Overview

Sweating and body odor are facts of life for most people. Heavy perspiration and body odor can happen when you exercise, when you're too warm, or when you're nervous, anxious or under stress.

Your body has two main types of sweat glands, and they produce two very different types of sweat. Both types are odorless, but the type of sweat produced in your armpits and groin smells bad when it combines with bacteria found normally on your skin.

Unusual changes in sweating — either excessive perspiration (hyperhidrosis) or little or no perspiration (anhidrosis) — can be cause for concern. Likewise, changes in body odor may be a sign of a medical problem. Lifestyle and home treatments can usually manage symptoms caused by normal sweating and body odor effectively.

Symptoms

Some people naturally sweat more or less than other people. Body odor also can vary from person to person. See a doctor if:

  • You suddenly begin to sweat much more or less than usual
  • Sweating disrupts your daily routine
  • You experience night sweats for no apparent reason
  • You notice a change in your body odor

Causes

Your skin has two main types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands occur over most of your body and open directly onto the surface of the skin. Apocrine glands develop in areas abundant in hair follicles, such as your armpits and groin, and they empty into the hair follicle just before it opens onto the skin surface.

When your body temperature rises, your eccrine glands secrete fluid onto the surface of your skin, where it cools your body as it evaporates. This fluid is composed mainly of water and salt.

Apocrine glands produce a milky fluid that most commonly is secreted when you're under emotional stress. This fluid is odorless until it combines with bacteria found normally on your skin.

Feb. 14, 2017
References
  1. Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Biology of eccrine and apocrine glands. In: Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed July 6, 2016.
  2. Perspiration. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/. Accessed July 7, 2016.
  3. Kanlayavattanakul M, et al. Body malodours and their topical treatment agents. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2011;33:298.
  4. Shirasu M, et al. The scent of disease: Volatile organic compounds of the human body related to disease and disorder. Journal of Biochemistry. 2011;150:257.
  5. Hyperhidrosis. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. http://aocd.site-ym.com/?page=Hyperhidrosis. Accessed July 6, 2016.
  6. Smith CC, et al. Primary focal hyperhidrosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 6, 2016.