Armpit Odor

What is Armpit Odor?

Armpit Odor is the most common form of body odor. It is the unpleasant smell linked to stale perspiration under the arms. When the perspiration is exposed to the atmosphere, chemical changes happen. That is a sure sign that bacteria on the surface of the skin is processing the perspiration.

This results in odor, though initially the perspiration is odorless. Armpit odor is not truly the smell of perspiration as commonly assumed. The human body actually produces odorless sweat.  It is in fact the chemical changes caused by the bacteria while they break down the protein into acids which is the origin of the armpit odor. It is the waste products from the bacteria.

An average person has about 3-4 million sweat glands in the body to secrete  perspiration. These can be classified into two types:

  • Eccrine Glands — These glands are the source for most perspiration. They secrete salts and water that reach the skin through coiled ducts or tubes when the nervous system senses the body heat. These glands are responsible for controlling the body temperature. The sweat produced by these glands is high in salt content. Bacteria finds it harder to breakdown than the proteins.
  • Apocrine Glands — These glands secrete sweat through hair follicles which are present in large numbers in armpits. The sweat secreted by these glands contains organic substance (fatty substance) also known as sebum. The sweat contains high amounts of protein which the bacteria finds easier to digest. The breaking down of protein in sweat by the bacteria present on the armpit results in underarm odor. Thus, it can be assumed that the apocrine glands are more responsible for the armpit body odor.

The Smelly armpit usually starts being evident when reaching puberty. At this time,  the apocrine glands begin to develop at the age of 13 to 15.  However, even in children, armpit odor is noticed in case of hyperhydrosis(excessive sweating). The only symptom for armpit odor is the unpleasant smell given out by the body.

Causes of Armpit Odor

The bacterial processes of breaking down proteins into acids results in the foul smell from underarms. More than 30 chemicals  contribute to body odor, the main one being 3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid.

What Causes Armpit Odor:

  • Sweating is the main cause for body odor as it contains organic substances and the bacteria present on the skin surface start breaking these down into acids. Excessive bacteria present in the underarms causes the odor. Poor hygienic habits result in foul smelling armpits.
  • Intake of spicy foods involving garlic, onions, curries also result in temporary change in smell. Deficiency of zinc, toxins and cavities along with other dietary imbalances bring alterations in the natural body smell.
  • Stress and anxiety, at times, result in underarm odor since the body sweats profusely in case of stress.
  • Armpit odor can be hereditary as family members are generally found to have related smells.
  • Diseases like kidney or liver illness and diabetes are also among armpit odor causes. Liver patients smell like ammonia in case of armpit odor while diabetics smell similar to a nail polish.
  • Taking strong medicines can affect the body smell at times. Individuals taking drugs and toxins like pericyasine and topiramate also complain about smelly armpits.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, skin problems, bacterial growth, fungal infection, fever and prolonged infections are some of the causes of armpit odor.
armpit odor
armpit odor

Armpit odor in women is noticed following menopause as excessive sweating is noticed during this period.

Armpit odor in men is stronger,particularly if they are more physically active than women.

Personal habits like tobacco, smoking, alcohol and caffeine also cause underarm odor.

Good hygiene involves not just maintaining a clean body but also good clean clothes. Fabrics like cotton can easily absorb foul odors. Non-breathing fabrics cause more sweating and also prevent the perspiration from evaporating thereby increasing the smell.

Additional causes for the foul smell in perspiration include:

  • Decrease in male hormones’ levels,
  • low blood sugar,
  • weak metabolism and
  • hyperthyroidism.

Armpit Odor Treatment

Being unbearable at times and   sometimes a cause of embarrassment, people with foul-smelling underarms keep wondering on how to get rid of armpit odor.  Given below are a few armpit odor remedies and ways to minimize the bad smell:

  • To avoid odor, the underarms should be washed regularly with anti-bacterial soap to keep the number of bacteria minimum.
  • Take a shower or bath at least once a day.
  • Warm water is quite effective in killing bacteria present on the skin and thus stop armpit odor.
  • Armpits should be shaved regularly as the hair prevents evaporation of sweat.
  • Deodorants help to eliminate armpit odor by making the skin more acidic. This reduces bacterial activity.
  • Antiperspirants work by blocking the sweat glands and thereby resulting in less perspiration. However, excessive use of deodorants and antiperspirants should be avoided as these can cause breast cancer or prostate cancer.
  • Natural fibers like cotton, wool and silk allow the skin to breathe and help with evaporation of sweat.
  • Spicy foods like garlic, curry and also red meat has the potential to generate more unpleasant sweaty odors.
  • A suitable drug that contains aluminum chloride can be prescribed by the doctors to help reduce armpit odor.

One extreme approach to excessive armpit odors is to treat the patient with Botox injections in the armpits. About 12 injections are used in this procedure. The procedure requires about 45 minutes. This toxin helps reduce perspiration by blocking the signals from the brain to underarm sweat glands.  There are also risks with stopping perspiration in the armpits. It may simply result in excessive sweating somewhere else on the body. [4]

Home Remedies for Armpit Odor

  • A dusting of baking soda creates an alkaline surface which results in temporary reduction of armpit odor.
  • Dusting with baby powder or cornstarch helps to keep the underarms dry.
  • Bauxite crystals effectively control armpit odor. [5 ]
  • Tea tree essential oil, even a few drops diffused in water, has anti-bacterial properties and will reduce armpit odor.  [6]
  • Watch your diet. Reduce caffeine. Take chlorophyll, either as tablets, liquid or as leafy greens.[8]
  • Sage or rosemary herbal teas can also reduce armpit odor.[7]
  • The juice of radishes or turnips are also helpful when applied externally. [7]

Prevention of Armpit Odor

Most of the cases of unpleasant smelling underarms are related to hygiene. Therefore, cultivating clean habits work almost every time in fighting body odor.  Never hesitate to consult a doctor if the underarm stench persists as the home remedies for armpit odor may not always work.  The excessive odor may be a sign of some other disorder in your system.

Research on Armpit Odor

Understanding there are risks in preventing perspiration, researchers are studying the molecular interactions within and among the bacteria colonies present on the skin. They examine how to intervene with the conversion to noxious odors. [8] In addition, some research has shown genetic and ethnic origins for excessive sweating. Asians have less perspiration overall.  [9]




  1. uuree August 4, 2010
  2. Diet man August 19, 2010

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.