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Sweating and body odour

sweat; sweating; apocrine; eccrine; glands; body; odour; deodorants;


We are always sweating but many things cause us to sweat more than usual. Hot weather, exercise and doing something that makes us feel anxious all cause the sweat to flow. Sweating is one of the body's ways of cooling down and it is important that we do sweat. There is a very rare condition where people do not sweat, and they are at a very high risk of overheating.

Sweat glands

There are two types of sweat glands.

  • Eccrine glands [say ek-rine glands] are spread all over our body and they produce sweat that is mainly salt and water. This sweat helps keep your body at the right temperature. 
  • Apocrine glands [say ap-oh-krine glands], in the armpits and around the groin, start working to make oils as well as sweat when you start puberty. People who have not yet reached puberty do not make sweat from apocrine glands.

The apocrine glands make sweat at the same times as the eccrine glands, and they make even more sweat when you are stressed!

The smell!

Sweat from eccrine glands by itself does not an odour. So where does the smell come from?

  • Bacteria [say bak-teer-ee-a] live on the skin. These bacteria use the sweat for growing. They particularly like sweaty feet, socks and shoes.
  • Damp feet, socks and shoes also attract yeasts which add to the smell and can cause a very itchy infection (tinea).
  • Some foods that we eat, such as garlic and spicy foods, can also change the smell of sweat.
  • When sweat gets onto clothes, bacteria can grow there and make them smelly.
  • Sometimes people have a smell caused by a health problem. e.g. People with diabetes may have a fruity smell, while people with kidney or liver disease may have an ammonia smell.

How do you know if you have unpleasant body odour?

Well, people with unpleasant body odour often don’t know!  Because they live with it all the time, they do not notice the smell. (They can still smell smelly shoes!)

Most people are kind and don’t tell others that they have an unpleasant body odour, but you could certainly smell your clothes to find out if they are smelly.

How to prevent bad body odour

  • Wash your body regularly, especially underarms, groin and feet. Dry your feet completely after you have washed them.
  • Change and wash your clothes often, especially underclothes.
  • Let your shoes dry completely before wearing them again. If possible, wear different shoes on alternate days.
  • Cotton socks might be better than synthetic socks, but the most important thing is to wash your feet daily, and change your socks daily if possible. It’s always a good idea to wear socks, unless you are wearing sandals or thongs of course.
  • Some people have bad breath. Look after your teeth and make sure you brush them well. If you can’t clean your teeth after eating something, rinse your mouth with water, bubbling it through your teeth, will help remove bits of food that could attract bacteria which can cause bad breath. Most people do not have bad breath!!!
  • If someone has told you that you have an unpleasant body odour, and you think that might be true, you could try an antibacterial soap when you wash your body. Most people do not need this.

Have a look at our topic about Personal Hygiene

Deodorants and anti-perspirants

Once you start going through puberty, it may be a good idea to start using underarm deodorants and anti-perspirants.

Underarm deodorants reduce the amount of sweat the glands make and have chemicals in them that can kill bacteria. Deodorants often contain perfumes that are meant to mask the body odour. Some people are sensitive to the smell of these deodorants so be kind to others and do not use one that have a strong smell.

Anti-perspirants should only be used on underarms - you need to be able to sweat over the rest of your body to keep yourself healthy and cool. If your body can’t sweat then your temperature goes up and this could make you very sick.

Tips from kids

  • “Don’t leave your clothes on the floor - hang them up so that air can get to them.”
  • “My mum puts my sneakers in the washing machine with the towels then they don’t bump around too loudly, but they do get clean. Then I tie them on the washing line with the laces to dry?” (Your sneakers may not survive being washed in a washing machine.)
  • “My teacher has 2 pairs of shoes that he wears for school. He wears them on alternate days. I think that’s a good idea.”
  • “Wear clean underclothes and socks every day.”
  • “I get out of my school clothes and shoes as soon as I get home. I hang them up outside or under the carport if it’s fine and in the laundry if it’s raining or really cold.  Then I put them in my room before I go to bed.”

Dr Kate says

Some people may feel unwell when there is a strong smell from deodorant sprays and perfumes - so don't spray them around other people in change rooms and only use a small amount of them on your body.

Did you know that every person has their own unique smell? That’s why dogs can track people through their scent.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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