How Body Odor Works

Degrees of Body Odor

Because it's the sweat produced by apocrine glands that odor-causing bacteria enjoy eating, it follows that the fewer of these glands a person has, the less offending odor he or she produces. That's why pre-pubescent teens whose apocrine glands haven't yet been activated don't tend to have strong body odor. It's also why Asians, who have the fewest apocrine glands of any race, are known as the least-stinky people on Earth [source: Lynn]. In fact, body odor has been rumoured to be enough of a reason to keep Japanese men out of military service [source: Burr].

In the B.O. Olympics, people of European or African ancestry hold all the medals. And among those, the men take the gold. That's because women are more efficient regulators of their body temperatures than men and sweat less, needing body temperature that's a degree higher before they begin to perspire. One theory why this is so is because men carry greater degrees of fat and muscle which keeps their cores warm. Without this extra thickness, women have evolved to be able to pull heat-carrying blood in toward their cores as a preservation mechanism. Men also have a higher degree of testosterone which can up the production of apocrine sweat.

All that extra manly sweat leads to extra stink, which is a double-edged sword for women. According to a study conducted at the Monell Center in Philadelphia, women were more adept at picking up clues in male underarm odors which helps them determine biologically relevant data about their subjects such as the health of their immune systems. Yet the female nose was also harder to trick when it came to disguising male aroma beneath other fragrances [source: Wysocki].

Not only do individual races and sexes produce body odors differently, there's a disparity in the way people throughout history and in various societies perceive human fumes. For example, members of a tribe in New Guinea say goodbye to each other by placing their hands under each other's armpits so that they can take a little of their tribemates home. Historically, in parts of the Austrian Tyrol, young men would dance with a handkerchief under their arms and then wave it under the nose of a woman in whom they were interested. In Elizabethan times, lovers would stay "in touch" by exchanging peeled apples which had been soaked in armpit sweat before the lovebirds split company.

The food eaten in various cultures can also have an impact on the personal incense released into the air through our eccrine glands. That's why Indian body odor can have notes of curry, and members of cultures that consume copious amounts of garlic can begin to smell like "stinking roses" themselves. Other foods that can impact body odor include red meat, onions and asparagus. Of course foods that make the body sweat such as caffeine, chilis and alcohol can also contribute to the pungent perfume that is you.

So what to do about all of this Eau de Monsieur e Madame? Find out in the next section.