Perimenopause Body Odor – What Is That All About?

August 05, 2023.

medically reviewed by Patricia Shelton, MD

Why Don’t I Smell Like Myself Anymore?

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Peri can cause lots of different symptoms, from hot flashes to vaginal dryness. One symptom that doesn’t get talked about as much is changes in the body’s smell. During peri, many women notice that they smell different than they used to. Some women start to feel self-conscious about their odor, and they may find that the antiperspirant or deodorant that they’ve used for years just doesn’t quite seem to be doing the trick anymore.

What causes changes in body odor during perimenopause? There are actually two main components to the answer.

Related: Meet more than 15.000 women in the same stage of life in our popular perimenopause community

Peri can change your sense of smell

One of the things that’s going on is a change in how your brain perceives and reacts to smells. Estrogen and progesterone impact the nervous system in many different ways, including changing how the brain reacts to sensory signals (like smells). As levels of these hormones fluctuate during perimenopause, this tends to lead to changes in how the brain processes information related to smell. 

As a result of these changes, many women in peri notice that they’re reacting to smells differently than they used to. They may feel particularly sensitive to certain smells. For example, it’s not uncommon for a woman in perimenopause to suddenly dislike the smell of her laundry soap or body wash. Even though she used to barely notice it or even enjoy it, it suddenly seems too strong and unpleasant. (Something similar often happens during pregnancy, which is also related to changes in hormone levels.)

Because of these changes in the brain, a woman’s own body odor may also smell different to her. In some cases, she didn’t even notice her own smell before, but she suddenly finds it to be overpoweringly unpleasant. 

Related: Wondering if you are in menopause? Take our quiz!

Peri affects the growth of bacteria in and on the body

However, changes in how the brain processes smell aren’t the only factor at work. In addition to processing smells differently, a woman’s body may actually smell different too.

Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all affect the growth of bacteria, including those on your skin and in your vagina. During peri, levels of estrogen and progesterone tend to drop.

These changes alter the balance of bacteria growing on your skin. Body odor is caused by bacteria acting on your sweat, producing chemicals that you can smell. With different bacteria, different chemicals will be produced, and you’ll smell different. Similarly, the changes in bacteria in the vagina can alter the smell of your discharge. (However, if you notice a sudden change in the odor, color, or amount of discharge, make sure to visit your doctor. This can be a sign of an issue like a yeast infection.)

In addition, women tend to sweat more during perimenopause. Each time you have a hot flash or a night sweat, you’re producing extra food for those odor-causing bacteria. This tends to result in stronger perimenopause body odor. Wearing clothing that dries quickly may help – by getting sweat away from your skin as quickly as possible, this reduces the amount of time that your bacteria have to make those smelly chemicals.

So perimenopause can change your sense of smell, as well as your actual body odor. It may help to know that things will likely get better once you’re through the menopausal transition, after your hormone levels stabilize at their new normal. Until then, keep in mind that other people likely aren’t noticing your body odor nearly as much as you are.

Sources

Singh A, Agarwal M, et al. Effect of menopause on olfactory function. Natl J Physiol Pharm Pharmacol. 2019 Jul;9(7):1. doi: 10.5455/njppp.2019.9.0414822042019

Burger HG, Dudley EC, et al. Hormonal changes in the menopause transition. Recent Prog Horm Res. 2002;57:257-75. doi: 10.1210/rp.57.1.257

Laniewski P, Herbst-Kralovetz MM. Connecting microbiome and menopause for healthy ageing. Nat Microbiol. 2022 Mar; 7(3): 354–358. doi: 10.1038/s41564-022-01071-6

Park MG, Cho S, et al. Menopausal Changes in the Microbiome—A Review Focused on the Genitourinary Microbiome. Diagnostics (Basel). 2023 Mar; 13(6): 1193. doi: 10.3390/diagnostics13061193

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Patricia Shelton

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