Here's what body odor comes from, why it changes and how to control it.

stinky smellEveryone sweats. It's an essential bodily function that helps regulate temperature. But if it smells bad when you sweat, it can be embarrassing. You may be surprised to know that sweat itself doesn't have a smell. Body odor occurs when the sweat comes in contact with bacteria on your skin. The type of bacteria is what influences whether there is an odor and what it will smell like. Other factors may also affect the smell of body odor.

Here are answers to questions about this common bodily function.

Do people who sweat a lot always have body odor?

Since sweat itself doesn't cause the smell of body odor, it is not the amount of sweat that makes a difference. You can sweat very little but still have an unpleasant odor. Conversely, you can sweat a lot and not smell. The smell comes from the interaction of your sweat, no matter how much or how little there is, with your skin's bacteria. Of course, the more you sweat, the more likely that interaction will happen and body odor will occur.

What affects the smell of your body odor?

In addition to the bacteria on your skin, the smell may be affected by hormones, the foods you eat, medications and supplements you take or underlying health conditions.

What health conditions can affect your body odor?

There are a number of health conditions that may change how your body smells. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Gout
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Infections

You may also notice differences in your body odor due to changing hormone levels, such as during puberty, pregnancy or menopause.

What else can affect my body odor?

The foods you eat can change what you smell like when you sweat. Foods like garlic, onions, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, red meat and alcohol may affect the smell of body odor. So can medications and supplements you take. Other factors that cause you to sweat more, such as being stressed, exercising, obesity and being in a hot or humid environment, won't change the smell of your body odor but may make it more likely that you'll smell because you'll sweat more.

Do I need to worry about the smell of my body odor?

The smell of body odor itself is nothing to be concerned about from a health perspective unless you notice a significant difference from what your body usually smells like. If this happens, talk to your doctor to see if there may be a health issue causing the change in smell. If you are bothered by body odor because you sweat excessively, your doctor may be able to recommend some ways to help with the situation.

How can I get rid of my body odor?

If you're concerned about body odor, antiperspirants and deodorants can help. Antiperspirants help control sweating, and less sweating means there's less opportunity for sweat to come into contact with bacteria on the skin and cause odor. Deodorants are designed to help with the odor. Many over-the-counter products contain both. There are also prescription-strength antiperspirants available if you sweat excessively. Good hygiene, including regularly showering or bathing, also helps control body odor.

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Date Last Reviewed: January 18, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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