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Smelly Armpits - Causes, Prevention, and Cure

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Armpits smell due to the release of thioalcohol by the bacteria on the skin and not due to the sweat. Read more on how to prevent smelly armpits.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sugandh Garg

Published At September 20, 2023
Reviewed AtSeptember 20, 2023


Most people are victims of smelly armpits and are always feel conscious of them. Body odor or malodorous armpits are not technically a medical concern. However, smelly armpits are a sign of being unhygienic. One can take steps to minimize the armpit odor and ease the anxiety that comes along with it. It is important to notice any changes in the body odor as it could be indicative of an underlying medical condition like diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and so on.

Why Do Armpits Smell?

Body odor is a common phenomenon and a by-product of the bacteria breaking down into proteins present in sweat. It is important to understand that sweat is odorless, and it is due to this breaking down process that the body has an odor. Sweating is necessary and an important function of the body as it helps the body to cool down. Sweat glands throughout the body are also present in the armpits. The eccrine and apocrine glands are the two essential types of sweat glands present in the body.

  • Eccrine Glands - These glands directly open on the skin’s surface.

  • Apocrine Glands - These are present in those areas of the body that contain a lot of hair follicles, like the groin and armpits. These glands do not open into the skin surface but rather open into the hair follicle.

Here are some reasons why armpits smell:

  • Bacteria Causing Odour - Eccrine glands open to release sweat and cool the body down when the body heats up. For example, during exercise or heavy body workouts. This is odorless. However, when the bacteria come in contact with the sweat it causes the body, especially the armpits, to smell. Apocrine glands usually work to release body fluids when the body is under stress. When this fluid comes in contact with the bacteria on the skin, the body begins to smell. However, apocrine glands begin to work after puberty and that is when people are more concerned about their body odor.

  • Release of Thioalcohols - Researchers show the enzyme called C-T lyase, found in Staphylococcus hominins (bacteria), resides in the human armpits. These bacteria feed the contents released in the sweat fluids, which the enzyme converts into thioalcohol. The release of thioalcohol thus gives the odor a pungent smell.

  • Food and Drinks - The foods and drinks consumed also affect body odor. Certain foods rich in sulfur can increase malodor.

  • Medications - Certain medications can cause the eccrine glands to give a malodor.

  • Hyperhidrosis - Sweating is a normal physiologic process of the body. However, some people might experience excess sweating in comparison to others. This condition is called hyperhidrosis. Individuals with hyperhidrosis sweat from their hands, feet, and armpits excessively.

  • Skin Infections - Certain skin infections, either due to an existing condition or an acquired one, can also cause a sudden smell at the site of the infection. For example, skin infection affects the armpit areas. Skin infections like trichomycosis axillaries, erythrasma (bacterial skin infection), intertrigo (rashes), and fungal infections of the skin can cause the armpits to smell.

Yes, bacteria causing malodor are the main reasons for smelling armpits. Sweating is a normal physiologic process of the body that is odorless. However, sweat fluids coming in contact with the bacteria present on the skin cause the body to smell. Antiperspirants help to reduce the amount of sweat temporarily from the body by blocking the pores that release sweat. However, using over-the-counter deodorants and perfumes may overpower the malodor and help reduce the malodor but is not a permanent solution. Deodorants stop sweat from smelling but do not help to block the sweat. Hence, it is very important to keep the bacteria-causing malodor in control to prevent smelly armpits.

What Is the Treatment for Smelly Armpits?

Using over-the-counter deodorants and perfumes may not prove to be very effective for some individuals, especially for people with hyperhidrosis. In such cases, dermatologists may recommend different deodorants, antiperspirants, or Botox injections. One should see a dermatologist or a doctor if they experience the following:

  • Excessive sweating at night.

  • Sweating excessively even when at rest or when not performing any strenuous activity.

  • Experiencing cold sweats.

  • Sweating and smelling armpits to a point it starts bothering and interfering with social and daily life.

The following are some treatment options for smelly armpits:

  • Deodorants and Antiperspirants - Doctors often prescribe deodorants containing aluminum chloride. Aluminum chloride is absorbed into the skin and reduces the amount of sweat.

  • Botox Injections - One of the many uses of Botox other than reducing wrinkles on the face and other such aesthetic applications reducing body odor is one of them. Botox injections can decrease both sweating as well as body odor. Doctors usually prescribe Botox injections for individuals with hyperhidrosis as a standard treatment option. Though Botox may also not be a permanent solution and its effects last only for a few months, individuals may need frequently repeated procedures.

  • Surgery - Surgery is usually the last resort for smelly armpits. Doctors may recommend surgery when other options fail to show the desired results. Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is a surgical procedure to sever the sweat-controlling nerves below the skin in the armpit areas. However, there might also be a risk of damage to other nerves and arteries. Studies showed more than 90 percent of the people who underwent surgery received improved quality of life after the procedure and were able to get rid of smelly armpits.

Can Smelly Armpits Be Prevented?

Yes, smelly armpits can be prevented by taking the following measures:

  • Maintaining Hygiene - Taking daily showers with soap, especially after exercising activities or heavy workouts, can prevent body malodor. Regularly cleaning the armpits with soap helps to flush out the bacteria present on the skin in and around the armpits.

  • Avoiding Certain Fabric - Fabric that does not absorb sweat and certain other clothes can make one sweat more than usual. Fabrics that absorb sweat, like cotton and linen, are loose-fitting and breathable, helping to stay cooler and not cause the body to sweat a lot.

  • Removing Armpit Hair - At times, bacteria and malodor can get trapped in the hair in and around the armpit area. Hence, waxing armpits to remove the hair can significantly reduce smelly armpits. Cleaning the armpits is also more effective on waxed or shaved skin. This helps maintain armpit hygiene and reduce odor.

  • Destressing - The body reacts to stress and activates the sweat glands and a reflex. Destressing techniques to reduce stress can help the body to reduce sweating and minimize the normal physiologic sweat response naturally.


Smelly armpits occur when the bad bacteria cause odor breakdown of the otherwise odorless sweat fluids on the skin. Smelly armpits may be quite a concern and a reason for anxiety and being self-conscious all the time. However, there are ways one can prevent it. It is important to consult a dermatologist if the armpits suddenly smell or if one notices any change in the body odor, as it could indicate an underlying medical condition. Antiperspirants and deodorants can temporarily help reduce body odor however, to get permanently rid of smelly armpits, it is important to maintain armpit hygiene. Good hygiene, loose-fitting clothes, and waxing the armpits can help reduce malodor.

Dr. Sugandh Garg
Dr. Sugandh Garg

Internal Medicine

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