Everyone has a distinct and specific body odor. This is so much so that it can even be used by dogs or other animals to identify criminals. According to medical experts, each individual's unique body odor can be influenced by their mood, diet, medications, medical conditions, and hormone levels. For some their odor is a nice one, for others maybe not so nice.

Do you pass the body odor test?

Sweating generally is healthy and natural. Most people sweat when they exercise or exert themselves, are in a hot environment, or are under duress. Although perspiration is practically odorless, it can sometimes cause an unpleasant smell when it comes into contact with bacteria on your skin.

Where Exactly Does the Odor Come From?

Your skin has two types of sweat glands:

  • Eccrine glands. These glands occur over most of your body and open directly onto the surface of the skin. When your body temperature rises, your autonomic nervous system stimulates the eccrine glands to secrete fluid onto the surface of your skin, where it cools your body as it evaporates. This fluid (perspiration) is composed mainly of water and salt and contains trace amounts of other electrolytes as well as substances such as urea.
  • Apocrine glands. Apocrine glands develop in areas abundant in hair follicles, such as on your scalp, armpits, and groin and secrete a fatty sweat directly into the tubule of the gland. When you're under emotional stress, the wall of the tubule contracts and the sweat is pushed to the surface of your skin where bacteria begin breaking it down. Most often, it's the bacterial breakdown of apocrine sweat that causes an odor.

In some cases, unusual changes in sweating--either excessive perspiration (hyperhidrosis) or little or no perspiration (anhidrosis)--or changes in body odor may be a sign of a medical problem, such as diabetic ketoacidosis or kidney failure. In the vast majority of cases of body odor, however, it is not necessary to see your doctor.

Self-Care for Sweating and Body Odor

You can do a number of things on your own to reduce sweating and body odor. Try these suggestions:

  • Bathe daily. Regular bathing helps keep the number of bacteria on your skin in check.
  • Dry your feet thoroughly after you bathe. Microorganisms thrive in the damp spaces between your toes. Use over-the-counter foot powders to help absorb sweat.
  • Choose shoes made of natural materials. These can help prevent sweaty feet by allowing your feet to breathe.
  • Rotate your shoes. Shoes won't completely dry overnight; so try not to wear the same pair two days in a row if you have trouble with sweaty feet.
  • Wear the right socks. Cotton and wool socks help keep your feet dry because they absorb moisture. When you're active, moisture-wicking athletic socks are a good choice.
  • Air your feet. Go barefoot when you can, or at least slip out of your shoes now and then.
  • Choose natural-fiber clothing. Wear natural fabrics, such as cotton, wool and silk, which allow your skin to breathe. When you exercise, try high-tech fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Yoga, meditation and biofeedback can help you learn to control the stress that triggers perspiration.
  • Change your diet. Stimulants, including coffee and tea, contribute to body odor by increasing the activity of apocrine sweat glands. Try eliminating these beverages and any others containing caffeine. If foods, such as garlic or onions, cause you to sweat more than usual or your perspiration to smell, consider eliminating them.
  • Use an over the counter antiperspirant or deodorant. Deodorants can be used on underarms, hands and feet.

Because it's almost impossible to define normal sweating and body odor, says staff at the Mayo Clinic, try to learn what's normal for you. That will help you pinpoint any unusual changes. If you experience any of the following: You suddenly begin to sweat much more or less than usual; sweating disrupts your daily routine; you experience night sweats for no apparent reason; you notice a significant change in body odor - contact your doctor for an appointment.


Mayo Clinic Staff. Sweating and Body Odor. MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sweating-and-body-odor/DS00305. Accessed March 1, 2010.

Nordqvist, C. What is Body Odor (BO)? What Causes Body Odor? MedicalNewsToday. Dec. 9, 2009. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/173478.php. Accessed March 1, 2010.

Weil, A. Body Odor Q & A with Dr. Andrew Weil. http://organizedwisdom.com/helpbar/index.html?return=http://organizedwisdom.com/Body_Odor&url=www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00320/body.odor.html. Accessed March 1, 2010.

Waterman, S. ID by Body Odor: Does it Pass the Smell Test? United Press International. March 10, 2009. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/10/id-by-body-odor-does-it-pass-the-smell-test/. Accessed Feb. 24, 2010.