Body odour

Why does sweat smell?

Sweat cools us down and lubricates those parts of the body that rub against each other, such as the crotch or the armpits. Actually, the body produces two different kinds of sweat, eccrine and apocrine. Neither type of sweat has an odour, but apocrine reacts with the bacteria on our skin. As the bacteria break down the apocrine, the musty, stale smell we know as BO occurs.

Everyone has their own body odour, as unique as a thumbprint. The Australian Civil Service has actually explored using body odour as a security method to restrict access to classified information on computers! However, though body odour may be a necessary and individual trait, when it becomes offensive to others it can be very embarrassing.

Why do some people smell worse than others?

Some people’s apocrine glands are bigger and more active than others. Similarly, some of us have more tenacious skin bacteria. Some people may find that they sweat much more than normal, a condition known as hyperhydrosis. Certain unusual-smelling body odours are symptoms of more serious complaints.

How can I make sure I don’t smell bad?

Occasionally, people believe that they smell bad when in fact they do not. More often, though, it is the opposite case. We aren’t as aware of our own smell as others are because we live with our personal odour all the time. If you suspect you have a body odour problem, it can usually be resolved by regular bathing, using deodorant and washing your clothes.

To make sure:

  • Wash every day with an antibacterial soap, and scrub under the armpits where most of the body’s two or three million sweat glands are based.
  • Use a deodorant containing aluminium or zinc. Both of these metals will kill off the bacteria on your underarm skin. If you tend to sweat excessively, you should use an antiperspirant, which actually blocks the sweat from coming through your pores.
  • Wash your clothes more often in one of the many detergents available that actively combat body odours clinging to your clothes.
  • Watch what you eat. Strong-smelling foods like garlic and spices come out through your pores.
  • Wear cotton next to the skin. Man-made fibres are not as good at absorbing sweat as cotton.


What serious illnesses might BO be a symptom of?

Sometimes a bad smell can in fact be a symptom of something worse. If you notice any of the following body odours, or any consistent odour that is not your normal personal smell, you may need to consult your GP for tests:

  • A ’beery’ smell could indicate a yeast condition.
  • The smell of nail polish remover could indicate diabetes.
  • An ammonia smell could indicate liver disease.
  • A fishy smell could indicate a metabolic disorder.

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