Perspiration cools the skin when it’s hot so you don’t overheat and is one way the body rids itself of toxins.
We are often embarrassed by sweat and are very conscious of the smell that can accompany it—we try to prevent and cover the smell or keep our armpits from sweating entirely by using antiperspirants.
It’s not the sweat itself that stinks, it’s the bacteria that live in the dark moist places on your body that do. From a healthy body, sweat is odorless.
Which bacteria thrive and their resulting smell are in direct correlation to what you eat and whatever your body seeks to eliminate: the bacterium depends on its environment. When we sweat, bacteria feed on what is secreted and will emit a particular aroma.
As with any other bodily fluid, sweat is more complex than you might think.
Healthy perspiration contains excess minerals and metabolic waste: proteins, enzymes, fats, sugars and metals.
Adult sweat differs from child sweat—most notably by the absence of glycerol (a sugar made by the body) in a child’s sweat—which is why children don’t normally produce a body odor until puberty—bacteria love sugar. (1)
The chemical composition of sweat produced by the feet is somewhat different than other body parts, which accounts for its particular perfume.
Causes of Body Odor
Ingesting chemical additives, red meats, and processed foods can make the bacteria that live on your skin produce an unattractive smell. (2) Many medications also have an adverse effect on body odor, such as:
- Cystagon for kidney disease (3)
- Metformin for diabetes (4)
- Carnitine for athletic performance (5)
- Wellbutrin for depression (6)
In some people, a diet low in carbohydrates can also cause body odor; after exhausting available carbohydrates to use for fuel, your liver will begin to use proteins. A by-product of protein metabolism is ammonia, which will be excreted in sweat. (7)
One study found that there is a difference between the body odor of women versus men due to the way in which fatty acids are processed in the body; smell, however—whether pleasant or not—varies from person to person. (8)
Some medical conditions will cause your body to give off an unpleasant odor.
- Accumulation of toxins in the body as found with liver or kidney disease can result in a bleach-like smell
- In diabetics, an over-production of ketones (a type of acid) to compensate for lack of insulin can cause a fruity smell
While not necessarily a problem per se, there are social implications of malodor. We don’t want to stop sweating altogether—it’s a necessary bodily function—but we don’t want to stink. Here are some dos and don’ts to manage body odor:
Do soak your feet – it feels good, is nourishing, and helps your body balance bacteria on your skin and get rid of the ones that smell; some recipes to try can be found here.
Do use baking soda – a baking soda paste gently massaged into your armpits will cleanse, detoxify, and eliminate odor. Rinse after washing.
Do take chlorella – rich in chlorophyll that makes this algae green, it’s known to detoxify and deodorize, providing vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids. Freshens breath, too.
Don’t use antiperspirant – the use of commercial antiperspirants has been linked to breast cancer, headaches, and Alzheimer’s disease. Depending on your particular body chemistry, antiperspirants can make you smell worse than your natural scent due to chemical interactions.
Don’t eat processed foods – the added sugars and chemical additives cause bacteria hyperactivity (remember how much they love sugar?).
Don’t use antibacterial soaps – triclosan kills good and bad bacteria and it’s an endocrine disruptor.
More topical suggestions:
- Virgin unrefined coconut oil is supremely nutritious and generally great for the skin; its lauric acid is antibacterial.
- Use lemon juice as a natural underarm deodorant: the citric acid kills bacteria. Don’t apply immediately after shaving or it will sting. Mix with a little water and apply to underarms—you don’t need very much to cover the area. Test in one small spot to ensure there’s no reaction on your skin; if it’s too strong, add a little more water. If your skin breaks out or becomes swollen or itchy, discontinue use.