JUL 27, 2016 07:17 AM PDT

Why Do We Smell Bad When Sweat is Odorless?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Despite the most adamant testament to the contrary, we all smell (though some more pungent than others). Body odor is simply a natural part of being a mammal (thank goodness for soaps and deodorants!).

Curiously enough, though sweat is usually blamed for body odor, sweat itself is odorless. The cause of unpleasant odors result from the skin bacteria metabolizing the sweat into compounds that have scents. Thus how we smell depends on many factors: how much sweat is produced, the types of bacteria living on our skin, the foods we eat, and the medications we take.

But despite the most rigorous hygiene routine, sometimes bad body odor can't be helped. In the most extreme case, a genetic condition known as trimethylaminuria, or fish odor syndrome, causes people to give off an offensive smell of rotting fish in their urine, sweat, and breath. Though dietary restrictions and use of acid soaps and lotions help the odor, there are no real remedies that can completely mask the fish smell.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 17, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 17, 2019
These Birds Mate for Life
Meet the Picathartes, a bird species that resides in the Congo and has done such for more than 44 million years. These birds mate for life, and in order fo...
NOV 17, 2019
Earth & The Environment
NOV 17, 2019
Greenland's Summer Melt Helps Scientists Track Sea Level Rise
This summer, the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced a significant melting event not seen since 2002, mainly due to the heatwave that swept through most of Eur...
NOV 17, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 17, 2019
SpaceX Will Need to Demonstrate a Dragon Capsule Abort for NASA
NASA’s Commercial Crew initiative enabled third-party contractors such as Boeing and SpaceX to develop platforms that may be used in future crewed mi...
NOV 17, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 17, 2019
Mars 2020 Rover Carries Full Weight on Wheels for First Time
NASA has been working on an advanced successor to the Martian Curiosity rover for quite some time. Dubbed the Mars 2020 rover, the upgraded SUV-sized auton...
NOV 17, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 17, 2019
Even Seabirds in Remote Regions Are Impacted by Climate Change
Antarctic albatrosses are one of the world’s most distinguishable seabirds, and if you didn’t already know, they rely on the strong breezes tha...
NOV 17, 2019
Health & Medicine
NOV 17, 2019
Antibiotic Resistance by the Numbers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released its latest Antibiotic Threats in the United States report, which is summarized in the vi...
Loading Comments...