Do You Smell Differently When You're Stressed?

It's a plight that we all face at one point or another: stress. According to an American Psychological Association report, over 85% of adults living in the United States said they experience significant levels of stress. Some may not even realize how taxed their bodies are until they reach the point of burnout, which experts characterize as a group of symptoms caused by consistently high-stress levels over time. "It's really easy to blow off your own symptoms, especially in our culture, where we're taught to work hard," Dr. Jessi Gold tells The New York Times.

Though it affects everyone differently, excess stress can undoubtedly result in some unpleasant side effects. Some signs that you may be suffering from stress-induced burnout include fatigue, feelings of apathy, and changes to your sleep or dietary routine, according to Cleveland Clinic. These are all pretty well-known symptoms to any of us who've burnt the candle at both ends before. Still, some are curious to know if stress can cause one peculiar phenomenon in particular. Could stress really make your sweat smell worse?

What experts say about the stress-sweat connection

Which came first, the stress or the sweat? For many of us, anxiety can lead to profuse sweating. And in some cases, excessive sweatiness can lead to feelings of anxiousness, especially in social situations. If you've ever thought that increased stress made you smell worse than usual, you may have been onto something.

According to Mayo Clinic, you have two types of sweat glands, known as eccrine or apocrine glands. Eccrine glands are responsible for the innocuous, water-like sweat you produce from, say, your forehead while working out. Apocrine glands, on the other hand, are the culprits behind unpleasant body odor and are mainly located under your arms and around the groin. "Apocrine [sweat], or stress sweat, contains higher levels of proteins and fats that may result in a more pungent aroma when broken down by natural bacteria on the skin," Dr. Joshua Zeichner tells Allure. But is it possible that stress sweat smells worse than regular sweat?

You probably weren't expecting the Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido to answer your question, but The Japan Times reported that the company did some digging on the subject. In Shiseido's study on stressed-out individuals, participants were interviewed by strangers for 20 minutes to create a feeling of tension. When researchers examined the subjects' stress sweat samples, they described the odor as onion-like. So yes, it's possible your stress sweat could indeed smell worse than the usual variety — that is, unless you happen to be overly fond of onions.

How to minimize any stress-related body odor

Before you start searching for sweat gland removal options in your area, let's review the basics. Apocrine glands feast on bacteria to produce their pungent smell, which means your best bet for reducing the odor from stress sweat is through frequent bathing. "When you wash your skin, you get rid of the material on its surface. [But] within 10 minutes after washing, [odor-causing] bacteria grow back and populate your skin's surface," dermatologist Richard Gallo tells NPR. So, per Harvard's recommendation, you should always apply deodorant or antiperspirant right after you step out of the shower or bath, which can help stop bacteria from flourishing.

Fortunately, you don't need a strong antiperspirant to keep unwanted odors at bay. Many natural deodorant formulas contain potent bacteria-banishing ingredients, like enzymes, tea tree oil, and baking soda. If you're interested in trying one for yourself, some popular natural products for warding off persistent odors include Lume, Native, and Lafes deodorants. Furthermore, the aforementioned brands offer travel-sized, TSA-approved options, so you'll never have to worry about stress sweat away from home.