What Is The Smell Of Your Sweat Telling You? (PS: It’s Not That You Need Deodorant)

Posted November 8, 2012


For many years now I’ve been in the habit of observing my body. It’s undoubtably my greatest teacher in life as it continuously reflects the physicality of my emotions and thoughts. My body shows me what is going on in my world, both consciously and subconsciously, and invariably how to heal myself. I thank it deeply for this.

I have noticed something quite fascinating in recent years. Something to do with my body’s reaction to stress with body odor. I live a very healthy, clean and balanced lifestyle. I have high standards of nutrition, move daily and live in tune with my body as much as I can in each moment. This means that my natural body odor is sweet-smelling, healthy and human-like. A gentle flavour of aliveness.

Except for when it’s not! Every so often, every now and then, I notice my body odor sharply change. This happens, quite suddenly, immediately, when I experience stress. I have noticed that inexplicably, the moment I feel stressed or react to a situation with fear or negativity, my body odor changes. Suddenly I start to emit a strange odor, from sweet, to heavy, enveloping, slightly metallic, bitter and sour all at the same time. It’s somewhat shocking, but also very true. So I decided to do some research and find the cause root of this rather than try and cover it up with chemical deodorants and sickly perfumes.

Apparently, as we experience fear, stress or anxiety (or all three at once!) our body produces hormones that course through our bodies, and this change creates an imbalance in the sensitive ecosystem of our finely tuned selves, creating certain toxicity and causing changes such as a distasteful odor emanating from our bodies, where before there was none.

According to a wide range of studies, scientifically this is what happens:

When you are stressed your body starts to secrete male hormones such as adrenalin and adrenal cortex hormones, which activate the secretion of lipid acid. Lipid acid get stuck in the sebaceous glands which produce cell damaging free radicals. Free radicals oxidise lipid acid to create lipid peroxide resulting in auto-oxidization casing body odor.

In other words, stress is the main cause if body odor.

So, here’s my question for you today. What is your body telling YOU? Having you been having issues with body odor? Have you noticed a tendency to feel stressed in your day-to-day life? Do you recognise the relation between the two in your own life? And most importantly of all, are you willing to change it?

It’s extremely important to listen to what our bodies have to tell us and teach us every day. And mine is telling me precisely when I feel stressed, making me more aware of my thought and behavior patterns and teaching me how to change them and when. Thanks to listening to my body, I am leaning to remain more and more calm, trusting, open, loving and fearless in my daily life. After all stress is simply a fear reaction to a thought, and thoughts can be changed.


Author Bio: Vienda Maria is a writer, life coach and creative entrepreneur. She has been sharing her art of philosophical wordsmithing for over 10 years now and lights up when she sparks the fire in others to find their own soul journey through this incredible gift of life we each have received.


Positive affirmation for the day: I am grateful.

join the tribe

Join the green mo revolution! Subscribe to get Jess's updates & Green Mo Revolution e-book FREE with over 80 green smoothie recipes!

Write a Comment

Claire says:

Wow…never thought of this before…thanks for the awareness. Great post.

I definitely agree on the stress-sweat smelling different to normal sweat. In fact, I saw an ad in a magazine last week for a ‘clinical strength deodorant’ that’s tagline was ‘stress sweat smells the worst’ (and of course their product can offer you 4 times the protection against it, blah blah blah!!)

I also believe that my skin is a reflection of how I’m treating my body – too much sugar and/or stress, and not enough sleep, means I am highly likely to get a big cystic pimple on my jaw line. Joy.

And odd as it sounds, when my diet was crappy, I used to get really bad period cramps, but now that I take much better care of myself they’ve diminished greatly. So I see that as a reflection of my body’s inner health and balance too…

jacqui says:

You are spot on Jess ..period cramps are linked to Vit B’s and Zinc if your diet is lacking in these you will get the cramps

Tiffany says:

Jess @ Sparrow + Sea, I am the same. I have noticed that if I don’t sleep well and I overdose on the dairy I feel and look a bit blah. I have also noticed the same with my period cramps. Since I have been getting back onto my green smoothies in the morning, my cramps have diminished and my mood is better. I used to just not want to leave the house during that time (except for work of course) but I found this has changed. Not that I am jumping for joy about them, but more tolerant.

