What causes body odor?
Body odor (or B.O., bromhidrosis, osmidrosis or ozochrotia) is a perceived unpleasant smell our bodies can give off when bacteria that live on the skin break down sweat into acids – some say it is the smell of bacteria growing on the body, but it really is the result of bacteria breaking down protein into certain acids.
Body odor usually becomes evident if measures are not taken when a human reaches puberty – 14-16 years of age in females and 15-17 years of age in males. People who are obese, those who regularly eat spicy foods, as well as individuals with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, are more susceptible to having body odor.
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Sweat itself is virtually odorless to humans; it is the rapid multiplication of bacteria in the presence of sweat and what they do (break sweat down into acids) that eventually causes the unpleasant smell. The smell is perceived as unpleasant, many believe, because most of us have been brought up to dislike it. Body odor is most likely to occur in our feet, groin, armpits, genitals, pubic hair and other hair, belly button, anus, behind the ears, and to some (lesser) extent on the rest of our skin.
Body odor can have a nice and specific smell to the individual, and can be used – especially by dogs and other animals – to identify people. Each person’s unique body odor can be influenced by diet, gender, health, and medication.
Two types of acid are commonly present when there is body odor:
Propionic acid (propanoic acid) is commonly found in sweat – propionibacteria break amino acids down into propionic acid. Propionibacteria live in the ducts of the sebaceous glands of adult and adolescent humans. Some people may identify a vinegar-like smell with propionic acid, because it is similar to acetic acid, which gives vinegar its sour taste and pungent smell.
Isovaleric acid (3-methyl butanoic acid) is another source of body odor as a result of actions of the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis, which are also present in several strong cheese types.
What causes foot odor?
Most of us wear shoes and socks, making it much more difficult for the sweat to evaporate, giving the bacteria more sweat to break down into smelly substances. Moist feet also raise the risk of fungi developing, which can also give off unpleasant smells.
Diagnosing body odor
In the vast majority of cases of body odor it is not necessary to see your doctor. The individual himself/herself may be aware of it, or a good friend or a member of the household may tell them about their body odor. There are some self-care techniques that will usually successfully treat the problem.
When to see your doctor about body odor.
Some medical conditions may change how much a person sweats, while others can alter how we sweat, subsequently changing the way we smell. For example, hyperthyroidism (an over-active thyroid gland) or the menopause can make people sweat much more, while liver disease, kidney disease, or diabetes can change the consistency of sweat so that the person smells differently. You should see your doctor if:
- You start sweating at night
- You start sweating much more than you normally do, without any logical reason
- You have cold sweats
- Sweating disrupts your daily routine.
You should also see your doctor if your body smells differently. A fruity smell could indicate diabetes due to high levels of ketones in the bloodstream. Liver or kidney disease can often make the individual have a bleach-like smell due to a build-up of toxins in the body.
Can you change your natural body odor?
While you might mask your natural scent with deodorant, perfume, or scented lotion, your natural chemical odor can still be detected by those around you. Still, you can change this scent if you find that your natural aroma is not exactly pleasing. Here’s a look at some of the controllable factors that influence how you smell.
How you bathe – Hygiene plays an important role in body odor, because odors are produced by bacteria naturally present on the skin. Sweat itself is odorless, but when it evaporates on the skin, there may be unpleasant odors caused by bacteria. While you won’t want to eliminate bacteria completely with antibacterial soap, you might switch to a more gentle cleanser and use products like tea tree oil to shrink the pores and minimize sweat.
What you eat – Have you ever noticed that eating too much garlic can actually make you smell garlicky the next day? That’s because your diet has a strong effect on your body odor—particularly when you eat foods high in sulfurous compounds like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Foods that tend to make you sweat more, such as hot peppers or other spicy foods, might also contribute to body odor. Drinks with caffeine or alcohol may also cause you to sweat more.
How your body metabolizes food – Hard-to-digest foods like wheat, red meat, and dairy might also cause you to stink. If your body is unable to metabolize certain foods properly, toxins may build up in your digestive tract and seep through the skin.
