Why Do I Have Body Odor?

Why Sweat Stinks and How to Smell Sweeter

Everyone gets body odor. Body odor, called bromhidrosis, is a normal part of being human. It's embarrassing enough, though, that you may want to get rid of it.

This article discusses body odor, its causes, and risk factors. It also offers tips for controlling body odor.

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Causes of Body Odor

Sweat itself doesn't have a smell. Body odor comes from the bacteria that live on sweaty parts of your body.

Bacteria thrive in moist environments, like your armpits. When you sweat, these bacteria break down certain proteins in the sweat into acids. So, it's not the bacteria that stink. It's the by-product of the bacteria breaking down the sweat.

Bacteria aren't the only things that cause body odor, though. Body odor also depends on the type of sweat gland. You have different types of sweat glands, called eccrine glands and apocrine glands.

Eccrine Glands

Eccrine glands are found over your entire skin. These coiled glands are located in the lower layer of the skin called the dermis.

Eccrine glands squeeze sweat directly to the surface of the skin through a duct. As the sweat evaporates, it helps cool your skin and regulate your body temperature.

The sweat produced by eccrine glands is mainly salt and other electrolytes. Eccrine gland sweat lacks the fats and other compounds that can smell when broken down by bacteria. Therefore, it's less likely to produce a smell.

Apocrine Glands

Apocrine glands don't help cool you off like eccrine glands do. These glands empty into a hair follicle instead of a duct. A hair follicle is a bulb-shaped cavity in your skin that hair grows from.

Apocrine glands release sweat when your body temperature rises. They also release sweat when you're under stress.

Apocrine glands are found in select areas of the body, including:

  • Armpits
  • Groin
  • Pubic area

This explains why body odor mostly develops in your armpits and groin area, but not on your forehead.

It also explains why small children don't get body odor even when they sweat. Apocrine glands remain inactive until puberty. During puberty, they start to produce sweat. It's only then that body odor becomes an issue.

The sweat produced by apocrine glands is responsible for most cases of body odor. This sweat is high in fats and other compounds that smell when broken down by bacteria.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can make you more likely to develop body odor:

  • Being overweight: Skin folds can hold sweat and bacteria. This creates an ideal home for body odor.
  • Eating spicy, pungent foods: Eating spicy, pungent foods: The scents of these foods can enter into the eccrine sweat glands and make body odor seem worse.
  • Certain medical conditions: Some conditions can change your normal body scent. These include diabetes, kidney problems or liver disease, and an overactive thyroid. Some very rare genetic conditions can also change your body's odor. In some cases, an odd body odor can be a sign of something more serious. For example, a bleach-like or urine-like smell may mean kidney or liver problems.
  • Stress: Stress causes your apocrine glands to work overtime. Remember, these are the glands that cause smelly sweat. So, you may notice an increase in body odor right before a stressful event.
  • Genetics: Some people are just more prone to body odor than others.
  • Excessive sweating: A condition called hyperhidrosis can cause you to sweat a lot. Menopause may also cause an increase in sweat. And some people just naturally sweat more than others.

Recap

Certain factors may make you more prone to getting body odor. This includes being overweight, some medical conditions, genetics, stress, or even the things you eat.

Tips for Reducing Body Odor

Body odor can be embarrassing. Fortunately, in most cases, it doesn't signal a serious problem. There are things you can do to banish body odor, or at least tone it down.

Shower Daily

Shower at least once a day. Use soap or shower gel and lather up thoroughly. Pay special attention to the areas prone to body odor.

If you are in a very hot or humid area, you may need to shower twice a day. You can also use a washcloth to wash just your armpits, groin, and skin folds. Be sure to shower immediately after you exercise or sweat.

Use Anti-Bacterial Soap

If regular showers don't seem to help, try a special cleanser. These include:

  • Anti-bacterial soap or body wash like Dial
  • Benzoyl peroxide cleanser

These washes can help reduce the amount of bacteria on your skin.

Choose the Right Underarm Products

There are two types of underarm products: deodorants and antiperspirants.

