Going through my breakup made me smell bad—and it was the pits


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Photo: GettyImages/ Aleksandar Nakic

Worse than overripe, unsalvageable avocados and sleeping through that early-morning Soulcycle class you’re paying for no matter what, breakups have got to be near the top of the list of Things That Suck™. In addition to the emotional quantum physics required to figure out all the “whys” (like, “why did it end at all?” or “why did I stay with someone so bad for me for so long?), there’s the real physical pain of heartbreak to contend with as well.

So when I split with my ex, I braced myself for the worst—or at least what I thought was the worst: My new…uh…scent was one lonely-hearts-club side effect I simply didn’t see (or rather smell) coming. I had an intense case of breakup BO—as in, hot-garbage-can, roasted-carrots-rotting-under-the-stove, just-stopped-showering odor. 

As it turns out, breakup stank is a totally real thing, courtesy of breakup sweat, which is—yep—another totally real thing. “When you’re going through a breakup, it’s natural for a stress reaction to be triggered in the body, which can cause all sorts of physical manifestations, like stress sweating,” says One Medical Provider, Natasha Bhuyan, MD, who confirms breakup sweat is activated by the same process as stress sweat—just with a different cause. (Cue: side-eye @ my ex.)

Breakup sweat is activated by the same process as stress sweat—just with a different cause (cue: side-eye @ my ex).

And it makes sense, right? Breakups are stressful. But why the smell? Stress and breakup sweat are, quite simply, entirely different different (damp) animals than what you experience as a result of a hot-yoga class. “Most of our sweat from our body is produced by the eccrine glands, which is mostly water and odorless,” Dr. Bhuyan says. She adds that the main function of this kind of “normal” sweat is to keep us cool and regulate body temperature when we overheat.

But breakup sweat is ruled by the apocrine glands, located primarily in the armpits and pubic region, says Dr. Bhuhyan. And it reeks. “That’s because the apocrines release an oilier sweat mixture that has proteins, fats and steroids in it,” she says. “The sweat itself isn’t smelly. But because it’s oilier, it doesn’t evaporate as quickly, so the odor comes when this sweat sits on and mixes with the skin’s bacteria.” Apparently, in my case, the co-mingling created eau de rotten casserole.

“The sweat itself isn’t smelly. But…the odor comes when this sweat sits on and mixes with the skin’s bacteria.” —Natasha Bhuyan, MD

It’s not forever, though: Dr. Bhuyan says breakup sweat is not only totally normal, but also only lasts as long as the ex distress. More importantly, the ripe rancidity is nothing to worry about health-wise—it’s NBD (just rank). That said, Dr. Bhuyan suggests being on the lookout for other, more serious symptoms of stress like heart palpitations, constant headaches, neck tension, trouble sleeping, and an irritable gut. She says these signs warrant a visit to doc.

While there’s no official timeline for getting over an ex, stress-management tools—like meditationtherapyessential oilsyoga, or even ceramics—are at your disposal to help. And, in the meantime, natural deodorants will surely help you mask the musk.

These are the best things on Netflix to stream for some relaxing, post-breakup self care. And for more help chilling out, try this breathing technique to de-stress instantly, wherever you are.

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