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Body Odor



Shinjita Das

, MD, Harvard Medical School

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020

Body odor that is excessive or abnormal (bromhidrosis) is the result of the breakdown of sweat by bacteria and yeasts that normally live on the skin.

(See also Introduction to Sweating Disorders.)

Sweat is secreted by the apocrine glands and the eccrine glands. The apocrine glands secrete sweat into hair follicles. They are under the arms, in the genital area, around the anus, and around the nipples. The eccrine glands secrete sweat directly onto the skin. They are nearly everywhere in the skin. Sweat secreted by these glands does not have a foul odor until it is broken down (decomposed) by bacteria and yeasts that normally live on the skin. After decomposition, the odor becomes foul.

Getting Under the Skin

The skin has three layers. Beneath the surface of the skin are nerves, nerve endings, glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels. Sweat is produced by glands in the dermis and reaches the surface of the skin through tiny ducts.

Getting Under the Skin

Bromhidrosis results from poor hygiene of skin and clothing. It can also occur after eating or drinking certain foods (such as curry, garlic, onions, and alcohol) and taking certain drugs (such as penicillin). Bromhidrosis develops more easily in people who sweat excessively.

Cleansing twice a day with soap and water usually removes the bacteria and yeast that cause odor. In some people, a few days of washing with an antiseptic soap, which may be combined with use of antibacterial creams containing clindamycin or erythromycin, may be necessary. Shaving the hair in the armpits may also help control odor. Clothing should be washed often as well. To mask odors, people may try deodorants or antiperspirants (which decrease sweat excretion).

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
erythromycin ERY-TAB, ERYTHROCIN
clindamycin CLEOCIN

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