Watch your stress levels – When you exercise or otherwise get overheated, your eccrine (sweat) glands produce a watery substance designed to regulate body temperature. But emotional stress triggers different glands—the apocrine glands, which are found mostly in the underarms and groin area—and they secrete a milky fluid. This fight-or-flight-related liquid is made up of water and lipids, so it’s a veritable feast for odor-causing bacteria, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic. Meditation, yoga, and other calming practices may help.
Wear breathable fabrics – Naturally derived fabrics like cotton, silks, and wools have more breathability than most man-made materials like rayon or spandex, according to research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology and other journals. But when it comes to workout clothes, look for moisture-wicking synthetic materials.
Natural Treatments for Body Odor
Apply apple cider vinegar – Acid, like the kind found in apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, inhibits the growth of bacteria—including the kind that makes your sweat smell gross. Just be cautious, and use it sparingly: “While apple cider vinegar and lemon juice may help reduce levels of odor-causing bacteria on the skin, they may cause skin irritation,” says Zeichner. So if you decide to dab a few drops on your underarms with a cotton ball or add a splash to your bathwater, make sure you have no minor cuts or scrapes. Witch hazel and tea tree oil are also believed to be antimicrobial.
Go herbal – Sage is a delicious addition to both savory and sweet foods, and it turns out that it may also help blast BO (when an extract of it is applied topically). Rosemary oil may work similarly, as it’s been shown to be antimicrobial and “refreshing.” Incorporate a few sprigs to spritz up your daily water intake, or add it to your bath for some wonderful scents. Other herbs like parsley and mint have also been known to up the refreshing note because the strong oils they contain.
Essential Oils – Essential oils are natural oils found in fragrant plants, such as jasmine or orange blossoms. These oils can be used in place of chemical-heavy manufactured perfumes. Mix 6 to 12 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil — such as grapeseed, sunflower or olive oil — and apply a small dab onto your wrists or behind your ears to leave you smelling heavenly throughout the day. As an added benefit, essential oils retain their scent for longer, because they’re more concentrated than perfumes, which are alcohol-based.
Perfumed Sachets – Perfumed sachets are small bags filled with fragrant herbs or blossoms. You can purchase them pre-made, or you can make your own, filling a small fabric or mesh bag with dried herbs or flowers. Common choices include lavender, rosemary and rose petals. For a more exotic combination, think of mixing together dried ginger and cinnamon. Keep the sachets in your closet, where they will gently perfume your clothes, helping you stay fresh smelling.
Baking Soda – Baking soda is a natural deodorizer. You can use it to absorb extra sweat and oils after a strenuous workout — it makes a natural underarm deodorant — or it can be used to deodorize clothes. A common use is to sprinkle some into shoes and let it sit overnight, as it will absorb foot odors, reducing your chances of having smelly feet. You can also sprinkle and rub some onto your hands to remove odors left from food preparation.
Drink More Water – While the standard guideline is to drink 8 glasses of water each day, people do differ from each other, be it in metabolism rates, and activities level. Instead, I would recommend drinking enough water means when your pee looks pale yellow, or clear. When we are dehydrated, our urine becomes acidic and makes us taste sour. Drinking enough water helps us to flush out toxins that makes us stink, and have the added benefits of making our complexions looking dewy. In addition, two published studies (1, 2) indicated that drinking 500 ml (17 oz) of water can temporarily boost metabolism by a 24-30%. It was estimated by the researchers that the sheer fact of drinking 2 liters (68 ounces) water in a day can actually increase your energy expenditure by 96 calories daily!
Chew On It – Indians have been known to chew on fennel seeds and cardamom seeds to get rid of bad breath post meals. The oils in the fennel and cardamom seeds have antibacterial properties, as well as help neutralize foul smelling odors and aid with digestions. Just pack a few seeds in a small bag in your purse for some immediate discreet deodorant action.
