Why does my perspiration smell sour?

Written by tom lutzenberger
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Why does my perspiration smell sour?
Physical exertion and high temperatures can cause sweat. (loading up image by Pix by Marti from Fotolia.com)

Perspiration can be nasty business. It smells, feels dirty, and generally makes people want to wash it off. That said, perspiration provides an important cooling function for our bodies. Without it, we would quickly overheat, which would cause serious health problems. Sweat can have a sour smell, but it is a natural, normal function in our bodies.

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How Sweating Works

Sweating is a natural function in the human body, and performs a number of functions. The first function is to cool the body down when it is heating up. A temperature rise may occur due to outside temperature, physical exertion, or an internal reaction that raises the core body temperature. The second function is to provide a secondary system that removes toxins through the skin. Unfortunately, once the moisture and by-product gets above the skin, the catalyst for smell begins.

The specific culprit involved is a body-produced acid. This acid can be found in various sweat areas, and it exists in the sweat ducts and glands of people of all ages. As a result, the vinegar or sour smell comes from the presence of this acid when it makes contact with the air and dries on the skin.

The other instigator is bacteria. Once sweat reaches the skin, it provides a fertile food source for bacteria living on the skin. As the bacteria feeds, it gives off a by-product that creates the bad smelling body odour.

Who has the Smell

Almost nine out of every 10 men and seven out of 10 women have the smell-producing bacteria present in the armpit area. Women are more prone than men to sensing when they smell from sweat. It is speculated that the brain ignores smells from its own body, more so in men than women. Unfortunately, ignorance is not an answer to the problem of a sour smell.

Different Smell-Producing Locations

There are two types of glands that produce sweat in the body: the eccrine and apoeccrine glands. Eccrine glands are not regional; they are found all over the human body and are part of the internal cooling system. The eccrine glands are also involved in producing the sweat smell. Exertion, temperature and diet can affect the intensity of smell associated with the acid and bacteria feeding off of eccrine gland sweat.

The apoeccrine glands are located in specific areas found in the armpits, under the breasts, and the groin region. These also contribute to sweat smell, but the product is more specific to each person and begins in the teenage years. The sweat product and smell in these regions can be produced by the usual exertion causes, but also by stress and adrenalin bursts.

Sour Smell Intensity

The intensity of the sour smell of perspiration depends on how much body acid is included in the sweat product. Depending on the mix, perspiration and bacteria can smell musky or can smell more like old urine. The older it gets, the more the bacteria grows on the skin and the smell gets worse.

Keeping the Smell Away

Daily bathing and cleaning, particularly when physically active or stressed, are the best ways to reduce sour-smelling perspiration. Scrubbing the known regions of sweat with soap reduces bacteria population and smell production. Diet provides another opportunity of smell control. Try to avoid foods that will produce smells, like garlic, heavy spices and red meats.

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