Body odour

Body odour is produced by some people when they sweat. The smell is not caused by the perspiration, but by bacteria on the body that breaks down the sweat into products that produce the unpleasant smells.

All of us sweat, or perspire. It is one of the ways that the body regulates temperature and gets rid of waste products from the body, apart from the more obvious methods of body waste removal, such as bowel motions and urine. There are two types of sweat glands: eccrine glands which are all over the body and help to maintain normal body temperature by producing odourless perspiration, and apocrine glands that are in hairy areas, such as the armpits and groin. The apocrine glands start producing sweat at puberty, with the arrival of pubic hair, and produce sweat that contain proteins which cause bad smelling substances when broken down, resulting in odours that can become offensive. Apocrine sweat also contains pheromones that are reputed to cause attraction between people.

Anyone can get body odour, but men often sweat more than women, so are more likely to have body odour. However, being overweight and some medical conditions, such as diabetes, may also cause people to be more likely to develop body odour. Foods like garlic, as well as alcohol, can also be excreted or removed from the body via sweat and produce odours. Anything that makes you more likely to perspire may worsen body odour. Some of us sweat more when stressed, or nervous.

To prevent or treat body odour, the sweat and bacteria on the skin needs to be removed by washing. You do not usually need to use special products – ordinary soap and water is usually effective in removing odour causing bacteria. If concerned then you may wash hairy areas twice a day, but a daily shower or bath is usually sufficient.  

It is important to change and wash clothing that may have been in contact with the skin as this will also lessen any odour. Wear socks and change them daily to remove any sweat from affecting your footwear, and air any clothing in the sun or warm dry areas if it cannot be washed or dry cleaned regularly.

Using antiperspirants will reduce perspiration, whereas deodorants mask any smells that you may produce in the areas it has been applied. In extreme cases of sweating, surgery is an option to remove some sweat glands, or botulinum toxin (Botox) is another option for extreme hyperhidrosis.

If concerned about body odour or excessive perspiration, talk to your community pharmacist. They can advise you about the correct products to use to reduce or prevent perspiration, as well as suitable anti-bacterial skin washes if needed to reduce bacteria on the skin. Your pharmacist can also advise you if you need to see a doctor about a possible medical cause for your body odour, or if further treatment could be an option for you.