Body Odor—a Sensitive Subject
My nephew, unfortunately, has quite strong body odor. He is a lovely youngster, but close up he smells. I am reluctant to say anything, but I know he reads this column, and I thought perhaps you could outline the problem and its remedy. What causes it, and how can it be prevented?
Body odor is a big problem when there is not sufficient water for a person to wash regularly. Most of our readers live where they have running water and probably use more than they should, but there are people for whom abundant clean water is a real luxury. When water is not readily available, bathing may be more of a wipe-down than a shower or a soak in a tub.
Body odor is a rather pungent, slightly acrid smell created by bacteria that live on our skin. The bacteria flourish when there is a buildup of moisture. The consequent growth of odor-producing bacteria when our skin is moist occurs when we have been sweating.
Warm weather, heavy work, or even being heavily clothed for cold weather without having sweat dry fosters the growth of such bacteria. Many people are quite unaware of their problem. Like halitosis, or “bad breath,” body odor is a problem that people do not discuss, but notice. Clothing, particularly undergarments, soak up sweat and odor-causing chemicals, adding to the problem.
This is a sensitive topic, and we are responding because it is easier for people to read a column like ours than to be told by others that they smell bad. It is helpful for parents to teach their youngsters about body odor, especially as it becomes a greater problem during adolescence. The best prevention is to produce good soap-and-water lather, especially in the armpit and groin areas, then thoroughly rinse away the lather and accompanying debris.
Many purchase deodorant preparations, but odor persists unless regular bathing occurs. Should the climate be warm or the occupation involve heavy labor, an antiperspirant will be found to work better than a deodorant. We recommend the avoidance of highly perfumed products, as they may be offensive to others. Success in stopping the production of abundant perspiration reduces the ability of the bacteria to grow, but cleansing is imperative.
Washcloths, like dishcloths, may become bacteria-laden, and they themselves need frequent washing or even sterilization with hot water. A minute in the microwave oven also has been shown to sterilize a wet cloth. Underwear should be changed daily, as it soaks up much of the body’s perspiration. Outerwear also requires frequent laundering.
Kids at college often spray their clothes with a fabric freshener, but cleanliness, not cover-up, is what one should aim for. Sometimes people are too concerned about body odors and become obsessive about washing, etc. As always, balance is important.
Parents should be aware of this problem and kindly but firmly teach their youngsters about these matters, because peers can be very unkind. If your relationship with your brother or sister is a good one, sharing your concern might help; but we have written this piece so there can be a third-party raising of awareness rather than a specific pointed approach.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.