Just what is underarm odor all about?
Underarm odor is always the problem of the person sitting next to you. Until you realize that the wet patches under your blouse or shirt can be justified in this way. But did you know that it is difficult to smell your own armpit odor without burying your nose in your armpit because the brain filters out pervasive smells? That is, unless it is really bad – it may be wise to pay attention to your reduced sensitivity and to do something about this problem as soon as you notice, or better yet to prevent it altogether.
Our Sweat Glands
Our bodies have two types of sweat glands – the eccrine, apocrine and sebaceous sweat glands. The sebaceous sweat glands are tiny glands located in the skin which secrete a waxy or oily substance called sebum, which lubricates the hair and skin of mammals. Most are found on the face and the scalp though they exist in lower concentrations throughout the body. Over production of sebum can cause acne, but it is not responsible for body odor.
The eccrine glands, unlike the other glands, have their own dedicated pores and secrete high salt content water through the skin. These are also not known to create problems with smell because the pH balance and salt concentration inhibit bacteria. They are located throughout the body.
The apocrine glands, however, located especially in the axillae or armpits and genitourinary region are responsible for most body odor. Fresh sweat from the apocrine glands itself is odorless, however bacteria on the skin break this down, releasing foul smelling waste products in the form of chemicals such as 3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid, which is an aromatic hydrocarbon. Especially since our underarms are an enclosed space, folding onto each other, and with hair growing in this region, it can be a source of sweat.
Armpit Odor in Children
Underarm odor is a common cause of body odor, and starts affecting people from puberty onwards. This is because the sweat glands in the underarms, the apocrine glands which secrete a milky white substance as sweat, remain underdeveloped until the onset of puberty. The apocrine glands are a particular cause of odor, and some are located in the underarms.
Even in children, odor can be a problem from hormones present in milk and strong smelling foods such as garlic, curry and onion.
Causes of Armpit Odor
There are many causes of armpit odor – it is not always a direct result of sweating. Bacteria, as discussed above, are a cause as is poor hygiene: which includes washing clothes as well as frequent bathing. Hormones are another factor, especially during menopause, where falling estrogen levels erroneously signal the brain that body temperature is too high, thereby triggering perspiration and subsequent odor.
Toxins are another cause, especially those which are not able to be excreted via the urine, bile and lungs, which will do so via the skin. These then undergo recombination by skin dwelling bacteria and are emitted in a different, often aromatic form as waste product.
Solutions, Hope for Sufferers
There is hope for sufferers of underarm odor, including antiperspirants, deodorants, good hygiene including washing clothes regularly and showering twice daily. Antiperspirants prevent sweat from being released, and especially when used in armpits can prevent the apocrine glands from releasing fatty-acid rich secretions as food for bacteria.
Deodorants can disguise the smell, although as the above study concluded, perhaps not as effectively as you would think. Washing clothes often, perhaps with a capful of vinegar in the rinse cycle of your washing machine, can help remove stubborn, clothes borne odors. Sometimes you will notice yellow marks in the underarm region, especially if it really is a problem, in which case if possible, bleaching may be required.
Carrying a wet wipe for moments when you do sweat can also alleviate smells and symptoms as can choice of clothing such as cotton. Whatever you decide to do to tackle this problem, it really is nothing to sweat about, providing that you do all you can.
Studies on Armpit Odor and Fragrances
It is important to note that even if you do not smell your own underarm odor, that it is easily noticed by others, especially females as they have an enhanced sense of smell compared to men. One particular study in Flavour and Fragrance Journal, led by Charles J. Wysocki, Ph.D. focused on just this. The team speculated that women are more biologically attuned to sweat, which helps women to find a mate.
In this particular study, men and women were asked to rate the strength of underarm odors, au naturelle and when certain fragrances were used. The study concluded that many fragrances blocked underarm odor from a male point of view, though women were able to smell underarm odor in almost every instance. The study also showed that women did not suffer from armpit odor as much as men and that it was easier to mask. Clearly men have more work to do.