A stinky body odour can be nauseating. Some people just emit a horrific stench when they perspire, and worse yet, they don’t know it!
I’ve walked into a smelly room umpteen times only to dash out again from the pong, especially when the class before mine is a heavy-duty cardio session that leaves the floor wet.
If you are a regular gym-goer, then you’d know that the ventilation in many studios is not exactly the best.
The smell is trapped in the area no matter how much air freshener or deodoriser is sprayed in the air.
Unfortunately, the blend of fragrance and body odour can be even more repelling. Or maybe I’m born with an extra-sensitive big nose that can sniff out all kinds of scents from a distance.
Sweating is a normal bodily function, but why do some people smell when they sweat or don’t bathe?
Years ago, I knew this pleasant young undergraduate who had just obtained a job at the library where I worked during my post-graduate days.
His body odour, I kid you not, could kill. And the trail of stench he left behind lingered for a good few hours. We immediately knew he had reported for work from whiffing the air!
My supervisor had to counsel him about getting a deodorant or antiperspirant.
At first, he was defensive because nobody had pointed his smell out.
But alas, no matter what deodorant he used, he still smelt bad.
The smell also worsened because he was so nervous coming to work and that got him all sweaty.
Eventually, my dear supervisor drove him to the store and got him the right fix.
We’re like skunks in that aspect.
Skunks are known for the stinky discharge from their anal glands, released primarily in self-defence in the form of a spray of oily liquid.
You can smell this noxious odour miles away. If left untreated, the smell of a skunk lasts anywhere from two weeks to a month.
Like our four-legged mammal friends, when humans are stressed, anxious or nervous, we tend to produce sweat.
Different sweat glands
Basically, we have two sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine.
The eccrine sweat glands secrete watery sweat to cool off the body, while the apocrine sweat glands secrete oily sweat.
This apocrine sweat is chock full of sebum, proteins, fatty acids and a special kind of carbohydrate that bacteria absolutely love to eat.
The by-product of this bacterial metabolism is body odour.
Apocrine sweat is the “smelly” sweat, also released as a fight-or-flight stress response, while eccrine sweat is almost completely odourless.
You would have probably noticed that different people emit different odours. Some smells you can withstand, but others can leave you sick.
That’s because we all have different amounts of bacteria on our skin, which produces different odours when they digest components of your sweat.
This explains why people smell good or bad, or are odourless.
Body odour starts when one reaches puberty, as this is when the apocrine sweat glands develop.
Sweat itself is odourless, but the moistness acts as a breeding ground for bacteria, which can make you stink.
Areas that are moist, warm, and usually dark, have the potential to smell bad. If there are no bacteria in this area, all is well.
But when bacteria set in and mix with sweat, they produce a smelly compound, transforming areas such as the armpits, navel, crotch and groin, from a neutral oasis into a reeking dumpsite.
Fret not, you can do something about it, but first you’ve got to be aware that you smell!
If you’re oblivious to your own odour, ask someone to let you know honestly. Or come see me!
Observe personal hygiene
Shower regularly, and scrub the darker, intimate areas – especially after a workout – to wash away sweat and reduce the bacteria on your skin.
If you tend to sweat excessively, use an anti-bacterial soap. Dry off completely before putting your deodorant (find one that suits you) and clothes on.
As for those soiled gym clothes, take them out of your bag once you reach home, and put it into the laundry pronto, instead of leaving the task for the weekend.
I can’t tell you how many students I know who keep their clothes in the locker and stink up the class from wearing the same attire for a week. Be considerate!
And remember to dry off your shoes too. If you can afford it, look for breathable training shoes with holes that allow perspiration to escape.
Use appropriate fabric
For sweaty workouts, try wearing clothes made of special wicking fabric or dry fit materials.
These draw sweat from the body and absorb it to keep you comfortable.
When there is less sweat on the skin, there is less potential for bacteria to accumulate.
Traditional nylon or polyester can hamper air flow and trap perspiration on your skin, which becomes a breeding ground for nasty smells.
Check your diet
Your sweat churns out different kinds of proteins, fatty acids and carbohydrates depending on your diet.
Certain foods release enzymes that become odorous when you sweat.
Foods like garlic, asparagus, durian, petai, onions, broccoli and cabbage can all cause your sweat to stink.
Hot, spicy foods, coffee and alcohol can also be contributing factors.
Try to minimise these foods the evening before your workout session.
I read somewhere that sprinkling your food with cloves, cinnamon or cardamom can influence your scent.
No harm trying as these spices have other beneficial properties too.
Reduce body hair
Indeed, hair doesn’t cause body odour, but it’s porous and absorbs sweat when you exercise.
Shave off hair in areas that are prone to get stinky during a workout.
Also, tie your hair up, which will leave you a little cooler.
Go with the urge
According to some researchers, holding in your urine or faeces will not only make you long for a bathroom, but can also make you smell bad.
Scientists found that in cases of severe constipation, toxins released by the digestive system may seep through the pores and release an odour.
In addition, the “ammonia” smell from a urinary tract infection can become so concentrated that the odour comes out through your pores as well.
Body odour can also be caused by certain medical conditions, so if you cannot get rid of the smell, seek medical advice.
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul.