Expert advice

Dr Caroline West: GP

Dr Caroline West combines her role in a busy inner-city general medical practice with presenting, producing and writing for a number of Australian television shows and magazines. ASK ME A QUESTION

Smelly skin

Monday, May 15, 2006
Odours coming through our skin are associated with sweating.

I am a 25-year-old woman and I am sometimes conscious of a smell emanating from my skin. I think other people may notice. It's almost as if I've eaten curry and my body is trying to get rid of it, even when I haven't. This is even if the odour from my underarms is fine. Is there anything I can do to alleviate it?

Although we are not always comfortable with it, all of us emit certain smells. While it's normal to have body odour of some kind (especially if you are sweating through exercise for example), if you notice that the type of smell you have has changed or you are sweating more, it's worthwhile chatting to your doctor about possible causes.

Odours coming through our skin are associated with sweating. It's not that the sweat itself usually smells, but it is the combination of sweat breaking down with skin bacteria. Mostly smell emanates from areas like our armpits, groin and feet because they are rich with a certain type of sweat gland. While there will be contributing factors to body odour that we can't change (our genes for example), there are many causes of body odour (BO) that are fully treatable.

Some triggers for BO to consider include foods (spicy foods, cumin, garlic, alcohol), diabetes, thyroid problems (an overactive thyroid causes excess sweating), anxiety and medication side effects. Once you have established the likely cause it is then possible to put together a plan to alleviate it. To work out the cause of your skin smell and possible treatments I suggest you have a check-up with your GP.

GettyAsk the expert: How do you know if you have glaucoma? GettyAsk the expert: Macular degeneration and diet How to beat the mid-afternoon slump Tiredness after glandular fever