Body Odor

For most people, body odor is completely normal; it’s the simple result of the interaction between sweat and bacteria on a person’s skin.

Body odor (or B.O., bromhidrosis, osmidrosis or ozochrotia) is a 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 really is the result of bacteria breaking down protein into certain acids.

Body odor usually becomes evident if measures are not taken when a human reaches puberty – 14-16 years of age in females and 15-17 years of age in males. 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.

Sweat itself is virtually odorless to humans; it is the rapid multiplication of bacteria in the presence of sweat and what they do (break sweat down into acids) that eventually causes the unpleasant smell. The smell is perceived as unpleasant, many believe, because most of us have been brought up to dislike it. Body odor is most likely to occur in our feet, groin, armpits, genitals, pubic hair and other hair, belly button, anus, behind the ears, and to some (lesser) extent on the rest of our skin.Body Odor Pic 1

Main Causes

Excessive secretion from the sweat glands that becomes malodorous on bacterial breakdown is the predominant cause of Bromhidrosis. There are two types of human sweat glands:

  • Eccrine Glands are distributed all over the skin. They are responsible for bodily thermoregulation by means of sweat production. They secrete large amounts of salty fluid, which is odorless upon reaching the skin surface.
  • Apocrine Glands have a limited distribution involving the axilla, genital skin, scalp and breasts. Apocrine glands have no thermoregulatory role but are responsible for characteristic pheromonal odors. They secrete a small amount of oily fluid, which is rather odorless upon reaching the skin surface (most pheromones are not noticeable for human noses).

Apocrine Body Odor:

Apocrine bromhidrosis is the most prevalent form of bromhidrosis. Bacterial decomposition of apocrine secretion yields ammonia and short-chained acids (mostly butyric and formic acids) with their characteristic strong odors. The individual secretion of pheromones is important, too. Pheromones are the main cause of subliminal odors which other people will notice unknowingly, although they are a contributing factor to one’s subjective decision to find an individual person attractive or not.

Eccrine Body Odor:

In certain circumstances, eccrine secretion, which is typically odorless, assumes an offensive aroma and causes eccrine bromhidrosis. When eccrine sweat softens keratin, bacterial degradation of the keratin yields a foul smell. Ingestion of some foods, including garlic, onion, curry, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, certain drugs (for example penicillin) and toxins may cause eccrine odors. Lastly, eccrine bromhidrosis may result from underlying problems:

Metabolic dysfunction

Renal dysfunction

Liver failure

Other endogenous dysfunctions


Excessive sweating, known as Hyperhidrosis, may promote the spread of apocrine sweat and contribute further to bromhidrosis by creating a moist environment, one ripe for bacterial overgrowth.

Genetic Predisposition:

Researchs suggested that Bromhidrosis is also caused by a genetic trait. Most patients can be genetically predisposed to body odor, especially when there is a known family history of Hyperhidrosis and family members had a certain bacterial skin flora.

Body Odor Pic 2Interesting Body Odor Facts:

Carnal Differences:

There is a significantly difference between female and male odor. Males will develop much more odor, which has a masculine, strong characteristic because of the dominating testosterone hormone. Women emanate a more sweeter scent which is mostly affected by feminine estrogens. A Swiss study done by researchers in Geneva revealed that women’s body odor contained high levels of sulphur, which together with dermal bacteria produces the chemical compound thiol that has a smell of garlic or onion. According to the study, men’s sweat was found to contain more fatty acids, which when mixed with bacteria from the skin, produces a certain brute smell, resembling cheese.

Ethnic Differences:

Excessive sweating is a more common problem for Caucasians and Africans, who tend to have more hair follicles to which the apocrine glands are attached. East Asian people appear to have less and smaller apocrine glands, which explains why they might not need to use deodorants as often as populations of Africa and Europe (see paragraph below). As a matter of fact the deodorant/antiperspirant market in Asia is much smaller than in the western world. Surely, though, there may be many exceptions since body odor is obviously influenced by many factors, for example by one’s personal diet (spicy asiatic food etc.).

Body Odor Pic 7Earwax – The Ethnic Key To BO:

Earwax comes in two types, wet and dry. The wet form predominates in Africa and Europe, where 97 percent or more of the people have it, and the dry form among East Asians, while populations of Southern and Central Asia are roughly half and half. By comparing the DNA of Japanese with each type, scientist Koh-Ichiro Yoshiura and his team from Nagasaki University were able to identify the gene that controls which type of earwax a person has. The Japanese team says that the earwax-affecting gene, known to geneticists as the ATP-binding cassette C11 gene, lies with three other genes in a long stretch of DNA that has very little variation from one person to another. This is why the Nagasaki scientists linked the earwax characteristics with sweating and individual body odor. They suggest that earwax type and armpit odor are correlated, since populations with dry earwax, such as those of East Asia, tend to sweat less and have little or no body odor, whereas the wet earwax populations of Africa and Europe sweat more and so may have greater body odor. Several Asian features, such as small nostrils and the fold of fat above the eyelid, are conjectured to be adaptations to the cold. Less sweating, the Japanese authors suggest, may be another adaptation to the cold climate in which the ancestors of East Asian peoples are thought to have lived.

Indicator for Health Problems:

Some types of smell may reveal hidden health problems. It is known that if your sweat smells like peroxide (bleach), it may indicate a kidney or liver disease, while fruity body odor often points to diabetes. Also a rare genetic disorder, called TMAU-Syndrome (trimethylaminuria), makes a person produce constant fishy body odor.

Treating and Preventing Body Odor

The following steps may help control body odor:

1) 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.

2) Clothing – natural fibers allow your skin to breathe, resulting in better evaporation of sweat. Natural-made fibers include wool, silk or cotton.

3) Avoid Spicy FoodsBody Odor Pic 4 – 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.

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.

Tips for Armpit Odor
A large concentration of apocrine glands exist in the armpits, making that area susceptible to 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.

2) 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.

3) 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 deodorants are highly perfumed. Make sure that you are not replacing one smell with another one that other people will not enjoy either. Some people may be allergic to deodorant sprays and perfumes, so don’t spray them around other people in change rooms). 

Tips for Foot Odor (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 foot odor:

Body Odor Pic 61) 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.

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.

4) Pumice Stone – bacteria thrive on dead skin. If the soles of your feet have patches of dead skin remove them with a pumice stone.

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 first with appropriate medication.

6) Go Around Barefoot – whenever you can walk around barefoot, or at least slip out of your shoes regularly.

Men are more likely to have body odor, because they tend to sweat more than women.

Some Deodorants or Antiperspirants can help you to keep fresh.

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