Body odour can lead to many awkward situations, but it can be prevented. In this blog post, we help you understand why body odour occurs and what you can do to keep it under control.
In medical terms, body odour is the unpleasant fragrance caused by secretions from sweat gland. It is mostly physiological, and arises in the axillary or armpit region, feet, hair, areola, groin, navel, and other body surface areas. Having hair in the axillary region also diffuses the odours through hair follicles.
Let’s first talk about the causes of body odour and the signs that you may have it - we’ll then get to how you can prevent it.
Causes of body odour:
Poor personal hygiene:
Lacking good personal hygiene is the most common cause of foul body odours. Taking regular showers and cleaning the body washes away sweat and odour-causing bacteria. Sweat is odourless, but upon mixing with the natural flora present on the skin, it produces odour. Neglecting your personal hygiene promotes the growth of bacteria and diseases, which further leads to body odour.
When you are stressed, sweat is secreted from apocrine glands, which are present in the armpit region and the groin. A milky fluid is released, which is odourless, until it combines with the skin flora. In a healthy, non-stressed individual, sweat is released by eccrine glands present on the surface of skin, and it evaporates into water and electrolytes, without producing any stink.
Consuming a diet rich in sulfur, which is commonly found in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts, garlic, and onion, can lead you to have body odour. These foods are broken down to malodorous compounds that circulate in the bloodstream and are excreted via your sweat, urine and breath.
Genes are known to affect your body odour. In certain individuals, the ability to break down trimethylamine (TMA), is altered. These individuals suffer from a disorder called trimethylaminuria (TMAU) and have a fishy smell. An excess of TMA – which is found in choline-rich foods like eggs, beans, wheat germ, certain meats, and legumes – leads to body odour.
Alcohol is eliminated through the body via skin pores and breath, producing its characteristic odour. Excessive consumption of alcohol and its metabolism, leads to alcoholic ketoacidosis by overproduction of ketone bodies which causes you to have body odour.
Diabetes and starvation:
Untreated diabetes leads to diabetic ketoacidosis. Similarly, starvation causes starvation ketoacidosis. In both the conditions, there is an excess of ketone bodies in the bloodstream, which produces body odour.
5 Signs That You Have Body Odour
It’s not uncommon to have body odour, however it is important to know when you do. Often body odour throws people off, causing them to quietly leave your company or in some cases even run away with squeamish faces because they just can’t stand your natural smell.
Here are some signs to tell you that you might smell a little fishy:
- Nobody wants to hang out with you anymore:
Man might be a social animal; but put in some nauseating odours and it’ll make you want to stay in your room forever. If you stink, you’ll notice how people prefer to keep away; no more hugs and kisses, no more intimate talks cuddled up in a cozy place. You might even notice people gagging, or holding their nose. (Not that they would’ve wanted you to notice!)
If you are a victim to sudden isolation from humans you were otherwise close to, you must either be really rude, or really stinky.
- Somebody tells you:
Very few of us are lucky enough to have friends to say things out loud. Directly or indirectly, as long as someone suggests that you do not smell… nice, you might need to take adequate measures to fix it.
If your olfactory senses are even slightly active, you will be able to smell yourself. If you’re not happy with the smell? You need to look into ways to smell better. Smell yourself at random times during the day and use a good antiperspirant so that others don’t have to do the same.
Pro Tip: Take off your clothes and stand under a fan until your nose is clear - then sniff your clothes.
If you have a weird taste in your mouth, your breath probably stinks too. Brush your teeth, wash your mouth with a mouthwash or chew breath mints ASAP. Nobody needs to know what lies inside the deep dark cave of your mouth!
Pro Tip: Breathe into your palm and smell your breath. If you want a more accurate test for bad breath scrape your tongue with a spoon and smell it. If it smells bad beyond a certain limit, you probably have bad breath.
