Body Odor Causes

Body Odor Causes

All humans have body odor to varying degrees.  It is an unpleasant, strong smell caused by the combination of sweat and bacteria on the skin. Consequently, the industry for products containing fragrance, cleansers, and deodorants as well as antiperspirants is a billion-dollar per year industry. When it comes to body odor, some of the most affected areas that this article focuses on include the armpits and groin as well as the hands and feet.

Body Odor Causes & Factors

A variety of factors contribute to the intensity of a person’s body odor. Your skin has two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. When your body temperature rises, eccrine glands release fluids that cool your body as they evaporate. When you are stressed, apocrine glands release an odorless milky fluid until combined with bacteria on your skin. In general, there is a difference between the sexes—men tend to be more prominently affected than women. This has to do with some of the effects of the larger amount of testosterone in a man’s system. Testosterone is like a propellant for oil glands. When you stimulate the production of oil you produce one of the basic raw materials for odor-causing bacteria. Bacteria in areas, especially the armpits groin and feet break down these oils into smaller compounds which are what we call aromatic, meaning that they can turn into gases and be detected by the nose more easily. In some cases, changes in body odor result from an underlying health condition such as: hyperhidrosis, trimethylaminuria (rare genetic disorder), diabetes, and kidney failure. If you have diabetes and experience a sudden fruity smell in your breath accompanied by frequent urination, see your doctor immediately. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious medical condition and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Heavy Sweating

Heavy sweating also plays a role. Increased sweating with or without increased oil production also provides a more ideal environment for bacteria which causes water to flourish.  This is especially true on the bottom of the feet or in some cases bacteria may eat away at the soul of the foot causing tiny pinpoint punched out areas, a condition known as pitted keratolysis.


When it comes to the creases of the skin, notably the armpits and the groin, the medical name for foul body odor is Bromhidrosis. With this background let’s talk about some of the basics as far as at-home treatments go.

Body Odor Treatments

General hygiene of course is essential for controlling this problem, but by itself is not enough for some individuals.  A frequent periodic bath or shower is generally necessary as a baseline level of control for body odor. Some people may have excellent body odor control showering every third day whereas others may need a shower daily or in some circumstances twice a day.

When cleansing in the shower, consider using dove bar soap.  Not all soaps are created equal. At Advanced Dermatology of the Midlands, we highly recommend dove in the bar form as this soap has excellent surfactants. Surfactants are the components in soap that foam up and in doing so help strip the oils and other types of dirt off your skin.  Pay special focus to areas such as the armpits, groin, hands, and feet. Consider washing these areas twice, with two lather rinse cycles. Also, remember to dry off areas where you tend to have body odor very thoroughly after you have taken a bath or shower. Some patients will find that using a blow dryer on the cool setting used strategically in these areas will give added benefit.

Antibacterial Cleansers

Most antibacterial cleansers will not benefit this condition, though those containing benzoyl peroxide may. These have excellent antibacterial properties and we often recommend them in strength up to 10%. They are readily available over the counter.

One of the most common versions that we recommend in all our clinics is PanOxyl, the foaming cleanser.  These cleansers because of the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide may have a bleaching effect on fabrics which is important to keep in mind when rinsing the areas so that you rinse them thoroughly and when you use a towel as you may want to consider using a white towel.

Maintaining dryness may also help. There are numerous moisture wicking fabric clothing items that are available. These include socks, shirts, and undergarments. Also, perhaps using a drying powder such as a Zeasorb may give an added benefit.

Advanced Dermatology of the Midlands | Best Dermatologist Omaha & Council Bluffs, IA | Board Certified Dermatologists

This is a simple reference guide for you to use to help better control your body odor. If you have body odor above and beyond what can be controlled with these measures, please see us in consultation. We treat bromhidrosis and other conditions associated with body odor in our clinics frequently and do you have prescription options that may benefit you, both from the standpoint of the excessive sweating and the levels of odor-causing bacteria on your skin. If you need more assistance, please consider seeing us in a consultation.

Additional information from a previous blog post: