7 Causes of Chronic Body Odor Even After Bathing
Even famous Hollywood stars have suffered legendarily bad breath and battled body odor, so you are not alone if your natural state smells a little bit more "natural" than your friends would prefer. This article will help you understand what may be causing the smell and what you can do about it.
Causes of Smelling Bad After a Shower
A genetic disorder that inhibits your body's enzymes from breaking down trimethtylamine (TMA), a fishy-smelling compound found in choline-rich foods.
Remove or reduce choline-rich foods in your diet. These foods include milk, eggs, saltwater fish, and legumes.
Diet heavy in cruciferous vegetables, sulfur-rich foods, or heavy spices
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cabbage are high in sulfur, which when broken down, make your sweat smell like rotten eggs. Strong smelling herbs can also be secreted through sweat when broken down in your body.
Avoid eating these foods. Cooking cruciferous vegetables will also reduce sulfur compounds, but retain the nutrients.
Stress, Anxiety, or Depression
Sweat produced when feeling anxiety or depression contains fat that bacteria present on your skin love to feast on. When bacteria break down this fat, a stinky acid is produced.
Avoid stressful situations or try meditation to calm your nerves. If stress is unavoidable, use a clinical-strength antiperspirant or deodorant to prevent sweating or to mask the smell.
A fungal infection that is a result of feet that are confined to a warm, dark, and sweaty environment.
Most cases can be treated with an over-the-counter anti-fungal cream. If problems persist, your doctor may suggest a prescription-strength medication.
Consuming copious amounts of alcohol
Excess alcohol that is not processed by the liver escapes through your pores.
Drink in moderation.
A condition in which there is a buildup of ketones, which produces a smell that is described as fruity, sweet, or similar to nail polish. This is caused by extremely low levels of insulin.
Seek immediate medical attention. This condition could lead to death.
1. Trimethylaminuria (TMAU)
Findings in the American Journal of Medicine show that one-third of people who report unexplained, persistent body odor suffer from an inherited metabolic disorder called trimethylaminuria.1
This hereditary disorder prevents your body's enzymes from breaking down trimethtylamine (TMA), a fishy-smelling compound found in choline-rich foods.2 Because your body is unable to digest TMA, the excess is released through your sweat, breath, and urine, and causes you to stink. In severe cases, a "rotting fish" odor emanates from your body, but in low concentrations, TMA is described as smelling "garbage-like."3
- While there is no cure, you can reduce odor by limiting the amount of choline-rich foods in your diet. These foods include milk from wheat-fed cows, eggs, saltwater fish, organ meats (livers, brains, hearts), peanuts, and certain legumes (soy beans, chick peas, and split peas).
- Low doses of antibiotics can reduce production of TMA in your intestine.
- Taking riboflavin (vitamin B2) encourages existing FMO3 enzyme activity (the enzyme that breaks down TMA).
- Laxatives or detoxifying herbs or supplements can remove TMA from your body, reducing the amount of time it remains in your system.
2. Consuming Foods High in Sulfur
Do you have smelly armpits even after showering? When you eat cabbage, broccoli, and other sulfur-rich foods, the sulfur is broken down into compounds that smell like rotten-eggs and are later secreted through your pores. So no matter how much you clean your underarms, the smell will still seep through. Garlic and onions also contain volatile sulfurous substances.4
- Avoid eating garlic, onions, leeks, chives, protein-rich foods, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, turnips, and kale.
- You can also try cooking cruciferous vegetables. Cooking reduces the sulfur compounds but retains the nutrients.
3. Anxiety, Depression, or Stress
When you feel stressed, your body produces more sweat from the apocrine glands.5 These glands are located in areas where you grow the most hair, like your armpits and groin, and they secrete sweat containing 20% fat. The bacteria that is normally present on your skin breaks down the fat in your sweat and turns it into acids. This process produces chemicals that have a stinky smell.6
- Try to avoid stressful situations.
- Doing yoga or meditation may hep reduce anxiety.
- If you find it hard to minimize sweating by reducing stress or depression, an antiperspirant or deodorant will either block sweat or neutralize the odor caused by bacteria.
4. Athlete's Foot
If you've played sports, then you are probably familiar with this condition. Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that is caused when warm, sweaty feet are confined to tight socks and shoes, with little air circulation. Most over-the-counter creams can effectively treat this problem, but if the smell and itching persists, ask your doctor for a prescription medication.
- There are a myriad of drugstore anti-fungal creams designed specifically to treat athlete's foot.
- If you need something stronger, your doctor can prescribe a medicated ointment.
- Some home remedies you can try include applying tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, or yogurt. Tea tree oil is a natural anti-fugal ointment, apple cider vinegar is beneficial against yeast and fungus, and the probiotic in yogurt contains beneficial yeast that can fight pathogenic species of fungi.
5. Drinking Alcohol
If you drink in moderation, the smell of alcohol can only be detected in your breath. However, an alcoholic or anyone who overdoses on a night out will reek. This is because the liver can only process about a drink an hour, so excess alcohol that runs through your blood will escape the body in other ways, mainly via your pores and urine. Yes, you can sweat alcohol, and it will stink!7
- Drink in moderation and drink water in between servings of alcohol.
6. Diabetic Ketoacidosis
It's possible that the unpleasant scent you are smelling is emanating from your breath and not your body. Diabetics who have extremely low levels of insulin may report smelling like nail polish. When the body does not have enough insulin to break down sugar for energy, it releases hormones to break down fat for fuel, which produces acids called ketones. A buildup of ketones produces a smell that is described as fruity, sweet, or similar to nail polish.8
This condition is extremely dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. If you experience these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
What Causes Body Odor?