Probiotics – According to WebMD: “Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or ‘helpful’ bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.” Look for live probiotics in fermented goodies like yogurts, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. Try your hand at fermenting them at home if you feel up to it, because you get to have more control over what goes into them, and helps to ensure that the probiotics are alive.
Eat Less Processed Foods – Almost all processed foods can be high in sugar, salts, fats and unpronounceable compounds (in any variation). Bacteria that lead to infections love sugar. Having a diet high in sugar and processed foods is almost like giving the green light to infections galore and reducing your body’s ability to regenerate itself. A diet high in sodium increases your risk of dehydration, which is a big no no when it comes to making you smell good. And if you find yourself being unable to pronounce whatever that is in the box, are you sure you really want to put in inside your body? When our bodies do not get a chance to repair itself due to the need to deal with processed foods, it gets laden with toxins and we age far more quickly than normal. We usually end up smelling a little worse for wear when that happens.
Establish Good Sleep Routine – Now what has sleeping well got to do with making our vagina smell good? Well, as it turns out, everything! When we get enough sleep and sleep quality is great, our body immunity improves and can fight infections better. According to TCM principles, the liver and gallbladder get cranking at repairing our bodies and detoxifying between 11pm to 3am. If we are not asleep by then, our liver and gallbladder cannot concentrate on detoxifying, and more toxins get retained in our bodies. Hence, it has been suggested that the best time to get ready for bed is to settle down by 10pm every night.
Essential Oils – all deodorize naturally because the all kill bacteria. Choose your favorites, dilute them in a carrier oil (3 drops per ounce), and use them as a perfume on your wrists and behind your ears. Mother Gaia’s hand blends anointing oils, body and bath oils, and truly natural aroma sprays for you to safely use. No chemicals needed!
Newspaper – Take the previous day’s newspaper and ball it up in the sleeves, underarms, or legs of your clothing and leave overnight (or at least four hours). The porous paper will eat up most, if not all, the odor. This trick also works for smelly shoes.
Kitty Litter – Keep an open bag of kitty litter in the closet to deodorize and remove the moisture from the space. Another tip is to put your clothing item directly inside of a clean container or Ziploc bag with kitty litter inside. Just shake out or brush off and wear.
Fresh air and sunlight – Nothing gets a foul odor out of clothing quite like fresh air. Even if you don’t have a backyard clothesline, you can hang your item in front of an open window for an hour or so. Sunlight can kill bacteria because of the ultraviolet rays. Hanging your clothes outside on a nice sunny day with a gentle breeze is the easiest way to remove the bacteria that’s making them smell.
Unused coffee grounds – Similar to the kitty litter method, coffee grounds will soak up environmental odors. Fill a bowl with fresh unused coffee grounds and fold your shirt or item on top and let it sit overnight. In the morning your item will be fresh. Just be careful not to get any of the grounds on your shirt, because they can stain.
Vodka – Nothing is better than straight, cheap vodka in a spray bottle to remove smells. When the alcohol in the vodka evaporates it takes the smells with it.
Baking soda – Just like it absorbs smells in your fridge or freezer, baking soda removes smells in clothing as well. Sprinkle the baking soda over the smelly areas, let it sit as long as you can and then shake off the powder.
Charcoal – A lot of odor removers use charcoal in their systems because odors actually bind with the charcoal and are removed from the air. Place some charcoal briquettes in the bottom of a paper bag and add the clothing on top, then close tightly and let it sit overnight. You can also place briquettes in shoes and boots to get rid of foot odors.
Distilled White Vinegar – Use distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle mixed with 10 drops of your favorite essential oil for a great spot fix. Shake the spray bottle to mix up the oils throughout the vinegar and spray on any spots that smell. The vinegar will work to kill 98 percent of the bacteria and the essential oil will work to cover up the vinegar smell. You can also spray the entire piece of clothing if needed.
As you can see you do not need to cover yourself or your home in chemicals to smell better. You can be less offensive naturally than with artificial fragrances and deodorants. Give your body what it actually needs and avoid chemicals as much as possible and you’ll be fresh every day.