There is a bouquet of odors wafting from all corners of the human body. These scents are purposeful chemical signals that either attract or detract a potential partner, predator, pest or pal. Your propensity to seduce a mosquito or a lover depends on hundreds of volatile organic chemicals (VOC) that naturally percolate out of glands situated all over the body. For the most part these chemicals are undetectable to the human nose. Sweat is just water and doesn't smell. But when the VOCs meet up with bacteria living on the skin, in hair follicles, on teeth and tongue they can change up the chemistry enough to produce some distinctively unpleasant odors.
The potency of body odors is influenced by personal hygiene, body temperature, body ecology, genetics, gender and age. There is an inherited metabolic disorder called trimethylaminuria (TMAU), sometimes called fish-odor syndrome, caused by the inability to break down a chemical found in choline-rich foods - eggs, soy, kidney beans, wheat germ, saltwater fish and organ meats - but the condition is extremely rare. And there are some infectious diseases, skin conditions, other health conditions and medications that cause pronounced or distinctive body odors. But otherwise healthy people can smell too.
To nose down odors you need to look into in moist dark areas that have a high concentration of glands and hair follicles.
There are 3 main types of glands found on human skin
- Eccrine glands - secrete sweat through pores found in the palms of hands, soles of feet and forehead
- Sebaceous glands - secrete oily sebum and are found on the chest, back, scalp, face and forehead
- Apocrine glands - secrete sweat via canals along hair follicles in the underarms, pubic area, anus and nipple area
If you want to clear the air around you, you'll need to pay a visit to the 5 most odorous places on the human body. And to silence the smell, you need to make the environment inhospitable to odor-causing bacteria or kill what's there.
1. THE GROIN
The pubic area is an odor hot spot. It is warm, sweaty and has a good amount of glands and hair follicles. It is prone to infections, particularly in the vagina. It rarely gets exposed to the open air and is often covered over with synthetic unbreathable clothing that traps moisture and bacteria.
- Use fragrance-free cornstarch powder to keep the area dry
- Wear natural fiber or wicking clothing
- Go commando when you can
- Avoid covering up odor with perfumes, which don't kill the odor-causing bacteria
2. THE UNDERARMS
This area is the first place we think of when we think of body odor. It has a dense patch of hair and is loaded with sweat glands. People of European or African descent have many apocrine sweat glands, and East Asians have fewer.
- Use underarm deodorants that contain alcohol or other agents that kill bacteria or rub a crystal rock deodorant composed of mineral salts
- Use an antiperspirant which reduces moisture (Tip: apply antiperspirants at night when you sweat less for maximum absorption into pores)
- Shave, wax or laser underarm hair
- Avoid using harsh body soaps that wash away the natural barrier that protects against bacterial growth
- Avoid masking over odors with synthetic fragrances
3. THE FEET
It's no wonder that feet smell. As soon as man donned shoes to better traverse the terrain, we prevented the evaporation of a quart of sweat released from thousands of sweat glands each day. Closing up the feet creates a dark, moist, warm environment that bacteria love.
- Wear socks made of cotton or other wicking material that can absorb perspiration
- Use dehydrating foot powder and footpads that contain activated charcoal that absorbs odor
- Use a tea soak 30 minutes every day for a week to allow tea tannins to constrict sweat pores
- Go barefoot or wear open sandals when you can
- Try adding a few drops of essential oils such as tea tree, sage and clove to a footbath containing arrowroot and baking soda
- Rub some rubbing alcohol on feet at bedtime
4. THE MOUTH
Occasional episodes of bad breath are usually caused by the breakdown of food by enzymes in saliva. But more than 90% of the time it comes from bacteria living in gum pockets, under dentures and on the surface of the tongue. Breath changes can also occur with certain gastrointestinal diseases, chronic sinusitis, postnasal drip, diabetes and kidney disease.
- Floss and brush teeth twice a day and after meals
- Rake the tongue with a tongue scraper from the back near the gag reflex down to the tip
- Rinse with mouthwash
- Soak dentures daily
- Eat more parsley
- Treat gingivitis early to prevent full-blown periodontal gum disease
5. THE SCALP
Anyone who has skipped a few days of shampooing knows hair can smell. The combination of oily sebum coming from sebaceous glands and many hair follicles is a perfect storm for bacteria growth. And if you are a head-sweater that makes matters worse.
- Wash hair regularly (oily hair more often than dry hair)
- Use a hair drier to dry hair thoroughly
- Don't tie back wet hair