What causes body odour and why do some have it worse?

Body odour is caused by bacteria breaking down sweat and is largely linked to the apocrine glands, said Melbourne dermatologist Dr Hope Dinh. Men have more of these glands in the armpit which make them more prone to body odour. The surge in hormones during the teenage years can affect odour output in both males and females. Some population groups even naturally produce less odour.

"East Asians who have nearly complete loss of typical body odour, when compared to people of African and European descent, have significantly less of the characteristic axillary odorants and variants in the ABCC11 gene, which is expressed and localised in apocrine sweat glands," said Dr Dinh.

Individuals with certain medical conditions are more susceptible to having body odour. These can include diabetes, urinary tract infections, an overactive thyroid, kidney and liver dysfunction and a genetic disorder called trimethylaminuria. Certain medications can also cause sweating in some people; including antidepressants, triptans for migraines, NSAIDs (non -steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) and opioids.

Lifestyle factors in what we eat and how we live can also contribute.

Dr Dinh identified common reasons for body odour which include:

  • regular consumption spicy foods like garlic, onion and curry, as well as alcohol.
  • working hot and sweaty jobs in non-breathable clothing (with synthetic fibres)
  • working indoors in environments with poor ventilation.

"With the boom in activewear as a fashion statement, it can mean more body odour due to the trapped heat and synthetic fabrics. Hence try not to sit too long in your yoga pants after a session; hit the showers quickly after exercise and have a spare change of clothes," said Dr Dinh.

"I recommend changing footwear or socks regularly throughout the day if they are damp. Just this simple measure can reduce the malodour significantly."

How should we be washing ourselves? Dr Dinh's tips:

1 Keep the armpits clean: Wash them regularly using anti-bacterial soap, and the number of bacteria will be kept low, resulting in less body odour.

2 Deodorant or antiperspirant: Deodorants make the skin more acidic, making it more difficult for bacteria to thrive. An antiperspirant block the sweating action of the glands, resulting in less sweating.

3 Drying thoroughly between skin folds after washing is very important, otherwise any trapped moisture can lead to bacteria or thrush thriving and hence lead to body odour.

4 People can apply corn starch or talc powder to the worst areas of sweating after bathing.

Despite the tips offered for effective bathing, Dr Dinh said it can be a common misconception that body odour is a result of poor hygiene. If people are concerned they should consult their GP to rule out any kind of medical cause for their issues such as diabetes or thyroid problems. The GP can refer the patient to a dermatologist for further treatment if needed.

Treatment can start with topical treatment such as prescription-strength anti-perspirant, or a deodorant. More treatments for more advanced cases include medication, surgery on the apocrine gland or nerves that feed the sweat glands, and the use of medical devices on feet, hands and underarms.

OFFENSIVE: Body odour can be off-putting for co-workers.

OFFENSIVE: Body odour can be off-putting for co-workers.

"Miradry utilizes thermal energy that targets and eliminates the sweat and odour glands in your underarm. Once those glands are eliminated, they do not grow back."

"Hyperhidrosis Botulinum toxin (anti-sweat) treatments are easily performed in clinic by a dermatologist. Botulinum toxin injections are approved for hyperhidrosis affecting the armpits. It is a safe and effective treatment all done in clinic," said Dr Dinh.

Anti-sweating injections for excessive sweating conditions are highly effective, long lasting and receive a partial rebate from Medicare.

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