Deodorants make your underarms less hospitable for bacteria. They also help mask body odor with a fragrance. Antiperspirants block sweat glands to reduce perspiration.

If you don't sweat much but still get body odor, deodorants are a good choice. If you sweat a lot, look for a product that is both an antiperspirant and a deodorant.

If you have strong body odor, look for a product with higher amounts of active ingredients. If over-the-counter products don't seem to help, talk to your doctor. You might benefit from a prescription antiperspirant/deodorant.

Wear Breathable Fabrics

Natural fabrics like cotton are better than polyesters, nylon, and rayon at controlling body odor. Natural fibers breathe. This lets sweat evaporate.

Avoid fabrics that trap sweat against the skin. These create a better breeding ground for body odor. When working out, choose moisture-wicking fabrics.

Change Your Diet

Remove or reduce spicy or pungent foods from your diet. This includes foods like:

  • Curry
  • Garlic
  • Spicy peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Onions

These foods can cause a more pungent sweat. Even alcohol can change the smell of your sweat.

If you eat these types of foods regularly, try eating less of them or stop eating them altogether. This might help improve your body odor.

Shave or Wax

Apocrine glands are concentrated in areas covered by hair. This includes the armpits and the pubic area.

Hair holds sweat and makes a good home for bacteria. Removing hair can help control body odor.

Consider shaving your underarms. If you'd rather not go bare, try trimming the hair short. This can also help reduce body odor.

Recap

Daily showering, anti-bacterial soap, and the right underarm product can help control body odor. You can also try wearing breathable fabrics, avoiding certain foods, and shaving or trimming body hair.

Medical Treatments for Body Odor

If you've tried these tips and haven't seen an improvement, call your doctor. Something else may be causing your body odor, such as a fungal infection. Or, you just may need a stronger treatment.

Some options include:

  • Prescription antiperspirants/deodorants are stronger than what you can get over the counter. These are usually the first treatment step for body odor.
  • Antibiotics, either topical or oral, can help reduce bacteria on the skin.
  • Botox (onabotulinumtoxin A) injections can reduce your sweat glands' ability to produce sweat. This is not a permanent fix, though. Treatment needs to be repeated every few months.
  • Laser treatment reduces hair follicles. This may not help with body odor, though.
  • Surgery to remove sweat glands can be done in extreme cases.

Summary

Body odor is caused by bacteria breaking down the sweat from the apocrine glands in your armpits, groin, and pubic area. 

You may be more prone to body odor if you are overweight, eat certain foods, have certain health conditions, or are under stress. Genetics may also play a role.

You can prevent body odor with lifestyle changes like daily showering and choosing the right underarm product.

If you still have body odor after trying these things, ask your doctor about prescription medication or medical procedures that might help.

A Word From Verywell

Your body naturally produces body odor. Everyone gets body odor sometimes. You can't completely get rid of it. Most often, body odor is more noticeable to you than it is to anyone else.

If body odor is affecting your life, please give your doctor a call. Treatments can help reduce body odor and help you feel confident again.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do the apocrine sweat glands become active during puberty?

    Apocrine sweat glands become active during puberty because of sex hormones. These active hormones stimulate the apocrine sweat glands, leading to sweat produced in the groin and axillary regions (armpits).

  • Why do armpits smell?

    Armpits smell due to a fluid produced by the apocrine glands. When the apocrine glands release this fluid, it makes contact with bacteria on the armpit to produce a distinctive smell. Interestingly, people who live with hyperhidrosis (a condition known for excessive sweating) usually do not have worsened body odor, meaning the amount of sweat does not always dictate armpit smell.

  • How is bromhidrosis treated?

    Bromhidrosis (excessive body odor) can be treated using an antiperspirant and a deodorant, antibacterial soap, body hair removal, Botox injection, and diet change. Strong body odor may be reduced by avoiding alcohol, onions, garlic, and curry. Certain medications such as penicillin can cause body odor; if you plan to see a healthcare provider about bromhidrosis, be sure to mention names of medication you take.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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