Sometimes you enter a room or the reception of an organisation or someone walks in, and a bad smell hits you in the face! Your mind starts to race, and you wonder just where is it? Could you have stepped on something while walking down? Could there be a refuse dump nearby? To your greatest dismay, you realise that this stench is coming from somebody! In human cultures, body odour is considered as offensive, antisocial and a sign of little personal hygiene although there are the occasional smells that are due to ill health or genetically acquired and no amount of scrubbing or brushing or deodorant-applying can stop it.
So the next time you encounter a person with bad body odour, don’t be quick to attribute it to poor personal hygiene.
Smells from poor personal hygiene can be from unwashed sweaty clothes especially undergarments, unwashed or improperly washed genital area, armpits, behind the ears in between the breast of top heavy women or feet.Smells from ill-health can be described as rotten meat e.g. diabetic ulcers, sickle cell leg ulcers or other forms of decaying wounds or body parts. Genetically induced body odour smells fishy and is kind of akin to some smells encountered when certain skin bleaching creams are used.
Strange as it may seem, people with bad body odour are unaware that they smell because the sensory organs for smell get used to bad smells.
Parts of the body that contribute to body odour:
Human armpit and groin area contribute to the most smell, the hairs, sweat and oil glands there are different when compared to other parts of the body. So the bacteria found here breakdown fat and excessive accumulation of the breakdown products contribute to the odour. The smell is reduced by bathing with warm water and soap, trimming the hairs to reduce the surface area for breeding bacteria. By the way, we all have live-in bacteria on our skin and in our body. They are called normal flora/beneficial bacteria; in the right proportion, they prevent external bacteria from invading us and causing infection.
Other areas that contribute include but not limited to:
- Unclean areola of breast especially in nursing mothers
- Navel/belly bottom
- Anogenital regions, eyelids and ear
Causes of Body odour
We all have a particular smell – pleasant and sometimes not so pleasant. Most of us develop a characteristic smell from puberty as a result of the development/changes in our sebaceous glands.The bacteria that cause odour grow quickly in a warm, moist environment – feet in shoes all day long; genital areas covered all day long (worse with black undergarments) and when you cover your head all day long especially in this warm/hot environment.
Some factors cause body odour; these include but not limited to:
- Foods like onions, garlic, broccoli drinks
- Diseases – Liver, kidney, untreated diabetes may lead to what is called diabetic ketoacidosis, the body starts to break down fat to ketones for fuel, this causes the fruity smell associated with ketoacidosis
- Starvation, fasting and some extreme diets also lead to ketone formation (ketosis)
- Certain “inborn errors of metabolism,” such as aminoaciduria, often noted in childhood, gives off a fishy smell from the breath, urine, reproductive fluids and sweat
- Genetics – East Asians (such as the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans) tend to have fewer sweat glands in the body and dry ear wax thus they are less prone to body odour
- Infection anywhere, including vaginal (especially yeast), urinary and skin infections – diabetic sores, sickle cell leg ulcers
- Abnormal growth or cancer in the mouth, stomach, cervix or uterus, even a severely prolapsed uterus will have a distinctive smell, the smell is usually worse if there is any associated discharge
- Unwashed underwears – bras for women, boxers, trousers and vests for men
- Sweets – the refined sugar can promote an overgrowth of yeast which in turn converts the sugars to alcohols
Steps that may help control body odour:
Treat underlying medical cause; for instance, pure natural honey can be used for wound dressing to speed up healing of diabetic foot ulcers or sickle cell ulcers. See your doctor for abnormal growth and the right antibiotics to treat infections.
Currently no treatment for people with the congenital fishy odour, but they are advised to avoid eating eggs, beans, liver, kidney, soy products. Using bathing soaps with pH between 5.5 and 6.5 could be helpful, they should also avoid factors that promote excessive sweating and take activated charcoal, probiotics and vitamin B2. For the others:
1) Bath at least once a day with warm water, soap and sponge/face towel, in our hot environment, consider bathing twice a day. Wash your hair, face, the crevices between your nose and skin, that pimply spot below your lower lip, behind the ears and all the cracks in your external ear. Wash armpit, groin area, feet and between the toes, scrub feet with a pumice stone, rinse and pat dry whole body properly. You may even have to use a hand dryer to dry scalp, groin and armpit areas especially if you are hairy. Please remember to trim hairs in pits and groin area – the hairs slows down the evaporation of sweat, giving the bacteria more time to break it down into smelly substances. Use a deodorant or an antiperspirant soon after a bath not when you have already began to sweat. Have a professional pedicure at least once in 3 months but if you can, use a pumice stone to scrub your feet daily. Dry feet properly.
2) Clothing – natural fibres allow your skin to breathe, resulting in better evaporation of sweat. Natural-made fibres include wool, silk or cotton – dress to suit your environment. If you must wear an outfit more than once without washing, please air/the sun or hot press with an iron on the inner side (the side most in contact with your skin) before storing. Wash undergarments after each use, if you must wear a bra or pair of socks more than once, air it after each wear.
3) Some people may have to avoid spicy foods – curry, garlic and some other spicy foods that have the potential to make some people’s sweat pungent.
4)Chlorophyll supplements – have been used as a means to control not just body odour, but breath and foot odour as well for many years. First utilised in the 1950’s, it was given orally to colostomy and ileostomy patients to control faecal odour. Wheatgrass juice, green juices, alfalfa tablets contain a lot of chlorophyll. I use this for most new teens and after one month’s use and a few lessons on personal hygiene, the difference is usually clear.
5) Lemon, apple cider vinegar, baking soda. The acid inhibits bacterial growth
Mix one tablespoon each of baking soda and lemon juice; or lemon juice in water or apple cider vinegar. Apply it to your underarms and other body parts where you sweat excessively. Leave it on for a couple of minutes and wash it off with water; do not scrub. Then take a shower or bath. Do this once daily for a few weeks
Alternatively, mix equal amounts of baking soda and corn starch. Apply it directly to your dry underarms to prevent sweating as well as bad odour. Use this remedy when you need protection for several hours
Alternatively, add one cup of apple cider vinegar to lukewarm bath water. Soak in this water for 10 minutes once daily.
You can also add two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar along with a little honey to a glass of warm water. Drink it three times daily before eating your meals.
6) Witch hazel, sage (not for use by pregnant or nursing mothers) and rosemary mix or use singly, dab armpit as your homemade deodorant
7) Tea tree oil in bath water, sandalwood soap for bathing, alum in water the dab sweaty areas, allow drying.
8) Magnesium – help with gut flora! Excellent sources: bran, dried coriander, dark chocolates, raw nuts like almonds and cashews, flax, sesame seeds, and sesame butter (tahini). Zinc, vitamins ACE are helpful too.
9) Include such herbs in your diet as coriander, parsley, oregano, mint; chew fennel seeds or bitter kola after meals
Body and mouth odour can be incredibly embarrassing especially when it is undetected by the individual that possesses it. Undetected odours are often possible because the human nostril is equipped with adaptive capabilities, and therefore, can get used to the scents and smells. It is advised that individuals tackle the cause of the problem, take some personal hygiene tips and clean the body frequently through showers to eradicate this issue.
Please see your doctor if:
- You start sweating at night
- You start sweating much more than you normally do, without any logical reason
- You have cold sweats
- Sweating disrupts your daily routine
- Your body smells differently – if it is a fruity smell it could be due to diabetes, liver or kidney disease often makes the individual have a bleach-like smell.
Hope you learnt something from this post.
Wishing you good health and happiness,