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. 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
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.
Causes of body odor
Body odor is produced when the bacteria that live on our skin break down the proteins in our sweat into different acids. Some people tend to think that it is the growth of bacteria on the skin that produces body odor, but in reality, it is this process that produces the unpleasant odor.
Every individual has a unique odor, which is influenced by parameters like age, diet, health, and gender. The bacterial breakdown of the proteins in our sweat results in two acids – propionic acid and isovaleric acid.
Propionic acid is produced when Propionibacterium break down amino acids. It has a pungent smell and is often associated with vinegar. The human body also has two types of sweat glands that are present all over our body. They are:
- Eccrine Glands: These glands are found throughout the body. The sweat produced by the eccrine glands reaches the surface of the skin via certain ducts. They are usually responsible for maintaining our body temperature.
- Apocrine Glands: These glands are usually responsible for the foul odor produced by our body. The apocrine glands are usually found in our armpits, eyelids, genital area, and breasts. They are responsible for the secretion of fat droplets in breast milk and the production of earwax in the ears. In the armpits and groin, these glands usually give off an odor and are therefore known as scent glands.
Though body odor is a natural phenomenon, it can affect our confidence and personality.
Ways to tackle body odor
1. Use natural deodorants:
Natural deodorant is a great alternative to standard deodorant, which can often contain chemicals and plug sweat glands to prevent you from sweating. Natural deodorants are great alternatives and are usually more gentle on the skin and free of ingredients like aluminum, parabens, and phthalates, so if regular deodorant makes your underarms burn try the natural route to help reduce odor. Deodorants unlike antiperspirants do not eliminate wetness, but they do eliminate the smell that can be associated with sweat by trying to eliminate bacteria and providing a different scent to absorb any bad smelling odors. Some of the most commonly used ingredients in natural deodorants include baking soda, coconut oil, zinc oxide, and mineral salts, along with magnesium, shea butter, tea tree oil, corn starch, witch hazel, and aloe.
2. Use armpit pads:
Swap out your normal deodorant or antiperspirant for something a bit more heavy-duty with these cleansing and exfoliating pads that use plant-derived, odor neutralizing enzymes to promote balanced skin. They’re made with the AHA glycolic acid and anti-microbial peptides that work together to prevent odor-causing bacteria without blocking your pores. Plus, they’re aluminum- and baking soda-free, so they’re suitable for sensitive skin since these ingredients can sometimes cause irritation. To use, simply swipe the pads under your clean, dry pits, then go about your day for long-lasting sweat and odor protection.
3. Wear breathable clothing:
Wearing clothes made of light, breathable fabrics can help to reduce sweating since tighter clothing is more likely to trap heat and potentially cause you to perspire. Some synthetic fabrics can also trap sweat and bacteria and result in body odor, so especially in the summer, pay attention to the labels on your clothes. There are sweat-wicking fabrics that help to absorb the sweat before the bacteria can affect it, reducing the chance of body odor, while some brands now incorporate technology into their workout gear to help prevent bacterial growth and reduce odor.
4. 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.
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.
6. Peppermint oil:
Peppermint has antibacterial properties and can, therefore, be used as an alternative to store-bought deodorants. Coconut oil is also antibacterial and helps in killing the bacteria present on the skin. Cornstarch and baking soda keep the skin dry and sweat free.
If you’ve used multiple kinds of deodorants or antiperspirants and nothing helps to reduce your underarm odor, talk with your doctor. They can rule out underlying medical conditions and recommend stronger treatments.