Body Odor and Sweating Overview
Sweating and body odor are facts of life for most people. Heavy perspiration and body odor can happen when you exercise, when you’re too warm, or when you’re nervous, anxious or under stress.
Your body has two main types of sweat glands, and they produce two very different types of sweat. Both types are odorless, but the type of sweat produced in your armpits and groin smells bad when it combines with bacteria found normally on your skin.
Unusual changes in sweating either excessive perspiration (hyperhidrosis) or little or no perspiration (anhidrosis) can be cause for concern. Likewise, changes in body odor may be a sign of a medical problem.
For normal sweating and body odor, however, lifestyle and home treatments can effectively manage your symptoms.
Is Body Odor Normal?
Jack is not the first (or last) teen to notice body odor. Bromhidrosis (another word for body odor) happens at puberty because of increasing hormones called androgens. These hormones are not active until puberty, which is why body odor wasn’t a problem when you were a kid.
While sweat itself is virtually odorless, bacteria use it as a breeding ground and multiply rapidly. What you smell is the products related to bacteria breakdown of keratin protein on the surface of your skin. Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it? Chalk it up to an unpleasant fact of life!
When you work out or move around in the heat or sun, your body produces sweat. Sweating is the body’s way of regulating temperature. When sweat meets the bacteria on the surface of your skin, it produces an odor. That smell is what we call body odor (or B.O. for short).
Sweating and our sweat glands
The average human body has three to four million sweat glands, of which there are two types:
- Eccrine glands – a type of simple sweat gland that is located in almost all areas where there is skin. They produce sweat that reaches the skin’s surface via coiled ducts (tubes). When sweat evaporates from the skin the body is cooled. Eccrine glands are responsible for regulating our body’s temperature.
- Apocrine glands – 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 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 of the breast. Apocrine glands in the skin usually have an odor; they are scent glands.
Sweating and Body Odor Symptoms
Some people naturally sweat more or less than other people. Body odor also can vary from person to person. But you should see a doctor if:
- You suddenly begin to sweat much more or less than usual
- Sweating disrupts your daily routine
- You experience night sweats for no apparent reason
- You notice a change in your body odor
How Do I Fight Body Odor?
If you want to be “odor-free” consider the following tips:
- Apply an antiperspirant at bedtime. This gives the product a chance to work while you sleep and are not sweating. If you apply antiperspirants after showering in the moning, the sweat you accumulate will wash away the product and render you defenseless against daytime sweating. Remember, deodorants do not prevent sweating. They mainly mask the smell of the sweat on your skin. Antiperspirants are chemical agents that reduce sweating. Many antiperspirant preparations also contain a deodorant, which helps to mask the smell. Check the product you use to make sure it contains an antiperspirant.
- Keep your underarms dry. Bacteria have a hard time breeding in dry areas of the body.
- Try a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to fight body odor. Use 1 teaspoon of peroxide (3%) to 1 cup (8 ounces) of water. Wipe this on affected areas (underarm, feet, groin) with a washcloth. This may help destroy some of the bacteria that creates odor.
- If sweat from working out is your No. 1 cause of body odor, wash your workout clothes often. Sweaty gym clothes are a bacteria-breeding ground.
- Change your diet. Sometimes, fatty foods, oils, or strong-smelling foods such as garlic, curry, and onions, can seep through your pores and cause body odor (always see a doctor or dietician before making drastic dietary changes).
- If you have excessive sweating (called hyperhidrosis), talk to your doctor. There are a few treatment options for those with more severe sweating who desire more aggressive treatments. Also, certain medical problems can lead to excessive sweating. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.
- Shaving your underarm regularly will help prevent the accumulation of bacteria and can reduce sweat and odor.
Sweating and Body Odor Causes
Your skin has two main types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands occur over most of your body and open directly onto the surface of the skin. Apocrine glands develop in areas abundant in hair follicles, such as your armpits and groin, and they empty into the hair follicle just before it opens onto the skin surface.
When your body temperature rises, your eccrine glands secrete fluid onto the surface of your skin, where it cools your body as it evaporates. This fluid is composed mainly of water and salt.
Apocrine glands, on the other hand, produce a milky fluid that most commonly is secreted when you’re under emotional stress. This fluid is odorless until it combines with bacteria found normally on your skin.
How to prevent bad body odor
- Wash your body regularly, especially underarms, groin and feet. Dry your feet completely after you have washed them.
- Change and wash your clothes often.
- Let your shoes dry completely before wearing them again. If possible, wear different shoes on alternate days.
- Cotton socks might be better than synthetic socks, but the most important thing is to wash your feet daily, and change your socks daily if possible.
- If someone has told you that you have an unpleasant body odour, and you think that might be true, you could try an antibacterial soap when you wash your body. Most people do not need this.
Diagnosing body odor
In the vast majority of cases of body odor it is not necessary to see your doctor. The individual himself/herself may be aware of it, or a good friend or a member of the household may tell them about their body odor. There are some self-care techniques that will usually successfully treat the problem.
What are the treatment options for body odor?
- Armpits – a large concentration of apocrine glands exist in the armpits, making that area susceptible to rapid development of body odor.
- 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.
- Hair under the armpits 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.
- Deodorant or antiperspirant – deodorants make the skin more acidic, making the environment 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 the evidence is inconclusive either way.
- 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 excessibely under the arms.
The patient 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. In countries where free universal healthcare is available, such as the NHS (National Health Service), UK, botulinum toxin therapy for excessive underarm sweating is not usually available and most patients will have to do it privately (pay for this specific treatment).
- 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.
- Spicy foods – curry, garlic and some other spicy (piquant) 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.
- Treatment for smelly feet (bromodosis) – 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 food odor:
- Wash your feet in warm water regularly – this means at least once a day. Remember that warm water is better at killing off bacteria than cold water. Tea-tree oil, when added to water, helps kill off bacteria (do not apply tea-tree oil directly to skin). Make sure you dry your feet thoroughly afterwards, including in between your toes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pumice stone – bacteria thrive on dead skin. If the soles of your feet have patches of dead skin remove them with a pumice stone.
- 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 first with appropriate medication.
- Go around barefoot – whenever you can walk around barefoot, or at least slip out of your shoes regularly.