Body odor, medically also referred to as bromhidrosis, is the unpleasant smell caused by the mixing of sweat and bacteria on a person’s skin.
Sweat is naturally odorless, but when it reaches the skin’s surface, bacteria that normally live on the skin digest sweat and produce the unpleasant odor. Our body contains two types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands.
- Eccrine sweat glands – Found on most areas of the body, the eccrine glands produce sweat that is responsible for cooling the body. Eccrine sweat is primarily made up of water and salt.
- Apocrine sweat glands – Found primarily under the armpits, groin, and near your genitals, the apocrine glands produce a fatty form of sweat that attracts bacteria. Apocrine sweat and bacteria interaction is what is responsible for body odor.
They are larger than eccrine glands and remain dormant in the body until a person goes through puberty. This is why babies smell is much better than teenagers.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Body Odor?
Body odor causes can vary from person to person based on a number of different factors. It results from the breakdown of substances in sweat by bacteria on the skin.
Body odor is something that most people have to deal with at some level, though severity of cases vary greatly from person to person. In extreme cases, it can lead to anxiety and depression.
Although body odor occurs naturally, there are certain risk factors that can make it more prominent.
Poor hygiene is one of the most common cause of body odor. If you are not washing your body, particularly your underarms, feet or hands properly, then the bacteria accumulated and lead to body odor.
The food you consume can affect how you smell as well. Certain spices, such as garlic and onions, contain volatile sulfur compounds which are gases that smell like rotten eggs. This substance is absorbed into our blood and lungs after digestion, giving us bad body odor and breath.
Other foods and beverages associated with odor issues include red meat, egg yolks, asparagus, cabbage, chocolate, cumin, alcohol, and coffee.
When people are stressed, they tend to secrete more sweat through their apocrine glands, causing excessive sweating, which in turn can cause bad body odor.
Human genetics do play a role in how a person smells. East Asians are much less susceptible to excessive sweating and body odor because they have fewer apocrine sweat glands compared to people of other descents.
Another genetic condition resulting in abnormal body odor is hyperhidrosis. This condition is characterized by severe sweating primarily on the palms and foot soles. People with known family history of this condition is most likely to suffer from body odor.
Certain hormonal changes that occur during puberty or menopause can also cause body odor. These changes can trigger excessive sweat production, which in turn can stimulate the production of more odor compounds.
People who are overweight tend to sweat more and excrete fatty sweat, thus increasing their risk of having body odor. They also have more folds and creases on their skin that trap dead skin cells and sweat, which serve as oasis for odor-causing bacteria.
Some medicines, such as aspirin and acetaminophen, contain chemicals that are secreted through the sweat glands. The particles from these medications can give off an undesirable smell to sweat. In addition, overuse of aspirin and acetaminophen can also lead to increased sweat production.
Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, thyroid problems, and kidney or liver failure, are also linked to body odor as they can cause excessive sweating.