BODY ODOUR (B.O.) 101
Have you ever had one of those days in a bus, taxi or trotro, where you had some stinky guy’s armpit in your face? If you have, then you know that some men can generate a stench that can send a skunk running. Why do some people have such strong body odour?
What’s that stench?
What is this phenomenon of body odour? According to John Riddle, Body odour is the term used for any unpleasant smell associated with the body.
Most of us are concerned about how we look especially, how we smell so body odour which can be a potentially fatal blow to a person’s social life is not a welcome addition to one’s ingredients for success.
Body odour is a combination of sweat and bacteria. Sweat is actually odourless; it is bacteria that live off (eat) the perspiration on our body that create the bad smell.
Humans generate apocrine and eccrine sweat. Eccrine sweat is used to lower our temperature, like when we exercise or when it’s really hot. It is produced uniformly all over the body and does not smell. Apocrine is a special type of exudation that is produced in places like the armpits, groin, hands, and feet. It is the latter that causes all the trouble, but like eccrine sweat, it also doesn’t smell. Apocrine perspiration simply contains fat and protein.
So how does apocrine sweat tend to make us stinky?
Some bacteria on our body feed off apocrine sweat. Once they consume the sweat, they do what any living creature on earth does: they defecate Yup, you guessed it; B.O. is the smell of bacteria excrement!
Actually, bacteria don’t really defecate like we do — they break down chemical bonds — but they do consume our perspiration, and that makes us smell.
Why do you have body odour?
The main reason why people stink is that some don’t bathe enough! But good hygiene doesn’t stop at washing your body; it also includes washing clothes. Certain fabrics, like cotton, easily absorb bad odours.
An overactive bacterial fauna on the skin is also a possible cause of B.O. Some people have more bacteria on them, others less, but again, it all comes down to good hygiene.
Some people smell a lot because they perspire more, either because of stress, physical activity or because of a condition known as Hyperhidrosis, which causes excessive sweating.
Stress is more prevalent today. There are higher expectations, tighter schedules, more work, etc., and they all cause an unnatural amount of anxiety on the body, which causes perspiration and, in turn, may make us smell.
Young children do not smell because they don’t secrete apocrine sweat, so bacteria have nothing to interact with. People begin to produce apocrine when testosterone levels increase at puberty.
Eating certain foods can also affect how you smell. If a food is poignant enough, its smell can make it all the way through your body and come out from your pores. Garlic, cumin and curry are believed to have such properties.
Zinc deficiency can impart B.O. because it regulates detoxification in the body; it controls how the body handles waste. Likewise, a sugar imbalance and caffeine can alter the amount and type of perspiration.
Some odours may indicate health problems. People who smell like nail polish can have diabetes and an ammonia smell is a sign of liver disease.
Why do men tend to smell more often than women?
Men tend to smell stronger
One of the reasons some men smell more might be because they have higher testosterone levels — testosterone influences apocrine sweat production. Then again, some guys stink simply by virtue of poor hygiene. We all know how clean women are, so compared to them, many guys don’t bathe enough (hey, it’s all relative, right?).
Middle-aged men produce a substance called noneal, which adds to the production of bad odours, but women produce just as much of it, so again, it comes down to hygiene.
Men are slobs by nature; they have a tendency to wear clothes that haven’t been washed for a while. Yes, washing clothes is very important when it comes to odour. It doesn’t matter if your body is clean; if you wear clothes soaked in B.O., you will smell like B.O.
Another reason men tend to stink more might be due to the fact that they are more physical. Women tend to live more placid lifestyles — female construction workers and movers are still quite rare.
Furthermore, women aren’t as into sports as men. Athletic men tend to perspire more because pores get bigger with use, so guys who work out a lot are more prone to have B.O. Physical activity causes perspiration and by now you know the gruesome process…
Treating body odour
Bathing is a good way to start, and washing your clothes also helps. Showers are better at preventing B.O. than baths because during a shower, more dirt and bacteria run off the body with the constant flow of water.
Blaming a B.O. problem on a more active bacterial fauna on your body is oversimplifying things. Just shower more and you will have fewer critters running around on you.
Many deodorants only mask body odour, but some products actually fight bacteria. The most effective deodorants contain aluminium or zinc. Both elements are known to fight odour-causing bacteria.
Antiperspirants, on the other hand, clog sweat glands, so bacteria have nothing to interact with. Antibacterial soaps also help kill off those nasty pests.
Cutting down on caffeine reduces B.O. Coffee, cola, chocolate, and other caffeine aliments contribute to odour because they stimulate apocrine sweat glands (you know… that fatty sweat that bacteria love to munch on).
Drinking plenty of fluids keeps eccrine sweat glands active; this dilutes apocrine perspiration, which reduces body odour.
One of the best products for treating body odour, and quite possibly the least known is Boric Acid. It’s relatively cheap and works great. Simply apply it wherever you want to keep smell away after taking a bath. Boric Acid will slow down the spreading of bacteria. Using too much, however, can irritate the skin.
If the odour doesn’t want to go away, there are products that can treat serious cases of body odour, but they require a prescription. Keep in mind that extreme cases of B.O. are probably caused by some form of fungal infection. If perspiration is out of control, there is a treatment called iontophoresis that can seal off sweat pores for a few months using electricity.
Hook, line and stinker
If you stink, don’t worry; there are plenty of ways of dealing with the problem. It seems that the issue here is less a question of gender, and more about the knowledge and will to carry out the solutions. Find out what’s causing your body odour and deal with it accordingly, and don’t be afraid to see a doctor if a stench just doesn’t want to go away. Now go and fight those nasties!
Sources: Askmen.com, Wikipedia and Serendip.brynmawr.edu