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Why do my armpits smell?

 

Photo by USAG- Humphreys licensed CC BY 2.0

Do you smell that? I wonder if it could be… is it me? Do you ever get the stinking suspicion that you might smell after a game of hockey or a dance practice? Why do we all smell so much? And what in the world is causing all that stench?

Why do I sweat?

Close-up of girl sweating.
When the sweat leaves your glands it comes through the pores of your skin. Photo by St.steel licensed CC BY-NC-ND

Don’t sweat the small stuff, especially sweat! It happens to all of us, no matter our age. The human body likes to stay at a nice and warm temperature of 37º C. This is the temperature your body is most comfortable at, as decided by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus (basically the control centre for temperature in your brain).

But sometimes, your body works incredibly hard when you’re exercising! This can cause things to get a little heated on the inside. Since your body would rather stay at the same consistent temperature, it fights this extra heat by sweating to cool itself down.

 

Kids playing hockey.
You can sweat a lot when you do physical activity like playing hockey. (Lucky Business/Shutterstock)

What is armpit sweat?

There are two types of sweat. Most body sweat is made by your eccrine (say "ek-reen") sweat glands which can be found all over your body — anywhere there is skin, that is! So you can't sweat on your fingernails or eyeballs! This sweat is made up of mostly water and salt and has very little odour. The sweat leaves your glands and comes through the pores that are on your skin. When it makes contact with the air, it turns to vapour, and it’s that vapour that works to cool your body back down to its favourite temperature.

 

Kid in pool gives camera the thumbs up.
Armpit sweat is different than the rest of the sweat your body produces.  Photo by amslerPIX licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Armpit sweat is made by your apocrine (say "ap-oh-kreen") sweat glands. This sweat is made up of water and salt too but it also has body oils in it. The sweat from these glands exits out of hair follicles instead of skin pores and is a bit thicker and more oily than the sweat on the rest of your body. A lot of your body odour comes from bacteria feeding off the oils in the sweat in our armpits.

 

Young girl drinking a glass of water.
Make sure you drink lots of water even if you're not very active so you can stay hydrated. Shutterstock

If you’re sweating buckets and buckets, don’t forget to stay hydrated! Since sweat is mostly water, you could become dehydrated from sweating too much, so keep that water flowing and drink up!

Why does sweat smell?

Kids playing soccer on the field.

Did you know that sweat doesn’t actually smell? Crazy, right? It’s actually the sweat mixing with the bacteria that is all over your body that causes that odiferous stench! And when you reach puberty, the hormones in your body can have an effect on your sweat glands causing even more of a smell! Since our armpits are moist, warm and usually dark, they are the perfect place for bacteria to hang out and mix together with all that sweat. This is why they stink so much!

How can I prevent sweat smell?

Kid is applying deodorant.
When you get to a certain age, you may want to ask your parents about wearing deodorant. Photo by Kimberly K. licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Sweating is perfectly natural and nothing to be worried about. We all have body odour, but there are ways to cut down just how much sweat smell you produce.

  • Practice good hygiene — bathe regularly with soap and water.
  • Shower after sweaty activities — if you play sports or maybe just went for a hike, you'll probably be pretty sweaty.
  • Wear clean clothes — it might be your favourite pair of socks, but you should still wear fresh, clean clothes every day.
  • Talk to your grown-up about deodorant — if you think you're hitting puberty, it might be time to start thinking about using deodorant or antiperspirant to help keep the sweat away.

So remember, don’t sweat the small stuff; especially sweat!