In today’s highly deodorized world, we assume that to be without smell is to be clean. But throughout the long and pungent history of humanity, smelling “good” has been as delightful as it has sometimes been disgusting.
To get to the root of body odor, you have to start with sweat. But human sweat by itself typically barely smells at all. “The problem is that bacteria living on our body like to eat some of the compounds that come out in our sweat,” says journalist Sarah Everts, who’s conducted extensive research on the science of perspiration. Eccrine glands, all over the body, and apocrine glands, found mostly in the armpit and genital areas, secrete various compounds that are consumed by bacteria, which in turn release molecules with a smell we recognize as body odor.