Ana says:

Wow, this is such perfect timing, and such an interesting fact! I never thought that this could be possible, but it does make sense now that I think about it. Just today I had a presentation in one of my classes which always makes me stressed and anxious…and let’s just say I changed and showered as soon as I came back home. Well, I guess this is just another reason to get better at presentations. :)

Hope you’re having a great day!

laura says:

I was telling a guy at work about this the other day as he commented on being very smelly, but only when in meetings, not exercising.

I have realized this awhile ago. I suffer from panic disorder. I stress about stupid things like fllying, work, my family until all of a sudden I get really sweaty, chest pains and derealization (like being in a dream), dizziness etc. It really is horrible. Anyway, the sweat is horrible smelling. I have found for me the best way to combat this, is to use up that adrenaline quickly. I try to get outside and go running, weight lifting or even a fast walk. Exercise sweat is much different, unless you eat lots of spices and garlic ;p Then it’s always smelly

jacqui says:

I found learning “Mindfulness” really helps to stop panic attacks..get some good CDs and listen to them instead of all the over exercising as this causes other imbalances in the body. Cheers

Lisa (Yrlocalmarkets) says:

Wow thanks for that information Jess: I always thought smell was based on diet (although it is that too). I eat limited organic, grass-fed meat and dairy but otherwise have a pretty healthy, plant-based diet full of green juices, smoothies & superfoods and exercise daily, but sometimes when the heat (and stress) is on, I too can get a bit whiffy.

However my REVELATION, thanks to a tip by someone on your blog in the natural beauty brands comments put me on to Crunchy Betty. She’s hilarious and has a great blog about using food for all sorts of beauty and personal care, including: deodorant. The revelation is that it’s cheap, made from 4 natural ingredients and works better than any commercial deodorant I’ve tried (and so much better than all those natural deodorants, of which I have tried many). It doesn’t completely eliminate the moisture but does a pretty good job (50%-70% depending on the sort of day you’re having) and COMPLETELY eliminates odour. I love it and mine smells like lemon cheesecake. I am in danger of sniffing my armpits all the time I love the smell so much :-)

The recipe is:

1/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. cornflour or arrowroot powder (I used the latter)
5 Tbsp. coconut oil
Essential oils (optional – I used quite a few drops of lemongrass)

Mix it all up and pop in a small sterilised jar. Apply a pea sized amount and rub into armpit. I also take a teeny container with it in my handbag for any really hot stinky days.

Ta da!

To give Betty her rightful credit, her post is here: http://www.crunchybetty.com/all-roads-lead-to-the-pits-homemade-deodorant

Lisa xxx

Meg says:

So very interesting……
This is amazing because I noticed this with my dog! When she gets stressed or sick she has the same responce of smell/odor. Normally she dosn’t even have a doggie smell but when she has to go to the vet or shes not well she gets quite a smell about her. I asked the vet about it once and he looked at me as if I was nuts!
Human or animals, our bodies are fascinating!

nadine-lee says:

i recently did a 5 day cleanse and all i could smell coming out of me was indian spices ! haha! random i know – not sure what this one means? cut back on the curry? :P
great post vienda! love your work girlfriend xxx

Penny says:

In the early stages of my second pregnancy and once i was breastfeeding i noticed a distinct sweat smell, i assumed it was due to hormonal changes but i guess it could have been stress related too

Love it – well done for addressing the SWEAT issue. I see clients all the time about stress and this is one of the questions I ask them. How does their sweat smell and when so they notice it. Our bodies are incredible at telling us/sending us messages – if only we’d listen. A really wonderful post – thank you.

James says:

A little ‘tip’ for you girls….

Men sweat….

Women perspire…

So much more ladylike….!

Debbie says:

James, what a beautiful picture.. I’m jealous. Now thats love

Selma says:

I’ve notices the exact same thing. I used to think it was toxicity from what was in my body. My family would walk into my home office when I was working my corporate job and run the other way it was so bad! But it was that my stress levels were toxic. Even after going vegan/raw and doing cleanses etc I noticed though better, i would still have this BO sometimes when stressed.. Stress is the issue for sure!

Thanks so much for sharing, Vienda.
Kind regards, Lyall

Wow – I had never thought of that before. Thanks for the info – our body is amazing !

Jess says:

I wonder if coffee creates a similar reaction in the body as my post-coffee sweat smells the same as stress sweat.

