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How to Get Rid of Body Odor

Are you stinky? If you are, this is your lucky day! Dr. Rob has the low-down on BO.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD
December 9, 2009
Episode #026

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One of the most popular articles I did was the one about bad breath. I am not sure of the comment this makes on our society, but it certainly gives good reason to invest heavily in breath mint stock. Today I am covering a similar topic, and so expect to see a huge bump in my popularity.

The topic comes from an anonymous reader:

“One of my armpits smells all the time. I scrub and scrub with soap and even right afterward, it still smells. I have tried all kinds of deodorant, even prescription strength, [as well as] baking soda, vinegar, lemon, tea tree oil and tea tree soap, etc. I do not sweat excessively, so it is not that I sweat too much. I just SMELL too much.  Any suggestions?”

How to Get Rid of Body Odor

So if you haven’t guessed, today’s topic is bromidrosis, known by non-Latin people as body odor or B.O.

I have to confess to you that I had to do a lot of research on this problem. I have not really had many patients coming in about their odor. I guess I can be thankful for that. Heck, I didn’t even know it was called bromidrosis! Add another Latin word to the arsenal.

What Causes Body Odor?

I am sure you are all asking yourself: “Dr. Rob? Where does bromidrosis come from?“ The root cause of the socially handicapping odor is our old friend, bacteria. But bacteria aren’t always very friendly; in fact, they are often impolite guests on your body, leaving waste products that are anything but hospitable. The more bacteria there are, the more waste; and the more waste, the more the stink.

 Recalling what we learned from earlier articles, bacteria grow when certain conditions are met:

  • Moisture

  • Food to eat

  • Warmth

  • Proper environment, including things like sodium concentration and pH.

Can you guess where on your body bacteria consider prime real estate? Applying the “sniff test” you would guess: armpits, groin, and feet. You would be right! 

The Relationship Between Sweat and Body Odor

The more bacteria there are, the more waste; and the more waste, the more the stink.

Your body supplies a single substance that supplies both moisture and food: It’s called sweat. But not all sweat does the trick; there are two types of sweat: the typical salty variety, called eccrine and an oily variety, called apocrine. There are two main reasons you sweat: to cool yourself off, and in response to stress. The eccrine sweat glands are present all over your body and they are responsible for cooling you off. The apocrine glands are only present under your arms, on your palms and soles, and in your groin area.

Just why it would benefit you to secrete a certain kind of sweat from your feet, hands, groin, and pits as a response to stress is a mystery to me. Some seem to think it may have to do with pheromones--an airborne chemical message put out by the body. Some studies suggest that a different kind of excitement, ahem, causes these glands to put out chemicals that may have to do with attracting a mate. I remember in junior high having sweaty palms when that one girl walked by…

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