Body odor is simply defined as the unpleasant odor given off by the body. Body odor causes can vary from person to person based on a number of different factors. It is a direct result of odor compounds that are emitted through the skin and sweat. The source of these odor compounds can vary from internal to external factors. Body odor is something that most people have to deal with at some level, though severity of cases vary greatly from person to person. In extreme cases, it can lead to anxiety, depression and social withdrawl. Understanding some of the basic causes will hopefully help to point people in the right direction for finding suitable ways to reduce and prevent body odor.
Common Body Odor Causes
There are two devices that are directly linked to each other with regards to body odor; bacteria and sweat. Sweat itself is odorless by nature. Bacteria that cover the surface of the skin break down sweat; they ‘feed’ on it, if you will. The byproduct or resulting waste material of this interaction are acid compounds that have an odor which we associate with body odor.
The human body has two types of sweat glands, which in turn produce two different types of sweat:
Eccrine – Found on most areas of the body, eccrine sweat glands produce sweat that is responsible for cooling the body. They are much smaller than apocrine glands and secrete sweat directly onto the skin. Eccrine is sweat is also primarily made up of water. Eccrine sweat
Apocrine – Found primarily under the armpits, groin, areola and around the eyelids, apocrine sweat glands produce sweat that is thicker and contains much of what bacteria feed on as it’s secreted. They are larger than eccrine glands and remain dormant in the body until a person goes through puberty. Apocrine sweat and bacteria interaction is what is responsible for body odor.
As bacteria breaks down sweat, a couple of different odor compounds are produced. These acids have distinct smells and are typically what constitutes body odor. Two common acid compounds associated with odor include:
Propionic acid – associated with the smell of vinegar.
Isovaleric acid – associated with the smell of cheese.
What we eat can play a significant role in not only body odor, but foot odor and bad breath as well. Nutrients and compounds contained in food are essential for day to day sustenance, however some of them, especially in over abundance can influence odor. Sulfides and other organic compounds have pungent odors and are often released in the body as food is broken down. These compounds are absorbed into the body and released through the skin and sweat.
Foods commonly associated with odor issues include red meat, seafood, egg yolks, garlic, onions, yogurt, beans, asparagus, cabbage, and spices such as mustard seed and coriander.
Over consumption of these foods can lead to increased body odor.
A common side effect of many drugs is sweating. Antipsychotic and antidepressant medication can be known to do this, as well as others. In addition, overuse of aspirin and acetaminophen can also lead to increased sweat production.
The most common hormonal change associated with body odor is menopause. A common side effect of menopause are hot flashes which can lead to increased perspiration. As more sweat is produced, more odor compounds are produced as a result of bacteria breaking down the additional sweat.
A less common condition known as hypogonadism is caused when males have abnormally low levels of testosterone due to improperly working testicles. This can result in similar side effects to menopause, including hot flashes.
Human biology and genetics do play a role in how a person smells. People of East Asian decent tend to have fewer apocrine sweat glands in the body. Fewer glands makes them less prone to body odor due to the fact that fewer sweat secretions are released. Bacteria on the skin interact with apocrine sweat and release acids that are associated with body odor.
In addition, people of East Asian decent tend to have dry ear wax. In contrast, most people have wet ear wax. This is due to a particular gene prevalent to Japanese, Chinese and Korean ethnicities. Wet ear wax can contribute to auxiliary body odor.
Ways to Reduce Body Odor
Bathing or showering at least once a day will help to reduce bacteria on the body’s surface, as well as remove dead skin and fatty acids that accumulate throughout the day. Because bacteria is a major cause of body odor, limiting its presence will help to control the amount of acid produced as they break down proteins found in sweat. It is important to use an antibacterial soap and to wash the body thoroughly, especially under the arms, chest and groin area.
Deodorant & Antiperspirant
Deodorants and antiperspirants work in two ways to help reduce body odor. First they contain antimicrobials that work to reduce the amount of bacteria present at the site of application. Typically most deodorants use either alcohol or triclosan to temporarily control bacterial growth.
Secondly, antiperspirants in particular work to control sweat. As we know, sweat is metabolized by bacteria and the byproduct of this process are acids that have a smell we commonly associate with body odor. Limiting sweat in turn limits the ‘food’ for these bacteria. Aluminum salts such as aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride and aluminum zirconium are the most common, active ingredient in antiperspirants that help to control sweating. They dissolve in sweat and form a barrier over the glands. This prevents sweat from being released onto the skin’s surface.
Chlorophyllin is the water soluble derivative of chlorophyll. Most effective when taken internally, it has the unique ability of being able to bind to various odor causing compounds in the body. It neutralizes these compounds and removes them from the body. Chlorophyllin has been used as a means to control not just body odor, but breath and foot odor as well for many years. First used in the 1950’s, it was given orally to colostomy and ileostomy patients to control fecal odor. Future studies, most notably done by Dr. Franklin Howard Wescott showed chlorophyllin to be an equally effective means for reducing body and breath odor as well.
Most people believe that between 100-200mg of chlorophyllin per day is the most effective dosage for body odor control.
Well Balanced Diet
Because certain foods contain high amounts of sulfides and other odor causing compounds, limiting intake of these foods can help to reduce body odor. Keeping a balanced diet consisting of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables will not only help to reduce body odor, but is important for overall health and well being.