If the room smells after you take off your shoes, your feet probably are the source. This rarely requires an outside source’s opinion. Smelly feet are not happy feet, so make sure you get rid of it.
- Greasy hair:
If you haven’t washed your hair in a while and you’re losing friends, you need to run to the shower. Often our hair smells a lot more than our body, and we won’t realize it because it’s our own hair. Our hair extends out of our body and under others’ noses, so it carries smells away from us, but that’s just as worse.
Pro Tip: Run your fingers through your hair and make sure you don’t have greasy knots. Wash your hair regularly to keep away dust and dirt too!
- Timeline history:
What you did all day will tell you what you smell like. If you sit in a shiny squeaky office with AC it is unlikely that you develop bad odour as you don’t sweat. However, if you work in a demanding environment, running around you might stink towards the end of the day.
If you ate garlic or onions, your breath is going to stink, come what may. If you have been wearing the same socks for a week, your feet and shoes will stink. If you just got out of a high intensity workout session and didn’t shower, you probably stink. What you do effects what you smell like, be aware of such situations!
Body odour is very embarrassing, but it can be fixed. Make sure you know that you’re smelling. The first step to smelling good is knowing that you smell bad - so don’t sweat it!
How to prevent body odour:
- Having excellent personal hygiene:
Taking a shower once or twice a day washes away sweat and odour causing bacteria. Your body must be cleaned thoroughly but gently, without loofahs or washcloths that cause friction to the areas prone to sweat, like the axillary region.
Pro Tip: Anti-bacterial soaps must be used in the folds and sweat forming areas, as they wash away all the odour causing bacteria.
After a shower, your skin must be pat dried. Odour causing bacteria colonises less on dry skin. The axillary region and groin area must be kept clean and hair in this area must be trimmed, to prevent accumulation of bacteria.
Antiperspirants containing compounds like aluminium chloride reduce the production of sweat and also have a fragrance, contrary to deodorants and perfumes, which just have a fragrance to mask the odour. They must be used twice a day, to keep your perspiration in check.
Pro Tip: Always use alcohol-free antiperspirants to prevent any skin reactions.
- A clean wardrobe:
Wearing clean, fresh smelling clothes prevents body odour, since they are not laden with sweat and odorous bacteria. If you have foot odour, clean socks must be worn at all times and anti-fungal foot powder can be used to control perspiration.
Pro Tip: Wearing natural fabrics, like cotton, provides more breathability to your skin, preventing sweat and growth of odorous bacteria.
A diet rich in sulphur compounds, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic and onion, which are known to release odorous compounds must be avoided. Spicy foods such as chillies and hot peppers, which contribute to sweating must also be avoided. A proper balanced diet must be consumed because undernourishment and starvation leads to starvation ketoacidosis and causes odour.
Pro Tip: Caffeine also causes sweating, so make sure you consume it in moderation.
Alcohol must be avoided, because it is eliminated through the skin and mouth, giving a lot of odour. Also, excess alcohol leads to ketoacidosis, which produces stench due to accumulation of ketone bodies.
Treatment of underlying cause or disease:
If your body odour is caused by an underlying disease, then that must be determined and treated. In diabetic patients, diabetes must be kept in control to prevent diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is an emergency situation, and a physician must be consulted in that case. A healthy, nutritious and balanced diet must be taken, to keep diabetes in check and also to avoid malnutrition. If there is any underlying cause of starvation or malnutrition, like anorexia or bulimia, a physician or counsellor must be consulted. In case of hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) or TMAU (trimethylaminuria), make sure to visit a doctor.
A healthy, stress-free lifestyle:
Eradication of stress and anxiety reduces the amount of emotional sweating by the apocrine glands, which is responsible for the odour.
Pro Tip: Yoga, meditation, and exercising help in eliminating stress!
Let’s be honest, no one really wants to smell bad but sometimes running to work after a workout just can’t be avoided. If you experience body odour to the point where it is affecting your life, try and implement the above tips - if there is a will there is a way.