Body odour (bromhidrosis)
Body odour is the unpleasant smell produced by bacteria on the skin breaking down the acids in your sweat. Anyone who has reached puberty can have it. Self-care can prevent it. You should only see your GP about your body odour if it causes you distress or it changes significantly.
Causes of body odour
Anyone who has reached puberty can produce body odour, as this is when the apocrine sweat glands develop, which produce the sweat that bacteria can quickly break down.
Men are more likely to have body odour because they tend to sweat more than women.
Things that can make body odour worse include:
- being overweight
- consuming rich or spicy food and drink – such as garlic, spices and alcohol
- some types of medication – such as antidepressants
- certain medical conditions – a fruity smell can sometimes be a sign of diabetes, while a bleach-like smell may suggest liver or kidney disease
Hyperhidrosis is a condition where a person sweats excessively and much more than the body needs to regulate temperature.
If you have hyperhidrosis, you may also have smelly feet (bromodosis). Smelly feet are caused by wearing shoes and socks that prevent sweat from evaporating or being absorbed, which attracts bacteria.
When to see your GP
See your GP if:
- your sweating or body odour is causing you distress
- you notice a significant change in your body odour
- you suddenly begin to sweat much more than usual
Managing body odour
Excessive sweating and body odour is an unpleasant problem that can affect a person's confidence and self-esteem.
A body odour problem can usually be managed by getting rid of excess skin bacteria – which are responsible for the smell – and keeping the skin in the affected area (usually the armpits) clean and dry.
Your armpits contain a large number of apocrine glands, which are responsible for producing body odour.
Keeping your armpits clean and free of bacteria will help keep odour under control. Following the below advice can help you achieve this:
- take a bath or shower every day to kill the bacteria on your skin
- wash your armpits thoroughly using an antibacterial soap
- use a deodorant or an antiperspirant after bathing or showering
- wear natural fibres, such as wool, silk or cotton that allow your skin to breathe, which means your sweat will evaporate quicker
- wear clean clothes – make sure you wash your clothes regularly
- limit the amount of spicy foods you eat – such as curry or garlic, because they can make your sweat smell; evidence also suggests that eating a lot of red meat tends to make body odour worse
Deodorant and antiperspirant
Deodorants work by using perfume to mask the smell of sweat. Antiperspirants contain aluminium chloride which reduces the amount of sweat produced by your body.
Use roll-on antiperspirants if you sweat heavily, as they tend to be more effective. You may find some more effective than others.
Surgery may be recommended for severe body odour that can't be treated by self-care measures and over-the-counter products.
Risks associated with surgery include:
- damage to nearby arteries or nerves
- compensatory sweating (increased sweating from other areas of the body)
You should fully discuss the risks of the procedure with your surgeon beforehand.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.