Claudia says:

What an interesting post! I definitely get stress sweat after drinking coffee! Guess it’s time to take that out of my diet!

Andrea says:

This did happen to me when I got stressed the day after consuming meat, fish and dairy products. Now I consume a gluten-free plant-based diet and it doesn’t happen at all when someone stresses me out.

Its most likely that the intake of natural stress hormones found in the animal products are stressing the author out, making her sweat BO and ultimately led her find an excuse for consuming addictive brain stimulating food.

“When an animal experiences stress just before being slaughtered, there is a sudden surge of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones that floods the animal’s body.”

Taamz says:

Wow! I’ve had a real stressful day and am reeking like a Sumo on a hot day! Thanks for the info :)

A. says:

I wonder what (a gal’s) sweat tastes or smells like when (she) is embarassed as opposed to just being nervous.

mari says:

What are ways that you can relieve stress once it has gotten this bad?

Meditation is amazing for stress release.

karen says:

very interesting. can i get rid of stress? hmmm then i would have to get rid of my husband. just joking. not really. *head in my hands*

Anthony says:

Hello there. Thanks for the article I found it very helpful in that I have noticed many times whenever I get nervous I tend to produce very strong sweat, I recently got baptized and on that day just a few minutes before I went into he water I was very nervous and I sweat got very strong and a little embarrassing, I don’t want anybody thinking I don’t clean myself well because I’m thorough and I actually take three showers a day unlike most people, I need to learn to stay calm in every situation i find myself in.

Evangeline says:

The link to free radical oxidation – can I assume that this may affect any body tissue that comes into contact with the free radicals? If it does then it seems it implicates aging directly. A great reminder about the ills of stress!

tc says:

From my mom who is a defense lawyer. That is associated with first time inmates or someone who has just been put in jail. the smell of fear is more a stink of fear. Like a skunk or porcupine, it signals stay away from me.. stay back.

Sid says:

I have noticed this in myself as well. When I’m calm and fine my sweat doesn’t have much of a smell to it, but when I’m feeling pressure or anxiety it’s gets exactly like that… Sweet, acrid, sharp, metallic, awful. Getting help for anxiety and depression, and I notice it more the further between appointments I am.

Sid says:

Within the past three months I’ve started downing more and more water with a squirt of fresh lemon and/or lime. It’s more severe when I’m not hydrated enough.

Mable says:

Stress used to make my armpits smell terrible! Got a tip from a friend to try Lavilin. All-natural goodness. No more odor!

Beccy says:

I noticed the same thing – and that smell of fear – when I started doing teacher training and having my first placements. I still get it occasionally now, and use it as a warning that things are getting on top of me. The other thing I noticed but no-one else mentioned is that the stress-sweat only ever seems to affect one armpit. Maybe that’s just me…

Rach says:

This actually doesnt ring true for me personally. I get this when I am exercising and extremely in my happy zone. I find using anti-perspirants actually make the sweat smell even more metallic. It’s frustrating though because I cannot figure out why this happens to me. :s Confuzzled. I dont have anxiety or stress in any sense when this happens.

sharon says:

I have suffered stress and anxiety for a couple of years due to ongoing circumstances out of my control. Due to the fight or flight reaction of the body I have had a lot of adrenaline course through me. The anxiety makes me sweat but just recently i have noticed that my armpits smell. It is very strong and musky and man like. One armpit is worse than the other and even after washing they still smell. Deodorant does not work, even mitchum. I am extremely self conscious about it and hope it doesnt last much longer.

Matt says:

I guarantee you that even though you may think your sweat doesn’t stink when you’re not under stress, it does. You can’t smell yourself the way others can. Please start wearing deodorant all the time.

Nick Garcia says:

Everyone produces adrenalin, because everyone has adrenal glands. Male hormones (which everyone ALSO produces) are called androgens,and they have little to do with stress.

ReneA says:

Wow, I’ve never thought of it that way! I have noticed I have been a little stressed and anxious lately about my relationships with friends, my boyfriend, school, my jobs….I do need to change this cause my scent is very annoying. Thanks for sharing!!

Crystal says:

I normally dont wear deodorant…but when I get stressed I defiantly notice changes. Also if Im hormonal, or sick. I also get a tingling, needles kind of feeling in my armpits…similar to ‘let down’ when nursing. This was a good read. Thanks!