The Science of Body Odor

The human body is an amazing, complex machine. It is comprised of a multitude of cells to form tissues and organs, all to create a beautiful system capable of homeostasis and sustainability. One example of homeostasis is the ability of thermoregulation, or the regulation of body temperature. For humans, the primary way thermoregulation happens comes in the form of sweat. Sweating usually gets a bad reputation for causing body odor, but sweat alone is only one contributing factor to smelling awful. Understanding the science behind why body odor happens is the first step in utilizing odor control technology in clothing and other products.

What Causes Body Odor?

There are two main elements that make up body odor. As mentioned, sweat (secretion from sweat glands) is the first component. The human body can produce a lot of sweat, up to 10 liters per day if exercising. Sweat is not just water. It contains a variety of organic matter secreted from our sweat glands. There are two types of sweat glands, eccrine and apocrine glands. The eccrine glands are all over the body, and along with water and electrolytes will expel amino acids, proteins and sugars. The apocrine glands are associated with hair follicles and are located in certain parts of the body, like armpits. The apocrine glands secrete a variety of lipids, fatty acids and oils. The organic matter produced by these glands are the precursors to body odor.

The second element of body odor is bacterial skin flora. The body is covered from head to toe with bacteria. This flora contains a variety of Gram positive and Gram negative organisms. Certain bacteria can break down organic compounds into volatile chemical compounds that make up the characteristic aroma of body odor. Corynebacterium, for example, is lipophilic and will break down lipids to create smaller molecules linked to the unpleasant smell of body odor.

Other factors, like lifestyle, sex, and genetics can influence body odor, but sweat and skin flora are the two main contributors. Many of the byproducts of bacterial metabolism of fatty acids, lipids and amino acids have a very low odor threshold. This means that just the tiniest amount will give off a big odor. At Microban, our odor control technology prevents and captures the unpleasant body odors across a wide array of products without negatively impacting the hand and moisture management properties of the fabric. 

Contact us today if you would like to learn more about how to combat these unpleasant body odors.