Does your natural scent seem to be changing during menopause? If so, rest assured: The menopausal transition can crank your body odor up a notch (or several). This is likely due to more sweating, changes in your skin microbiome, and lifestyle shifts (such as diet and exercise). Here’s what you need to know about menopause and BO.
Sweat isn’t just salty water. It contains many compounds, including peptides, proteins, fats, acids, and carbohydrates. For the bacteria that live on your skin, these chemicals represent a nourishing soup. When those bacteria feast on your sweat, they create byproducts (like thioalcohols) that are very pungent.
Changes in the nutrient content of your sweat and in the skin microbiome can both lead to different body odors. Here’s how menopause triggers those changes, heightening your natural scent:
Hot flashes and night sweats are among the most common menopause symptoms—and both cause profuse sweating. This higher volume of sweat may mean that your underarm bacteria are better nourished, leading to more body odor. More sweat may also change the composition of your skin microbiome, causing stronger-smelling species of bacteria to proliferate.
During menopause, your hormonal balance shifts. This shift can also lead to stronger body odor. Estrogen and progesterone levels fall relative to your testosterone, while cortisol tends to increase. Higher levels of both testosterone and cortisol have been linked to stronger body odor.
Hot flashes may contribute to dehydration during menopause. After all, you’re losing additional water via sweating, and you may not be consuming enough water to offset the loss. When you’re dehydrated, your bodily fluids, including sweat, are more concentrated (think of how dark your urine becomes when you’re overly thirsty). That concentrated sweat may cause more potent smells when it’s consumed by your skin bacteria.
Menopause can be a stressful time. Symptoms like hot flashes, forgetfulness, mood changes (e.g. anxiety and depression), and insomnia can all disrupt your life in unpleasant ways. And that stress can impact your body odor in very real ways. Stress-related sweat is produced by your apocrine glands (as opposed to body-cooling sweat, which is produced by eccrine glands). It tends to be more viscous and nutrient-rich, thus ramping up your body odor.
During menopause, the foundations of your health can rapidly shift. You may sleep less (menopausal insomnia is incredibly common) and exercise less due to fatigue. Your diet may also change as you experience hormonal food cravings, and your caffeine and alcohol intake can spike as you grapple with menopause symptoms. All of these lifestyle adjustments can cause metabolic changes that may ultimately impact your scent.
Beyond the many reasons your body odor changes during menopause, you perception of the scent might be changing as well. This area isn’t well researched, but there is some evidence suggesting that the menopausal hormone shift changes your experience of smell. Of course, if this is the case, you will probably also notice that other odors in your daily life have shifted.
In many ways, controlling your body odor during menopause involves the same common-sense practices it always has. You’ll need to bathe regularly, use a high-quality deodorant or antiperspirant, and so on. But here are a few new strategies you may need to consider: