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What Are the Common Causes of Female Body Odor?

Excessive sweating, especially in the underarm , is often the cause of body odor.
A healthy diet can improve body odor.
Roll-on deodorant.
Body odor, like bad breath, can be a sign of poor personal hygiene in women.
Showering with soap and water helps prevent female body odor.
Body sprays may help reduce female body odor.
Using anti-fungal foot cream can help alleviate foot odor for some women.
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  • Originally Written By: Alex Tree
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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Women typically experience body odor concentrated in their underarms, their genitalia, and their feet. All three of these places have a tendency to be moist, which allows odor-causing bacteria to grow and multiply. Ordinary sweat is usually to blame, but some women have hormonal imbalances or other medical conditions that make excessive perspiration more likely. Odor also tends to be more noticeable in women with poor hygiene and unhealthy diets. In most cases regularly bathing and using products like deodorant and anti-fungal foot cream can prevent problems, but medical intervention is sometimes necessary.

Sweat

Human sweat glands are located throughout the body, but tend to be most noticeable, at least where smell is concerned, in moist environments that are more or less closed off to regular air flow. Female body odor from sweat tends to originate in the underarms and the groin; sometimes the feet, too, particularly when women have been wearing tight-fitting shoes or shoes without socks.

Perspiration has a recognizable pungent smell that many biologists believe is a part of human’s evolutionary heritage. A range of over-the-counter products have been manufactured specifically to mask or stop the smell of sweat. Deodorants are the most popular, and tend to come in the form of roll-on solids, gels, or sprays. These are usually intended to cover the smell of sweat, but don’t normally decrease the amount of sweat that is present.

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People who perspire a lot often find that ordinary deodorants aren’t enough to control either the smell or amount of their sweat. In these cases, products labeled antiperspirant may be a better option. Antiperspirants actually stop the sweat from forming in the first place by blocking pores or temporarily disabling the sweat glands.

Bacterial Growth

A different sort of odor can happen when bacteria begin to grow out of mucus or sweat-based secretions, which is most common in a woman’s vagina and feet. Vaginal secretions are a normal part of reproductive health, but they often create an ideal breeding ground for odor-causing bacterial strains, and when these multiply, women can find that their genitals are releasing a foul, sour smell. The same thing happens with sweaty feet. The sweat gets trapped between the foot and the shoe, creating a moist and steamy environment where odors can grow and thrive.

One of the easiest ways for women to reduce this sort of odor is to make sure that these areas stay mostly dry. Wearing cotton socks and underwear is often a good place to start, particularly when these are changed every few hours or after they start to feel damp. Exposing the areas to regular airflow can also be beneficial. With feet this often means going barefoot for at least a portion of each day; for vaginal secretions, sleeping without underwear can sometimes help.

Hormonal Imbalances

Body odor can also be caused by imbalances in a woman’s hormone level. Hormones, which are chemicals in the body that impact everything from emotions to sexual attraction, are constantly in flux, and can play a role in sweat and other bodily secretions. A woman with a chemical imbalance may experience odd odors or unusual sweat until things stabilize. The effects are often the most noticeable in the days leading up to the menstrual cycle when hormones tend to fluctuate somewhat dramatically, though certain medical conditions and some prescription drugs can make unpleasant odors more noticeable. Women who are concerned about odors or who are worried that they might have a chemical imbalance are usually encouraged to talk to their doctors. Certain medications and lifestyle changes can help keep things balanced and keep odors and secretions under control.

Poor Hygiene

Smelliness may also be a factor of poor hygiene. Women who don’t bathe or shower frequently can experience compounded sweat and bacteria on their skin and mucus membranes. How often a person needs to bathe varies from person to person, though washing up after strenuous activity, sweat from warm temperatures, or time in sticky, messy environments is typically considered a minimum. Wearing freshly laundered clothes can also help.

Women who don’t brush their teeth or only brush infrequently may also experience body odor in the form of bad breath, which is known medically as halitosis. This is usually caused by bacteria that have multiplied in the moist spaces of the throat and gum beds. In minor cases toothpaste and mouthwash can cure the problem, but specialized medications may be required when the problem has been going on for some time.

Diet

The specific foods a person eats can also cause changes in body odor, often making things seem more pungent. Women who consume a lot of caffeine or alcohol often complain of excessive sweating, for instance, which can lead to bad body odor if left untreated by deodorants or antiperspirants. Foods that are fried or high in saturated fats can also impact the smell of sweat and other secretions, and eating large amounts of pungent foods like garlic, cabbage, or onions can sometimes cause smelliness, too. Experts usually recommend that women eat a varied diet with a balance of fruits and vegetables, grains, and proteins to avoid this and other problems.

Medical Solutions

Not all female body odor can be treated with changes to hygiene, diet, or lifestyle. Some medical conditions cause bad smells that are difficult to control, and women who have overactive sweat glands may not be able to control their sweat with regular self-care products. Healthcare experts may be able to help in these cases. Sweat glands can often be temporarily paralyzed or disabled with certain injections, for instance, and prescription-strength deodorants and antiperspirants are available though many doctors. Pharmaceutical drugs are often used to balance hormones, and specialized creams for both the genitals and the feet can control bacterial growth and prevent infections and outbreaks.

