5 Things in Your Sweat That Make You Stink

Your Skin
Our skin may generate as many as 100 different volatile organic compounds. clownbusiness/iStock/Thinkstock

Although not a component of sweat, what's on your skin is also responsible for why you smell. In fact, there are 100 different volatile organic compounds on human skin, the largest organ on your body. One is benzothiazole, a smelly sulfur compound often used as a food additive. Scent scientists suspect that the concentration of these compounds varies with age. [sources: Ara et al., Monell Center].

Beyond the science of stink, eventually all those VOCs emanating from skin may signal health problems, if we develop the technology to detect them.

Author's Note: 5 Things in Your Sweat That Make You Stink

Researchers in Madrid are working on ways to use a person's body odor as a biometric tool for personal identification. They say every person has a recognizable pattern of body odor. For the record, I didn't have to be a Spanish scientist or have some fancy biometric mechanism to know when my friend Pat walked into the room.

Related Articles


  • Andersen, Charlotte Hilton, "Do You Smell? 10 Sneaky Sources of Body Odor." Shape. May 31, 2012. (April 17, 2014) http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/do-you-smell-10-sneaky-sources-body-odor
  • Ara K. et al. "Foot odor due to microbial metabolism and its control." Canadian Journal of Microbiology. April 2006. (April 17, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16699586
  • Araneda, Ricardo C.; Firestein, Stuart. "The scents of androstenone in humans." The Journal of Physiology. Jan. 1, 2004. (April 17, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1664751/#b3
  • Dumas, Elizabeth R. et al. "Deodorant effects of a supercritical hops extract: antibacterial activity against Corynebacterium xerosis and Staphylococcus epidermidis and efficacy testing of a hops/zinc ricinoleate stick in humans through the sensory evaluation of axillary deodorancy." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. September 2009. (April 18, 2014) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1473-2165.2009.00449.x/abstract
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Human skin." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. 2014. (April 23, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/547591/human-skin
  • Likness, Jeremy. "What is that Ammonia Smell?" Bodybuilding.com. Sept. 2, 2003. (April 17, 2014) http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/ammonia.htm
  • Monell Center. "Researchers Discover Scent of Skin Cancer." Aug. 28, 2008. (April 25, 2014). http://www.monell.org/news/news_releases/skin_cancer_odor
  • Virtual Medical Centre. "Sweat (Perspiration)." (April 17, 2014) http://www.myvmc.com/anatomy/sweating-perspiration/
  • Yamazaki, Sadhiko; Hoshino Kunihide, Kusuhara, Masatoshi. "Odor Associated With Aging." Japanese Society of Anti-Aging Medicine. May 11, 2010. (April 17, 2014) http://www.anti-aging.gr.jp/english/pdf/2010/7_6_6065_0510.pdf


10 Conditions That Make People Sweat Too Much

10 Conditions That Make People Sweat Too Much

What if you're sweating and you're not exercising or experiencing hot weather? Learn what conditions can make you sweat too much at HowStuffWorks.