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Body Odor


By Shinjita Das, MD, Instructor in Dermatology; Assistant in Dermatology, Harvard Medical School; Massachusetts General Hospital

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

Sweat that is secreted by the apocrine glands, which are under the arms, in the genital area, around the anus, and around the nipples, 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.

Bromhidrosis results from poor hygiene of skin and clothing. 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.