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Discuss this Article

anon346425
Post 13

"That sounds racist saying "inner city kids." You could have just said youth that you come across. How dare you."

Really? The fact that sounds racist to you is actually racist in and of itself. I, too, work with "inner city youth" and that is as much about location as anything else. So then in your thinking, the reverse would have to be true as well: if someone says "kids in the suburbs," would you see a definite color in mind as well? What you have done is classic stereotyping, and being guilty of exactly what you accuse this post-er of doing! Do race relations a favor and keep that thought to yourself. And for the original author, thanks for working with kids (any kids!) and trying to make a difference!

anon345191
Post 12

That sounds racist saying "inner city kids." You could have just said youth that you come across. How dare you.

amypollick
Post 9

@anon310679: As the article says, try wearing cotton panties, to start with. Second, I suspect the odor isn't as strong as it seems like it is. It seems strong to you because you notice it. I doubt anyone else does, though.

However, there are a few things you can do. Baking soda absorbs odor and it's cheap, so try patting it on your inner thighs and sprinkling it on the outside crotch of your panties. Sea Breeze for sensitive skin is also good for this, but it will sting. However, if you just use it on your inner thighs, it will help the odor, because it can kill bacteria.

Also, try using an oatmeal-based soap, like Aveeno, or the store brand. These help soothe the skin and also help with odor.

If it continues to be really bad, or if you're having intense itching or discharge, see a doctor. You could have a yeast infection.

anon310679
Post 8

I have an odor in my crotch in between my inner legs and my camel toe. It's gross. How do I stop it? I wash daily and spray with Eve and baby powder it and it doesn't help. Please someone help me. I sweat there a lot, too.

anon295060
Post 7

@seHiro: Please do not use triclosan antibacterial products. Research their health hazards, too. You can rub baking soda under your armpits, using it like body powder. It will create a pH environment so bacteria cannot thrive as quickly. Drinking water with lemon or apple cider vinegar in it (doesn't take much) will also change your body pH enough to prevent bacterial growth conditions. Research body acidity to see why this is important and may help you.

anon291530
Post 6

@sehiro: Use baking soda. Pat it under your arms. It'll help.

aishia
Post 5

@VivAnne: There are actually quite a few foods that can increase body odor. As a general rule, "stinky" or pungent foods tend to make your body odor worse, too. For example, anything that gives you bad breath also increases odor. Eating fish will make you smell fishy. Eating garlic will make you smell garlicky.

This happens because these foods have such strong odors in their makeup that when you eat them and their oils get carried through your body, even in the broken-down forms they're in when they leave your body through your lungs and pores they smell strongly. That makes your breath and sweat smell, too.

Here's some specific foods to avoid: garlic, onions, vinegar, red meat, caffeinated anything (it makes you sweat more). Hope that's helpful for you!

VivAnne
Post 4

Wow, okay, I had no idea food had anything to do with body odor!

Growing up I would ask my mom what to do about body odor and she would tell me I needed better hygiene and should wash up better. When I told her I was washing up really thoroughly, she said I must not be putting my deodorant on right, or putting enough on, or something. It might have been what I was eating and not my fault!

The article mentions a few foods and drinks, like caffeine and alcohol, but doesn't really tell me much about the food-related part of the problem, so I figured I'd ask on here. Does anybody know specifically which foods make body odor worse? I need to know so I can avoid them. Thanks!

seHiro
Post 3

@SkittisH: I've got really strong body odor, too, but I refuse to use most deodorants because they contain aluminum. Aluminum's been tracked to breast cancer and lymph cancer (a big bundle of lymph nodes is located in each of your underarms.)

What all this means is that I can't wear deodorant, and even though I wash up three times per day, all it takes is for me to sweat even for five minutes and I'll start to smell. It's bad, and I wish I could do something about it.

Since the odor is caused by bacteria, do you think putting anti-bacterial hand cleanser or alcohol cleanser on my underarms would help? That doesn't have aluminum, at least.

SkittisH
Post 2

@SarahSon: As a woman who has strong body odor, let me say thank you for what you're doing! High school would have been so much easier to handle awkwardness-wise if I didn't have such strong body odor.

I used to think that I just needed to wash up frequently, but eventually figured out that only super-strength deodorant seems to work for me. I use 24-hour strength deodorant, and it does actually last all day.

For anybody reading this who is struggling with strong body odor, don't give up if your deodorant doesn't seem to work. There are tons of different kinds, and you might have to try half a dozen before you find one that works, but once you do you can just keep buying that one and the body odor problem is solved.

If you're struggling the way I was in high school, you know it's worth it!

SarahSon
Post 1

I work with some inner city kids on a regular basis and have had to address this issue more than once.

There is no easy way to go about this, but sometimes it has to be done. Many of them are not taught proper hygiene and about the time they are in junior high, they really need to be wearing some deodorant on a regular basis.

It doesn't matter if it is just one girl in the room or many of them, the underarm odor can become very strong.

For me, a bottle of deodorant doesn't cost much, so I have found the easiest way to approach this is as a group. I have a bottle for each of them to take home and use and this usually makes a big difference.

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