Call it whatever you want: B.O., putok, anghit—it’s probably the most embarrassing condition a person could have. This is particularly true among Asians, where even a minimal offensive whiff from the body can cause distress to one’s self or others.
Basics of body odor
Body odor is technically called bromhidrosis, a chronic condition wherein an unpleasant odor emanates from the body. It can come from a variety of medical conditions that result in the production of odorous chemicals released in the sweat. For example, some diabetics and alcoholics have excessive levels of a chemical called ketone, which has an overpowering rotting-fruit smell.
Sweat is the most common source of body odor. And while both men and women sweat, body odor is more common among men. This is because while women have more sweat glands, the sweat glands of men work much harder. A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that men sweat almost twice as much as women do.
Excessive sweating does not necessarily result in body odor. In fact, profuse sweating may even improve body odor, as eccrine sweat washes away bacteria and apocrine sweat from the skin. This also means that you do not get body odor immediately after sweating, but only after the sweat has interacted sufficiently with bacteria on the skin. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are familiar with this phenomenon: Notice that you do not get body odor during exercise and active sweating, but during your rest periods, when your sweat has been left drying on your skin for several minutes.
Now that you know the real cause of this pesky problem, it’s time to bust B.O. with these tips:
Practice proper hygiene. Since the cause of body odor is the interaction of sweat and bacteria, body hygiene is imperative in combating both sweat and bacteria. Bathe frequently to wash off excessive sweat and bacteria. Pay special attention to the armpits and groin.
Use deodorants. Deodorants serve two purposes: They contain scents that mask odor, and most contain antiperspirants that stop the skin from sweating. Most people use deodorants in the morning to prevent body odor during the day. However, if body odor is severe, use also a deodorant at night when you are less likely to sweat. Why? Because deodorants can penetrate the skin better when your skin is not sweating, such as during the cooler evenings.
Trim armpit hair. Sweat and bacteria can thrive in the shaft of armpit hairs. Keeping armpit hair short can reduce the amount of bacteria that can cause B.O.
Wear breathable fabrics. A moist environment helps bacteria thrive. Wearing breathable fabrics such as cotton helps facilitate sweat evaporation and keep the skin dry, preventing the proliferation of bacteria.
Watch what you eat. Odorous chemicals in food can seep through the skin when we sweat. Garlic, onion, curry, alcohol and coffee all contribute to body odor. Avoid these foods, as well as tobacco, whose aroma can be misconstrued as body odor.
Visit a dermatologist. If all else fails, a dermatologist may be able to prescribe topical antibiotics to reduce bacteria on the skin, or perform iontophoresis or laser procedures that can lessen sweating. Oral prescription medicines may also be prescribed to lessen sweating. Alternatively, your doctor may inject Botox® into the skin to reduce sweating.
For more on body odor and how to battle it, get your copy of HealthToday’s April issue, out now in newsstands and bookstores.