Grow Youthful: How to Slow Your Aging and Enjoy Extraordinary Health
Grow Youthful: How to Slow Your Aging and Enjoy Extraordinary Health

Body odour

What is body odour?

Causes of body odour

Bacteria and sweat

Prevention / remedies / treatment for body odour

References

What is body odour?

A strong and unpleasant body odour (odor) can affect your social, work and family life. People will not always tell you if you pong, though you can smell under your own arms to confirm. Ask a close friend or small child.

Body odour can also smell pleasant and attractive (think of lovers and babies). Each individual has a specific smell, recognised by dogs and other animals. Humans use smell, both consciously and unconsciously, as one of the criteria in the selection of a mate.

Even humans can recognise blood-related family members from their odour. Mothers can identify their own babies and children, but not step-children. Pre-adolescent children can detect their full siblings but not half or step siblings (this might help avoid incest). Babies can recognize their mothers by smell and mothers and other blood relatives can identify a baby by smell. (1,2,3)

Body odour mainly comes from the secretions of glands in the skin and bacterial activity. Sweat and sebaceous glands have the greatest impact, particularly those in the armpits and the anus-genital region. Body odour also comes from the feet, hair on the head and in the pubic area, skin in general, ears (earwax) and mouth.

East Asians (Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese) have fewer apocrine sweat glands than other races, and the lack of these glands make them less prone to body odour. (4,5,6) They also have a drier, less smelly form of ear wax. (6)

Causes of body odour

Bacteria and sweat

Sweating is a normal and healthy body function, necessary for cooling and the elimination of some toxins from the body. Fresh perspiration or sweat has little smell; its odour is not unpleasant.

When sweat comes into contact with some types of bacteria it can create a strong unpleasant smell. Strong body odour is usually the smell of certain types of bacteria growing on the skin in a damp sweaty environment.

The best solution for this body odour is NOT to try to stop the sweating, which is what several chemical deodorants and antiperspirants try to do. A better approach is to control the smelly bacteria, and to wash more frequently.

Prevention / remedies / treatment for body odour

References

1. The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Edited by Robin Dunbar and Louise Barret, Oxford University Press, 2007, Chapter 22 Body odours and body odour preferences in humans by Claus Wedekind.

2. Porter RH, Cernoch JM, Balogh RD. Odor signatures and kin recognition. 1985, Physiol Behav 34 (3): 445-8.

3. Weisfeld GE, Czilli T, Phillips KA, Gall JA, Lichtman CM. Possible olfaction-based mechanisms in human kin recognition and inbreeding avoidance. July 2003, Journal of experimental child psychology 85 (3): 279-95.

4. Sherrow, Victoria. For appearance' sake: The historical encyclopedia of good looks, beauty, and grooming. 2001, Phoenix: Oryx Press. p 58. ISBN 978-1-57356-204-1.

5. Stoddart, D. Michael. The scented ape: The biology and culture of human odour. 1990, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 60-61. ISBN 0-521-37511-8.

6. Yoshiura K; Kinoshita A; Ishida T et al. A SNP in the ABCC11 gene is the determinant of human earwax type. 2006, Nat. Genet. 38 (3): 324-30.