Conventional wisdom suggests that perspiration is the cause of body odor. Perspiration is the body’s way of cooling off; a pea-sized bead of sweat can cool about one quart of blood by one degree Fahrenheit. Exposure to heat, physical activity and emotional stress can all prompt the body to activate its internal cooling system, perspiration. Although perspiration is practically odorless, it can take on an unpleasant smell when it comes into contact with bacteria on the skin. While attention to personal hygiene will minimize odiferous bacteria, the frequency, quantity and odor of each individual’s sweat varies.
A client who has recently been perspiring excessively is most prone to having body odor. While a client’s smell is typically beyond the practitioner’s control, here are several tips to reduce its impact:
· Include a clause in your office policies regarding hygiene. Considering the nature of your work, it is appropriate to request clients bathe prior to a session or refrain from coming directly from the gym. Some massage therapists even post tactful signs in the waiting room emphasizing personal hygiene.
· While body odor may be offensive to you, attempts to cover it up can be equally unpleasant for others. Many massage offices and healthcare practices include a request to refrain from using heavily scented body products or perfumes in their office policies in tactful, yet visible signage.
· Using an aromatherapy diffuser, scent the air with an essential oil known for its disinfectant properties, such as grapefruit, lavender or lemon. Make certain that this aroma will not disturb your client.
· In warmer weather, be certain to maintain adequate cooling and circulation methods. Whether this means installing a ceiling fan, vents or even air conditioning, keeping the treatment room a comfortable temperature will minimize perspiration and encourage relaxation.
When these suggestions are not enough, a responsible healthcare practitioner must consider the possibility a medical condition is responsible for excessive body odor. Any imbalances in metabolism will result in stronger body odors. Clients with the following types of smells may indicate further health questioning and a possible medical referral:
· Fruity – A person with diabetes mellitus experiencing uncontrolled blood sugar can go into a metabolic crisis. Diabetic ketoacidosis may produce body and breath odor that is frequently described as fruity or sweet, but is more accurately a strange, ketone-like odor. If hyperglycemia is untreated, it can lead to an emergency situation. If other signs of ketoacidosis are present, get your client help immediately!
· Beer – Some people with systemic yeast conditions (Candida) have a beer smell. Excessive yeast turns sugar into alcohol in the body very quickly. If the client also experiences chronic vaginal discharge and itching, excessive fatigue, pervasive skin problems, thrush, nail infections or rashes, refer them to their primary healthcare provider for evaluation.
· Fishy – Trimethylaminuria or fish-odor syndrome, may affect as many as one percent of Americans. Causing an overall fishy body and breath odor, this genetic and incurable disorder is due to an inability to properly metabolize choline. Dietary changes to reduce foods high in choline are the best line of defense for these individuals.
· Athlete’s Foot – The unmistakable smell of Athlete’s foot, a fungal infection that usually begins between the toes and causes itching, burning and cracking, can be treated with anti-fungal medications.
· Ammonia – Reminiscent of urine, people with a strong ammonia smell may be suffering from chronic kidney failure. Chronic kidney failure is a gradual and progressive loss of the ability of the kidneys to excrete wastes, concentrate urine and conserve electrolytes, resulting in the accumulation of fluid and waste products in the body. While a massage therapist is not qualified to make this kind of diagnosis, awareness of its possibility can prompt work on the kidney meridian to enhance the massage’s therapeutic value.
Although there is not much a practitioner can do about a client’s smell, being aware of what you can do and what to look out for will put your nose at ease. Sometimes our sense of smell can make being a bodyworker challenging, and sometimes it can be a lifesaver.

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References:, Body Odor, Leon Chaitow, ND, DO, MRO, Global Healing Center, 2006., Body Odor, Newberry Naturals, Inc., 2006., Sweating and Body Odor: Causes, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2006., Consult Your Pharmacist – Afraid to Exhale? Help for Halitosis, W. Steven Pray, Ph.D., R.Ph., Jobson Publishing, 1999., Chronic renal failure, National Institutes of Health, 2006.