The post on bathing norms generated passionate debate in the comments section. The general feeling was that bathing daily is not essential, but it’s not professional or stylishly acceptable to have body odour.

According to the Wikipedia entry on body odour, it is the smell of bacteria growing on the body. Perspiration itself is almost completely odourless to human beings, but the bacteria multiply rapidly in the presence of moisture and the smell is therefore associated with perspiration.

Case closed. Since body odour is indication of bacteria, we can safely assume that it is unhygienic. Not so fast! As the NYT article, “The Great Unwashed“, points out, some amount of bacteria on our skin actually helps to strengthen the immune system. Bathing too frequently, or wearing antiperspirants that kill the bacteria, interrupts this natural process.

Then there’s the whiff itself. Personally I find it unpleasant, but not everyone does. I have read about and met people who like their own body odour, and people who aren’t bothered by the body odour of people around them. It is definitely more of a taboo in some cultures than others.

Like most things, it is probably a question of balance. A certain amount of bacteria that reinforces the immune system, but not enough to become unhygienic. A certain level of natural scent that is socially acceptable, but not enough to be an unpleasant odour to other people.

What are your thoughts? And if there is a friend, family member or work colleague who in your judgment crosses the line between natural scent and body odour, will you discuss it with them?