February 26, 2024

Body Odor Changes as You Age

Old man in a sweater

Why Body Odor Changes with Age

Everybody has body odor. Try as we might to hide or minimize it, it’s there. It occurs due to sweat on our skin, the action of bacteria, and other natural processes.

The quality and intensity of body odor varies from person to person, but we all have a particular scent. That odor can evolve due to changes in our diet, hygiene, and other factors. Body odor also tends to change as we age. This article explains why that occurs.

Yes, Your “Baseline” Body Odor Changes Over Time

If you’ve suspected that your body odor is changing as you age, you’re correct. It happens to everyone, and contrary to a harmful misconception, the change is not due to a lack of good hygiene.

While it’s common for older adults to bathe less frequently — due to sweating less, their skin producing less oil, concerns about falls in the tub or shower, etc. — this change in hygiene habits isn’t what’s primarily responsible for a change in their body odor. Instead, there are multiple possible causes, including changes in chemical processes.

The Chemistry of Body Odor

Experts aren’t sure precisely what prompts changes in body odor with age. However, one likely cause is a compound called 2-nonenal. It’s a byproduct of the age-related breakdown of certain chemicals, including omega-7 unsaturated fatty acids.

Research indicates that 2-nonenal is only detectable in people over 40 and increases with age. The compound seems to be responsible for the odor associated with older adults.

Other potential causes of body odor differences include changes in the type of bacteria on the skin, the interaction between those bacteria and gland secretions, and other chemical processes. But the bottom line is that changes in body odor are normal with age. This is crucial to understand since more frequent bathing or more vigorous cleaning of the skin can actually cause problems and aren’t generally effective at changing the body’s natural scent.

And while no one should feel obligated to educate others on the changes their body is going through, sharing information (like this article) with loved ones isn’t a bad idea.

Body Odor and Menopause

Body odor tends to evolve gradually, but changes can happen more rapidly as women approach and enter menopause. That’s why a common question doctors get is, “Does a woman’s body odor change with age?”

The decrease in estrogen levels in menopause means women have a higher percentage of testosterone. As a result, they typically have more bacteria in their sweat, which leads to a more noticeable body odor.

Talk with Your Baptist Health Doctor About Body Odor Changes

It’s normal to wonder, “Why does my sweat smell different as I get older.” While specific diseases can produce changes in body odor, the cause for most people — particularly when it tracks with their age — is normal changes in body processes. Still, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask your doctor if you have concerns about your body odor.

You can use our online provider directory to find a Baptist Health physician if you don’t have one.

Learn More.