Despite what you might think, it’s not our sweat that smells. The real culprit is the bacteria that live on our skin.
What causes body odour
Natural bacteria on our skin feed on our sweat and release the smell we call body odour, also known as bromhidrosis. The warm, damp conditions of underarms make them an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive and for the sweat from our apocrine glands – which are more prone to releasing odour – to get trapped. This can also result in sweat patches on our clothes.
As they feed, the bacteria release fatty acids that smell. Propionic acid is associated with a vinegary smell, while isovaleric acid smells like cheese. Other sulphur-containing molecules cause a strong onion smell that’s common in body odour.
Who gets body odour and when
Body odour starts to occur during puberty. Men tend to suffer more from body odour, as they sweat more from their apocrine glands than women, even though women actually have more sweat glands overall.
Your lifestyle can also have a big impact on body odour. Certain foods, like curry, garlic or spices, alcohol and some types of medication can make our sweat smell unpleasant. If you smoke, this could also contribute to the growth of odour-producing bacteria on your skin.
How to help reduce body odour
If you sweat a lot, you may find that body odour is becoming a problem. While you cannot stop it completely, you can reduce body odour by following these recommendations: