This is a great, clear article from the Mayo Clinic that discusses the two kinds of sweat pores, eccrine and apocrine, and how body odor actually comes from bacteria on the skin breaking down the watery fluid with urea waste or fat waste excreted when we sweat.
Stay Tuned to Veda Health and Look for my next series of posts that discuss conventional and natural antiperspirants & deodorants!
Strong Body Odor Can Often Be Diagnosed and Treated
Dear Mayo Clinic:
I am a young, healthy woman with a slightly embarrassing problem. I have unusually strong body odor. It is most noticeable in my underarms, but I also notice it in my feet. I do not sweat excessively. I shower daily, keep my underarms hair-free, and use deodorant. Is there something I can do to reduce this odor?
When it comes to sweating and the odor that accompanies it, everyone is different. For some people, strong body odor (bromidrosis) is part of their natural makeup. But for others, it may be a sign of an underlying medical disorder. I’d recommend you see your doctor to investigate the cause of the odor. If it’s not the result of another health condition, there are steps you can take to reduce this problem.
The cause of sweating and body odor stems from the body’s temperature regulation system, specifically the sweat glands. The skin has two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands occur over most of the body and open directly onto the surface of the skin. Apocrine glands develop in areas abundant in hair follicles, such as on the scalp, armpits and groin.
When the body temperature rises, the autonomic nervous system stimulates the eccrine glands to secrete fluid onto the skin’s surface, where it cools the body as it evaporates. This fluid (perspiration or sweat) is composed mainly of water and salt and contains small amounts of other electrolytes — substances that help regulate the balance of fluids in the body — as well as substances such as urea, a chemical waste product.
Apocrine glands, on the other hand, secrete a fatty sweat into the tubule of the gland. When someone is under emotional stress, the wall of the tubule contracts and the sweat is pushed to the skin’s surface, where bacteria begin to break the fat and other chemicals in the sweat. The perspiration itself is practically odorless. But the smell can become unpleasant when perspiration comes into contact with bacteria on the skin. Most often, the bacterial breakdown of apocrine sweat causes the odor.
The way sweat smells can be influenced by a variety of factors, including a person’s mood, diet, some drugs and medical conditions, and even hormone levels. For example, foods with strong odors — such as onions, garlic and cumin — can contain oils that may cause odor as they are excreted through the skin. Caffeinated drinks can increase sweating and, with it, the risk of excessive odor.
Unusual body odor, and particularly a change in the amount or type of odor, could be a sign of a medical problem, such as diabetic ketoacidosis or kidney failure. Body odor that has a fishy smell may be a sign of trimethylaminuria, a rare genetic disorder.
In some instances, a bacterial infection known as erythrasma can lead to a rash — often in the underarms, groin or between the toes. Erythrasma is characterized by brownish-red, scaly patches and is associated with a strong odor. Your doctor can diagnose this infection with a Wood’s lamp exam, which uses ultraviolet light to closely examine the affected area. Erythrasma can be easily treated with a topical antibiotic solution, such as erythromycin or clindamycin.
More often, however, strong body odor isn’t a sign of a medical problem. In these cases, using an antibacterial soap, along with deodorant and an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide wash, can be helpful measures for underarm odor. Drying powders, such as baby powder, in combination with antibacterial soap, may reduce foot odor. Frequent bathing and clothing changes can also sometimes help control the odor.
If these steps aren’t enough to control body odor sufficiently, your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength antiperspirant made of aluminum chloride. In extreme cases of bromidrosis, the measures already mentioned do not help control underarm odor, and the odor remains severely distressing. In this situation, surgical removal of the sweat glands may be an option. Surgery, however, should only very rarely be considered.
To determine the treatment that’s best for your situation, make an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist to discuss your concerns.
— David Wetter, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.