Body Odor

What Is Body Odor?

Body odor happens when your sweat meets the bacteria on the surface of your skin and makes an unpleasant smell.

Sweating is your body’s way of regulating temperature. While sweat itself is virtually odorless, bacteria use it as a breeding ground and multiply rapidly. What you smell are the products related to bacteria breakdown of keratin protein on the surface of your skin.

Another word for body odor is bromhidrosis.

Body Odor Causes

Body odor begins at puberty because of rising hormones called androgens. These hormones aren’t active until puberty. That’s why body odor isn’t a problem when you’re a young kid. Once these hormones are active, a few things can make body odor worse, including:

Where Do I Get Body Odor?

While body odor is usually associated with the armpits, bacteria can also cause odor in the groin, anus area, upper thighs, and feet, among other places. Thoroughly washing your skin with a wet washcloth and soap -- especially those areas prone to sweating -- can help prevent body odor.

Smelly feet can also cause smelly shoes. Treating your shoes with an over-the-counter deodorizer can help. Also, wear thick, absorbent socks if you can.

Body Odor Treatments

If body odor is a problem for you, you can do a few things to help manage it:

  • Try a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to fight body odor. Use 1 teaspoon of peroxide (3%) to 1 cup (8 ounces) of water. Wipe this on affected areas (underarms, feet, groin) with a washcloth. This may help destroy some of the bacteria that create odor.
  • If sweat from working out is your No. 1 cause of body odor, wash your workout clothes often. Sweaty gym clothes are a bacteria breeding ground.
  • Change your diet. Stay from the kinds of foods that can cause body odor. But always talk to a doctor or dietitian before making drastic changes to your diet.
  • If you have excessive sweating (called hyperhidrosis), talk to your doctor. There are some options for those with more severe sweating who want more aggressive treatments. Also, certain medical problems can lead to excessive sweating. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.

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Body Odor Prevention

The best way to fight body odor is through prevention. If you want to be odor-free, consider the following tips:

  • Take a bath or shower every day.
  • Wash your clothes regularly and make sure to wear clean ones.
  • Try to avoid strong-smelling foods that may seep through your pores.
  • Put on an antiperspirant at bedtime. This gives the product a chance to work while you sleep and are not sweating. If you apply antiperspirants after showering in the morning, the sweat you accumulate will wash away the product and render you defenseless against daytime sweating. Remember, deodorants do not prevent sweating. They mainly mask the smell of the sweat on your skin. Antiperspirants are chemical agents that reduce sweating.
  • Many antiperspirant preparations also contain a deodorant, which helps to mask the smell. Check the product you use to make sure it contains an antiperspirant as well as a deodorant.
  • Keep your underarms dry. Bacteria have a hard time breeding in dry areas of the body. Shaving your underarms regularly will also help prevent the accumulation of bacteria and can reduce sweat and odor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 10, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Wikipedia: "Body Odor."

Health911: "Body Odor Remedies."

DermNet NZ:  "Antiperspirants."

Cleveland Clinic: “Sweating and Body Odor: Care and Treatment.”

U.K. National Health Service (NHS): “Body odour (BO).”

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