Everyone gets body odor. Body odor, called bromhidrosis, is a normal part of the human experience. But it’s embarrassing enough that you want to get rid of it.
Why Does Sweat Stink?
Sweat itself doesn’t have a smell. Body odor is actually the fault of the bacteria that live in sweaty areas of your body.
Bacteria thrive in moist environments, like your armpits. When you sweat, the bacteria break down certain proteins in the sweat into acids. So, it’s not the bacteria that stink. It’s the by-product of the bacteria breaking down the sweat.
The Glands Responsible for Body Odor
Bacteria aren’t the only odoriferous offenders though. It also depends on which sweat glands are doing the sweating. You have different types of sweat glands in your skin—eccrine glands and apocrine glands.
Eccrine glands are found over your entire skin. These coiled glands are found in the lower layer of the skin called the dermis. They squeeze sweat directly to the surface of the skin through a duct. As the sweat evaporates, it helps to cool your skin and regulate your body temperature.
Sweat produced by eccrine glands is high in salt, so it’s harder for bacteria to break down and less likely to produce a smell.
Apocrine glands are found in select areas of the body, namely your armpits, groin, and pubic area. Apocrine glands aren’t designed to help cool you off as eccrine glands do. Instead, these glands empty into a hair follicle instead of a duct. Apocrine glands release sweat when your body temperature rises, but also when you’re under stress.
It’s the sweat produced by apocrine glands that is responsible for body odor because it is high in protein that, when broken down by bacteria, causes a stink.
That’s why body odor mostly develops in your armpits and groin area, and why you don’t get B.O. on your forehead.It also explains why little children don’t get B.O. even when they sweat. Appocrine glands remain inactive until puberty, when they begin to produce sweat. It’s only after puberty begins that body odor suddenly becomes an issue.2
Things That Make You Susceptible to B.O.
Besides apocrine glands and bacteria messing with your sweat, there are certain things that can make you more apt to develop body odor.3
- Being overweight. Skin folds can hold sweat and bacteria, making a more hospitable home for body odor.
- Eating spicy, pungent foods. These don’t actually make your sweat any smellier, but the scents of pungent foods can permeate through your skin, making body odor seem worse.
- Certain medical conditions. Diabetes, kidney or liver problems, overactive thyroid, and (extremely rare) genetic conditions can cause a change in your normal body scent. In some cases, an odd body odor can be a sign of something more serious. For example, a bleach-like or urine-like smell may mean kidney or liver problems. If you notice an odd change in your normal body odor, or feel something is just not right, contact your doctor.
- Stress. Stress causes your appocrine glands to work overtime. Remember, these are the glands that cause smelly sweat. So, you may notice a sudden breakout of B.O. right before your big presentation or after a particularly hair-raising event.
- Genetics. Some people are just more prone to developing body odor than others.
- Excessive sweating. A condition called hyperhidrosis can cause you to sweat a lot, as can menopause. And some people just naturally sweat more than others.