JUL 27, 2016 7:17 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
DEC 16, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 16, 2019
Here's What Would Happen if the Earth Stopped Orbiting the Sun
The Earth orbits the Sun once every 365 days, or one full year. It does this while whizzing through the vacuum of space at break-neck speeds of up to 110,0...
JAN 15, 2020
Health & Medicine
JAN 15, 2020
The "Normal" Body Temperature Has Decreased
Did you know that the standard human body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit was established in 1868? A few modern studies have called this figure into...
JAN 22, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 22, 2020
Astronomers Have Found the Farthest Galaxy Group
An international team of astronomers funded in part by NASA has found the farthest galaxy group identified to date.  The trio of galaxies, called EGS7...
JAN 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 26, 2020
How Much Do You Know About the Planet Mercury?
Mercury is the solar system’s smallest planet, and it’s also the one residing closest to the Sun. But while Mercury is commonly shrugged off as...
FEB 10, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 10, 2020
Mudskippers Aren't Like Most Fish...
Most fish spend almost all of their lives in a body of water, be it the ocean or some smaller lake or stream. Mudskippers, on the other hand, are a unique...
FEB 17, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 17, 2020
How a Spider Builds its Web
Just about everyone has seen a spider web at some point in their life, but have you ever wondered how a spider builds such a strong and perfect web? The pr...
Loading Comments...