Body Odor: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
Everyone has a unique body odor, either pleasant or subtle. Unfortunately, most of us only associate body odor with an unpleasant smell.
Many people shower regularly with antibacterial soap or body wash, especially to stay fresh in the summer, thinking it will help them avoid body odor. But body odor is something that everyone will experience in one way or another.
Changes in your body odor can be due to various factors, including puberty, sweating, and poor hygiene. Environment, medications, and food intake can cause sudden body odor changes.
This article will focus on the possible causes, prevention, and treatment you can adopt for the different types of body odor that you might be producing.
What is body odor?
Body odor is an umbrella term to describe the unpleasant smell originating from the body when the bacteria on the skin break down the acids in your sweat.
Body odor becomes more evident during puberty because hormones and sweat glands are more active. In addition, people with medical conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, are more susceptible to body odor.
Body odor is most likely to occur in the following places:
- Pubic and other hair
- Belly button
- Behind the ears
Body odor: causes
Contrary to popular belief, your sweat doesn’t have its smell. Instead, when the bacteria on your skin come in contact with sweat, salt, and fat, it produces body odor.
There are two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Apocrine glands are responsible for producing body odor.
Eccrine glands, which cover most of your body, release sweat directly to the surface of your skin, and as the sweat evaporates, it helps cool your skin and regulate your body temperature.
Apocrine glands open up into your hair follicles — tube-like structures that help hold your hair in your skin. These glands, inactive till puberty, are present in your groin and armpits and can produce sweat that can smell when in contact with bacteria on your skin.
Food, hormones, or medication can affect your body's odor. However, for most people, just like acne, puberty is also responsible for causing body odor because their sweat glands and hormones become more active during those times.
In addition, not adopting basic food hygiene habits or using antiperspirants can also lead your body to release unpleasant body odor.
Here are a few things that can make body odor worse:
- Heavy exercise
- Warm or hot weather
- Being overweight
- Certain health conditions such as diabetes, food poisoning, liver or kidney diseases
Body odor: prevention
Although there is no universal treatment for the causes of body odor, taking the following steps may help prevent and control body odor:
- Antiperspirants and deodorants are the most common methods to manage and reduce the intensity of a person’s body odor by changing sweat volumes and the amount and activity of odor-causing bacteria.
- Wash your hands, feet, and body regularly with antibacterial soap, liquid hand wash, and body wash, and thoroughly dry them so bacteria can not breed on them.
- Adopt good oral hygiene. Medical experts recommend brushing your teeth and tongue twice daily for at least two minutes.
- Thoroughly wash your sensitive areas. Cleanse your genital area, anus, and ears with warm water. In addition, regularly shaving your armpits and pubic hair helps expedite the sweat evaporation process, giving bacteria less time to break down proteins and create odorants.
- Adopt a shower routine, whether in the morning or at night. Showering or bathing using an antibacterial body wash removes dead skin cells, dirt, germs, bacteria, and oil. Showering with a body wash has a lot of benefits for your skin and overall health hygiene.
- Change and wash your clothes regularly with antiseptic liquid to remove the germs, sweat, and body odor trapped in them.
- Reduce the consumption of overly smelly and spicy foods, as they can cause more intense sweating. This includes curry, garlic, spicy peppers, cauliflower, onions, brussels sprouts, caffeine, and more. Ensure proper food safety and hygiene so your sweat and breath don’t smell unpleasant.
- Wear loose-fitting cotton, wool, and silk clothing. This will allow air to pass through, skin to breathe, and prevent sweat from being produced.
Body odor: treatment
Body odor and excessive sweating treatment depends on the cause, which can be determined through physical, blood, or urine tests.
Treatment for body odor could include:
- Antiperspirants help temporarily block sweat pores, reducing the amount of sweat that reaches your skin. On the other hand, deodorant eliminates the odor by turning your skin acidic, making it less attractive to bacteria.
- Topical antibiotics, such as clindamycin, erythromycin, and benzoyl peroxide, may help reduce the growth of the contributory bacteria that decompose apocrine secretions, liberating fatty acids with peculiar smells.
- A medical professional may suggest Botox treatment for people with excessive sweat. In this treatment, botox is directly injected into the skin, which blocks the release of chemicals that trigger sweating.
- When self-care and medical measures aren't effective at treating body odor, a doctor can perform an “Endoscopic Sympathectomy” surgery to remove the sweat glands or disconnect the nerves in the chest that lead to the underarm sweat glands.
How do you get rid of body odor naturally?
If you want to get rid of armpit body odor naturally, the following tips might be helpful:
- Baking soda: Apply a baking soda paste with water to your armpits and let it dry. The paste will balance the acid on your skin and help reduce odors.
- Green tea: Put green tea bags in warm water and place the soaked tea bags under your armpits for several minutes a day. The tea bags will help block your pores and reduce sweating.
- Lemon Juice and Cider vinegar: Mix apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with water in a spray bottle and spray the mixture onto your armpits. This mixture will help eliminate bacteria under your armpits.
When to contact a doctor?
Some medical conditions may change how much a person sweats or the odor their body produces. If you notice any of the following changes, you should contact a doctor immediately:
- Excessive sweating while sleeping
- Fruity body odor, which could indicate diabetes
- Sweating occurs irregularly or at excessive levels
- Frequent skin infections in body areas prone to sweating
- Bleach-like body odor, which could indicate liver or kidney disease
- Frequent sweating, even when not physically active or in a warm environment
Body odor is a common occurrence, usually a byproduct of bacteria breaking down protein in your sweat from the apocrine glands in your armpits, groin, and pubic area.
You can control and prevent unwanted body odor through personal hygiene practices such as showering, washing, deodorant, and shaving.
However, if the problem can’t be contained with hygiene, we recommend immediately contacting a medical expert, preferably a dermatologist.
What foods make you smell good?
The food that improves your body's odor by quickly absorbing and gently releasing through the skin includes lemons, oranges, grapefruit, other citrus fruits, green tea, rosemary, peppermint, sage, and wheatgrass.
Why do I still smell bad even after using deodorant?
Unlike antiperspirant, deodorant does not block sweat. Thus, the potential contact of sweat and bacteria might increase the risk of unexpected body odor even after using deodorant.
Is body odor harmful?
Body odor is more of a nuisance than a serious health issue. However, if you can’t manage or prevent sweating and odor using personal hygiene practices and lifestyle changes, contact a doctor or dermatologist for further advice.