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In Spring 2019, arfa organized focus groups to learn how people feel about sweat and sweating, and body odor emerged as a notable source of shame. In fact, some people told us that body odor is shameful because it implies lack of hygiene. But as it turns out, how your body smells has various causes that are all unrelated to bathing, and there is no medical evidence supporting the idea that everyday scent is a symptom of disease or poor health.
Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, says body odor varies from person to person, and, in most cases, is caused by sweat interacting with the natural bacteria on our skin and foods we consume — not skipping a shower or forgetting to apply deodorant. “Sweating naturally is odorless and the use of deodorants and regular washing is more of a cultural phenomenon than a necessity,” he says matter-of-factly, adding: “Despite what some might think, it is not medically necessary to bathe every day.” That being said, he notes that if your personal preference is to manage body odor, then cleansing areas where you tend to sweat more can help.
Case in point? If you don’t shower every day, no big deal — it’s not going to be the sole reason you get B.O. But, that’s not to say you should forego bathing altogether, because as Zeichner points out, it can be beneficial when it comes to removing the surplus of sweat and bacteria that cause body odor. That, and according to dermatologist Adam Friedman, not bathing regularly can facilitate the overgrowth of dirt and bacteria that lead to certain smells. Nevertheless, having a natural odor does not, by any means, mean that you are unhealthy.
Believe it or not, you could be eating a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, and brussels sprouts — and produce noticeable odor. According to Zeichner, this happens because these foods contain high levels of sulfur, which, when released into the sweat after you digest them, can alter your body’s natural scent. Garlic and onions, both of which have lots of health benefits, are causes of body odor. “Eating these foods can change the smell of your sweat because they release odorous compounds when they’re metabolized by the body,” explains dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology, Sejal Shah.
So, while body odor is not caused by lack of hygiene, bathing does help remove the odor-causing buildup of (harmless) bacteria that accumulate on our skin when we sweat. As the experts explained above, body odor is influenced by a number of non-hygiene-related factors, including sweating, certain foods we eat, genetics, and even some medications and chronic conditions.
The bottom line: body odor is completely normal, even for people who shower every single day, and it is not something to be ashamed of.