhidrosisis), certain surgical procedures may be recommended. Removing the sweat glands from the armpits may also be an option. A procedure known trans-thoracic sympathectomy is performed under general anesthetic and involves incisions into the armpit to destroy the nerves that control the sweating. Injecting botulinum toxin (Botox) into the skin near the armpit stops sweating but does not prevent body odor.

More Information on Body Odor

Tips to prevent body odor
  • There are a number of ways to prevent body and these include:
  • Maintain good personal hygiene by washing or showering at least 2-3 times a day with hot water and anti-bacterial soap
  • Wash directly after a work-out or sporting activity
  • Use antiperspirants, deodorants and talcum powders regularly
  • Shave or wax under your arms as this area is a fertile breeding ground for bacteria
  • Wash clothing regularly in hot soapy water with a scented concentrate
  • Avoid wearing the same clothing you wore the day before as it will retain the sweat smell
  • Change socks and undergarments daily
  • Wear cotton or linen clothes as they are more absorbent than synthetic fabrics
  • Avoid wearing tight fitting clothes and rather opt for loose fitting clothes
  • Incorporate fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains into your diet
  • Drink lots of water to flush out toxins in the body’s system
  • Avoid eating spicy or sharp smelling foods (such as garlic, onions, hot peppers or curries) as the odor comes through the pores
  • Avoid drinking hot drinks such as coffee or tea
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