What's That Smell? Sweat and Body Odor
Body odor is an unpleasant fact of life. This article looks at common treatments, home remedies and lifestyle practices to reduce excessive sweating and body odor.
Stinky Facts of Life
Do you struggle with excessive sweat and body odor? You are not alone. Everyone sweats to varying degrees, and everyone faces body odor from time to time.
Body odor is an unpleasant fact of life. Fortunately, you can remedy the problem with a few simple techniques.
There is little you can do to prevent perspiration; it is a normal, desirable function of the body. But sweating does not have to keep you on the sidelines of life, whether the problem is related to your health or personal hygiene.
Good hygiene and a healthy diet can eliminate, or at least minimize, your sweat-related body odor. And you can manage uncontrollable perspiration with prescription products and other treatments.
What is Body Odor?
Most people know that body odor is linked to sweat. But did you know that perspiration is virtually odorless? Sweat only turns foul-smelling when it comes into contact with bacteria. Sweat is a breeding ground for bacteria, which can multiply quickly.
Excessive sweating can indicate an underlying medical problem that requires treatment. Most people experience normal sweating, and various remedies can manage their symptoms.
The pungent smell of sweat mingled with bacteria has many different names. People often abbreviate body odor as "B.O." In the medical community, it may go by the name of bromhydrosis, bromidrosis, malodorous sweat, osmidrosis, ozochrotia or fetid sweat.
What Triggers Sweat?
Wet skin, damp clothes and a sour smell are tell-tale signs of body odor. Various things can trigger perspiration on the skin.
The most common triggers are physical activity, hot weather, anxiety, stress and nervousness. Sweating under these conditions is healthy and natural.
Diet, mood, hormones, drugs, illness, medications and other factors can alter the natural smell of perspiration. It is not until sweat comes into contact with bacteria that offensive odors occur.
Sweating is a necessary biological process. It regulates body temperature, balances body chemicals, flushes out toxins and hydrates skin. The skin has two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands open onto the skin's surface throughout the body. Apocrine glands open into hair follicles on the armpits, scalp and groin.
A rise in body temperature stimulates the eccrine glands to secrete fluid (mainly water and salt) onto the skin to cool the body. The apocrine glands, on the other hand, secrete a fatty perspiration. The bacterial breakdown of this type of sweat is the primary cause of body odor.
How can you stop excessive sweating and body odor? For most people, the solution is simple: an antiperspirant or deodorant. These products are available over-the-counter (OTC) or by prescription.
Antiperspirants are aluminum-based products that block sweat pores to reduce sweating. Deodorants are alcohol-based products that discourage bacterial growth.
While they can't eliminate perspiration, deodorants contain fragrances that mask unpleasant odors. The most popular products combine an antiperspirant with a deodorant.
OTC products are usually effective for normal sweat and body odor. If they cannot manage your problem, prescription treatments are available.
Doctors usually prescribe aluminum chloride to control excessive sweating, but this solution is not without side effects. Prescription products may cause redness, swelling and itching skin.
Lifestyle Practices and Home Remedies
More than just a nuisance, body odor can cause a great deal of embarrassment. It can lead to feelings of shame, isolation, depression and low self-esteem. Certain lifestyle practices can help you manage excessive sweating and body odor, and many home remedies are also helpful. Here are a few suggestions.
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- Bathe often. Regular baths and showers wash away odor-causing bacteria and keep new growth in check. Use a washcloth and antibacterial soap to scrub your whole body. Pay close attention to your armpits, feet and groin area. For serious odor, try soaking in an Epsom salt bath. Or add a few cups of tomato juice to your bathwater (a popular remedy for skunk smells).
- Stay dry. Bacteria thrive in damp places near your groin, between your toes and in the folds of your skin. Use a clean towel to dry your body thoroughly after a bath or shower. Follow up with body powder, foot powder, cornstarch or baking soda to absorb sweat and stay dry.
- Discourage bacteria. Apply an antiperspirant-deodorant to your armpits after bathing, and re-apply at bedtime. Or wipe apple cider vinegar, lime or lemon juice, baking soda or hydrogen peroxide under your arms, on your feet and on the palms of your hands. These natural remedies neutralize acid and discourage bacterial growth.
- Wear natural fibers. Cotton, wool, silk and other natural fabrics absorb sweat and wick away moisture, giving your skin a chance to breathe. Shoes made from leather and other natural materials do the same thing for your feet. Change your clothes, socks and underwear at least twice a day.
- Do your laundry. If you have excessive sweat and body odor problems, do your laundry often. Never wear clothing or use bath towels without washing them first, and avoid sleeping on dirty sheets and pillowcases. Change your bedding often.
- Shave your hair. Body hair is a good place for bacterial growth. The apocrine sweat glands near hair follicles are responsible for much of your body odor. Consider shaving your armpits and pubic hair to keep from harboring bacteria.
- Change your diet. A few dietary changes can help you manage excessive sweating and body odor. Eliminate foods and drinks that encourage perspiration, such as caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages. Avoid foods with strong odors like onion and garlic, and limit processed foods and refined sugar. Fruits, vegetables and water are your best choices.
- Manage your stress. Stress and anxiety can trigger perspiration, increase body odor and cause more stress. Practice relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga. Nervous types can teach themselves to be "calm, cool, and collected."
- Seek medical help. If you have uncontrollable perspiration, seek medical attention. Certain illnesses and medications may cause excessive sweating. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and prescribe the proper treatment.
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- Mayo Clinic staff. (December 9, 2010) "Sweating and Body Odor." Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
- Native Remedies. (n.d.) "Natural Remedies for Excessive Sweating and Body Odor." Native Remedies. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
- Nazario, Brunilda, reviewer. (March 29, 2012) "6 Tips for Reducing Body Odor." WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
- Norton, Amy. (September 14, 2011) "Body Odor? Gene Disorder may be the Culprit." Thomson Reuters. Retrieved September 22, 2011.