Dear Doc | Co-workers complain about my body odour
Q Dear Doc, I am very embarrassed and need you to help fix a problem. Recently, I was told by my HR department at work that there was a complaint about my body odour being high and it was a bother to staff and I should get it looked at. I don’t even know where to start with that, because I feel that I always bathe properly, and this is the first I’m hearing about this. What can I do to fix this?
A I understand your confusion and frustration, but most times persons are unaware of their own odour, simply because they are used to it.
When your body gives off a scent others find unpleasant, it is known as body odour.
Body odour is the unpleasant smell our bodies give off when bacteria that live on the skin breaks down sweat into acids.
Body odour usually becomes evident when we reach puberty. People who are obese, persons who regularly eat spicy foods, and individuals with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, are more susceptible to having body odour. People who sweat too much are also susceptible to having body odour.
Sweat itself is virtually odourless to humans; however, it is the rapid multiplication of bacteria in the presence of sweat, and their breaking down of the sweat into acids, that eventually causes the unpleasant smell.
Body odour is dependent on where the excess sweating is occurring and which type of sweat glands are involved.
Sweat is largely linked to the apocrine glands. Most of the apocrine glands in the skin are located in the groin, armpits, and around the nipples, and most body odour comes from these. The apocrine glands are mainly responsible for body odour, because the sweat they produce is high in protein, which bacteria can break down easily, resulting in an unpleasant smell.
Because of the large concentration of apocrine glands in the armpits, that area is susceptible to the rapid development of body odour.
The following steps may help control armpit odour:
1. Keep the armpits clean: Wash them regularly, using anti-bacterial soap to keep the number of bacteria low, resulting in less body odour. Warm water also helps kill off bacteria that are present on your skin.
2. Shaving armpits: When armpits have hair, it slows down the evaporation of sweat, giving the bacteria more time to break it down into smelly substances. Shaving the armpits regularly has been found to help body odour control in that area.
3. Deodorant or antiperspirant: Deodorants make the skin more acidic, making it more difficult for bacteria to thrive. An antiperspirant blocks the sweating action of the glands, resulting in less sweating.
4. Clothing: Wear natural, breathable fabric clothing to allow your skin to breathe, resulting in better evaporation of sweat. For example, cotton.
5. Avoid spicy foods: Curry, garlic and other spicy foods have the potential to make some people’s sweat more pungent. Some experts believe a diet high in red meat may also raise the risk of developing more rapid body odour.
If the above recommendations do not improve your body odour, consider seeing your doctor.
Some medical conditions may change how much a person sweats, as well as change the way we smell. It is important to see a doctor to identify these conditions, which may include an overactive thyroid gland, liver disease, kidney disease, or diabetes, all of which can change the consistency of sweat so that the person smells differently.
You should also see your doctor if:
• You start sweating at nights.
• You start sweating much more than you normally do, without any logical reason.
• You have cold sweats.
• Sweating disrupts your daily routine.
• If your body smells different than usual.