What causes body odor? – Mel Rosenberg

What causes body odor? – Mel Rosenberg


A pungent blend of onions, cheese,
and cat urine with hints of… is that…wet goat? Most of us don’t need more than one whiff to identify that generally unpleasant,
characteristic smell we call body odor. But it’s a surprisingly complex phenomenon influenced by our genetic makeup,
age, diet, and hygiene. So what is this odor, exactly? Where does it come from? And can we do anything about it? To start, you just need two things
to produce that familiar scent: your armpit’s own secretions and the bacteria that feed on them. Most people associate
body odor with sweat, and it’s an important piece of the puzzle. Your body has millions of sweat glands,
and they come in two major types: eccrine glands are found
all over your skin and secrete mainly water and salt. Apocrine glands, on the other hand,
develop at puberty in your armpits and a few other places on your body. The sweat they secrete
is full of proteins and fats. By themselves,
these secretions are usually odorless. That’s where bacteria come in. Every square centimeter of our bodies
is covered with thousands of bacteria. Many microorganisms thrive
in moist environments, like our armpits. There, you can find about a million
bacteria per square centimeter, one of the highest concentrations
anywhere on the skin. Lurking in this throng of microorganisms
are species of Corynebacteria, Staphylococci, Micrococci, and others. When these bacteria feed on the proteins
and fats in apocrine sweat, they turn the odorless compounds into
new ones that can smell very unpleasant. Some of the worst offenders may be
sulfur-containing chemicals; those give body odor its oniony aroma. Carboxylic acids are in the mix, too,
adding notes of cheese. These molecules waft up from the armpit
and can be sucked directly into our noses, where they’re trapped and detected
by an array of specialized receptors. Those can recognize odor molecules at concentrations
of less than one in a million. So what determines how strong
your body odor might be? It depends on the resident microbial
populations in your armpit, and the nutrients that
your glands provide them with. Your genes help determine
what compounds you produce, and in what quantity, so everyone has a slightly different set. In fact, a gene variant that virtually
eliminates body odor is common in people of East Asian descent. Adrenaline increases the ratio
of apocrine to eccrine sweat, so body odor can be more intense
when you’re nervous. Bacterial composition and concentration
also varies between individuals and plays a part. Even what you eat can have
a small effect on how you smell. So how can we deal with body odor? Washing the armpits with soap and water
helps but won’t remove all the bacteria since many are buried
in deeper layers of the skin. Deodorants, however, inhibit bacterial
activity and mask odors at the same time. Antiperspirants work by forming tiny
gel plugs that block sweat glands, drying out the armpits. While we continue to battle body odor,
scientists are trying to understand it. We don’t know why the brain often interprets these particular
odors as off-putting. But some researchers have proposed
that secretions from the armpit could have a positive function, too, like cementing social bonds and providing a means
of chemical communication. We don’t know yet if that’s the case. For now, body odor seems to be just another smelly part
of the human condition.

23 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Help us keep exploring these questions and many more by supporting our nonprofit mission on Patreon! Find out how you can get involved at patreon.com/teded. Thanks, everyone!

  2. It's also cultural. People from Middle East generally have a strong smell/odor and they feel okay about that. On the other hand, Italians wash themselves even before jogging. It's kinda exaggerated.

  3. I was starting to have a serious complex about my breath and was truly struggling to speak to people since I was very concerned about what they may be "smelling", and how they`d react. I truly find this terrible breath remedy “Kοtοnzο Zοtα” (Google it) quite effective. Now I have a better breath! .

  4. When I was young,I'm really curious about why foreigner like use perfume so much.Finally I knew it's the gene defference between the East asian and the western people.Actually, in china, a man will be considered a little sissy if he use perfume every day.That is really a great culture deference between Western and chinese

  5. People living in coldest regions will generally smell awful when they move to hotter places. This is temporary. Drink a lot of water.

  6. Apply an antiperspirant at bedtime. This gives the product a chance to work while you sleep and are not sweating. If you apply antiperspirants after showering in the morning, the sweat you accumulate will wash away the product and render you defenseless against daytime sweating. Remember, deodorants do not prevent sweating. They mainly mask the smell of the sweat on your skin. Antiperspirants are chemical agents that reduce sweating. Many antiperspirant preparations also contain a deodorant, which helps to mask the smell. Check the product you use to make sure it contains an antiperspirant.
    Keep your underarms dry. Bacteria have a hard time breeding in dry areas of the body.
    Try a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to fight body odor. Use 1 teaspoon of peroxide (3%) to 1 cup (8 ounces) of water. Wipe this on affected areas (underarm, feet, groin) with a washcloth. This may help destroy some of the bacteria that creates odor.

  7. Guys I am Southeast Asian and I have hyperhydrosis. I already knew that I have body odor since I was 10. So I use deodorant to mask my odor. It worked for years but not when I reached my Junior High school years. The odor mixed with my deodorants when I sweat a lot. It also stains my clothes. I felt embarrassed because all this time I still smell. I tried several deodorants but the result is still the same. Until my mother gave me some kind of POWDERED Deodorant. It doesn't have any smell at all. I tried it, but I felt uncomfortable because it didn't stop the perspiration (It actually does but not that strong). I thought I smell that time then I asked my seatmate if I smell. He said no, I am confused because my previous deodorants lessen my perspiration but I still smell not knowing it only clogging my pores and it makes me smell inside out. I just realized sweat doesn't make you smell bad but bacteria does. Milcu powder kills that bacteria that causes body odor. I am working as accountant and I am more comfortable now even though I sweat a lot. ?

    The deodorant is MILCU DEODORANT POWDER. I ordered online or sometimes I ask my friend from the Philippines to send me one. It's really cheap, only cause 3 Singapore Dollar that lasts for 1.5 or 2 months. I hope this helps guys because I know how it felt like to be embarrassed because of body odor. Don't forget to take a bath everyday. ?

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