- Body odor, or B.O. as it is colloquially abbreviated, is referred to in medicine as bromhidrosis.
- Your skin produces two different kinds of sweat from two different types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine.
- Eccrine glands are present all over your body. They secrete fluid not only in response to heat and humidity, but also to stress, anger, nervousness, sexual excitement, or certain foods. This fluid is composed of mainly water and salt, and is virtually odorless.
- The apocrine glands are located in areas where you grow the most hair, like your armpits and groin. The fluid secreted from these glands consists of protein, lipid, carbohydrate, and ammonium. Bacteria that are normally present in these areas break down the protein and fats in our sweat and turn them into acids, thereby releasing stinky chemicals.9
Ways to Prevent Body Odor
- Maintain high levels of personal hygiene by taking frequent showers using a scrubber or loofah, along with an antibacterial soap.
- Dry yourself well after baths.
- Wear clean clothes and make sure they are washed well to get rid of the odor. Never wear unwashed clothes.
- Use clinical- or industrial-strength deodorants and antiperspirants.
Home Remedies for Body Odor
- Sage: You can use it as a power, mix it in with your body wash, or drink it as a tea.
- Rosemary: You can grind the dried herb and use it as a body powder, or you can drink it as a tea.
- Fennel: Include this spice in your meals or drink a cup of fennel tea each day.
- Tea Tree Oil: Mix it with water to use as a body spray, or mix it with baking soda to use as an underarm powder.
- Witch Hazel: Soak a cotton ball and apply directly to your underarms.
- Baking Soda: Apply directly to your armpits to neutralize odor and absorb excess sweat and moisture.
- Lemon or Lime: Rub a wedge of lemon or lime directly to your armpits, or mix a few drops of lemon/lime juice with baking soda and apply as a paste.
1. Sage (Salvia Officinalis)
Compounds found in sage can dry up perspiration, while the oils contained in sage are antiseptic and antibiotic. Use it on your skin to help lessen body odor caused by perspiration or by infectious agents. You can use sage as a body powder, body wash, and tea.
- Body Powder: Crush dried sage and apply it to your skin.
- Body Wash: Brew some sage tea. Steep 2 teaspoons of dried sage in 1/4 liters of hot water for 5 minutes. You can then use the sage tea externally as a body wash. It helps reduce excessive sweating. Apply to underarms in the shower —avoid using the body wash on your face or genitals.
- Sage Tea: Drink small amounts as needed rather than drinking it routinely. Caution: Prolonged use can cause dizziness, hot flushes, and seizures. Do not take internally if pregnant or breastfeeding.
2. Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis)
This aromatic culinary herb contains agents that are antiseptic and antibiotic, and the piney scent is also refreshing.
- Similar to sage, you can grind the dried herb and use it as a body powder.
- You can also make a tea to use as body wash by steeping 1/4 cup of dried rosemary in 1/2 liter (2 cups) of water. If irritation occurs, discontinue use.
3. Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare)
As early as the 10th century A.D., the mystic Hildegard of Bingen recommended fennel seed as treatment for body odor. In some Indian restaurants, fennel seeds are offered instead of after-dinner mints. This is because fennel seeds not only improve digestion, but can also reduce bad breath and body odor that originate in the intestines. Eat whole seeds after a meal or drink one cup of tea per day.
4. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a potent substance that kills fungi and bacteria. It may be too harsh on the skin if used alone, so mix it with either baking soda or water.
- Mix equal parts water and tea tree oil. Pour into a spray bottle and spray the mixture under your arms.
- Combine baking soda with a few drops of the oil. Apply the powder to your armpits after showering.
5. Witch Hazel
The bacteria on our skin needs a high level of pH in order to survive. Witch hazel lowers the pH, making it impossible for odor-producing bacteria to thrive.
Soak a cotton ball with witch hazel and apply directly to your underarms.
6. Baking Soda
Basking soda absorbs sweat but also kills bacteria. You can apply the powder directly to your armpits or mix some baking soda with lemon juice to form a paste for application.
7. Lemon or Lime
The acid in lemons and limes fights against odor-producing bacteria and also lowers the pH level of your skin, which helps prevent bacterial growth.
Rub a wedge of lemon or lime directly to your armpits or mix the juice with either baking soda or cornstarch to form a paste.
Sweet-Smelling Body Powder Recipe
You can use this powder under the arms or wherever odor originates by mixing the following ingredients together.
- 35 grams cornflour
- 35 grams bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tablespoon ground sage
- 1 tablespoon ground rosemary
1. Denise Mann, "If You Have Body Odor, It May Be in Your Genes," WebMD. 2011. Accessed July 21, 2017.
2. "What Is Choline? Benefits, Sources & Signs of Choline Deficiency." Dr. Axe, Food Is Medicine. Accessed July 21, 2017.
3. "Bad Body Odor May Be Caused by Metabolic Disorder," MedicineNet. 2011. Accessed July 21, 2017.
4. Gina Roberts-Grey. "5 Foods That Can Increase Your Body Odor, " NextAvenue. 2013. Accessed July 21, 2017.
6. "Apocrine Sweat Glands," Histology at Yale. Yale School of Medicine. Accessed July 21, 2017.
7. Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S, "Why Alcohol Lingers On Your Breath," The Huffington Post. 2011. Accessed July 21, 2017.
8. Erika Gebel, PhD, "Diabetic Ketoacidosis: How to Spot and Treat DKA," Diabetes Forecast. 2010. Accessed July 21, 2017.
9. "Sweating and Body Odor," Mayo Clinic. Accessed July 21, 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.