Chances are, if you are anywhere beyond puberty, you or someone you know has stunk it up at one point. If it’s been you - and trust me, we have all been there at one point or another, it’s been a pretty embarrassing moment. One second you’re out there going about your day and the next you get a nice heavy whiff of yourself and realize you stink. “Oh boy. If I can smell it, surely others can smell it too”. You then find yourself avoiding getting too close to people and setting up some sort of invisible buffer zone between you and the world. Maybe you forgot to put on deodorant that day. Maybe your deodorant failed you. Maybe you don’t even use deodorant in the first place. Regardless, we generally all want to avoid that situation and the awkwardness we feel from it. As such, an understanding of what causes body odor is a good place to start in terms of learning what we might be able to do about it.
We all sweat/glow/perspire (whatever you prefer to call it). Perspiration is a natural process that our bodies evolved as a method of cooling ourselves down. It’s our little air conditioning system. Sweat comes from the apocrine glands we have throughout our body. When we sweat, the heat from our body causes the moisture to evaporate and that evaporation of the moisture takes with it some of the heat on the skin’s surface, cooling us down. That’s all fine and dandy if that was the end of the story but, we all pretty much know that’s not the end of it.
Our bodies are covered with bacteria and while it may not seem all that appealing, the bacteria does a lot of great things for us (for the most part). A few strains of bacteria however, produce what are called “thioalcohols” and these bacteria feed off our sweat. When they do this, they convert the proteins in that sweat to acids (thioalcohols). These acids are what we know of as the dreaded body odor. Typically, we associate body odor with the armpits but, it can come from a variety of other areas in the body as well including the genitals, feet, groin, and behind the ears. For other animals, this odor is a way of identifying individuals - for us humans, it’s a surefire way to make sure nobody wants to identify with us (yikes!).
While all of this is quite natural, our culture doesn’t buy into the body odor smells of others and so there are some things we can do to help our friends and family want to be around us more: