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August 1, 2019

Why Do Some Indian People Smell More of Body Odor?

Are you triggered yet?

GOOD.

Because you’re the problem if you’re treating personal hygiene like a stigma or something sensitive to talk about.

To be clear, I, Sanjay Manaktala am

  • Indian
  • used to be overweight (I still have a gut that will never go)
  • worn deodorant since I was 15 years old before Axe thought it was cool.
  • stink when I don’t wear deodorant, even more so after 30. Especially if I use a new brand for some reason.
  • Will happily tell my brother or mom or even wife if they stink, and vice versa
  • stand up comedian and host of one of India’s top podcasts, the Birdy Num Num podcast.

In this post, I’m going to answer some of our reader’s Instagram questions on body odor, grooming, and how hygiene will honestly fix your life.

If you’re also wondering why that dude in your office or tech team has a strange whiff, this should answer most of it too.

Why do Indians Smell?

I had a friend who had all the money in the world, worked at McKinsey, went to Harvard, yet couldn’t land a date if his life depended on it.

He was miserable, constantly wallowing in self-pity while driving his Mercedes.

Responses on twitter when I said I wanted to write this article.

To himself, he was confused beyond belief. Harvard MBA, decent looks, great career and family on paper…what the heck is going on?

But to the rest of us, even a stranger or a waiter could spend 10 seconds with him and figure out what lacking self-awareness had hidden from him.

HE SMELLED HORRIBLE. DAILY.

Bad breath, bad body odor, and just unpleasant to be around.

So my other best friend and I did what good friends do.

We chickened out and wrote an anonymous email because we didn’t want to hurt his feelings (more so for our own selfish reasons but we wanted to help.)

“Hey, you don’t know me, but I worked with you or studied with you many years ago. I always saw you working so hard at life and succeeding but also saw you being frustrated with the personal front. I want to see you succeed there too, and it’s something so simple you just need to fix. Just please wear deodorant daily, and all your life problems will get fixed. You stink really bad and it’s a turn off for a lot of people.”

One of my first emails from my junk hotmail account.

6 months later I was crashing at his house, opened up his medicine cabinet and saw a million cologne bottles, mouth wash, deodorants, body sprays, the works.

A year later he was engaged.

Why Don’t Indians Wear Deodorant?

So why do some Indian dudes smell bad? Because growing up, deodorant was a western thing, and it’s still catching on.

We didn’t think it was important.

Some more thoughts from the public.

My own mom never told me about it, I just figured it out from TV commercials of being a teenager in America. The white kids in middle-school weren’t shy about letting me know “I smelled like sweaty curry”, and oddly enough as mean as teenagers are…I’m glad they did.

I mean, come on…deodorant sales in India are skyrocketing.

In fact, deodorants in India revenue are expected to grow 25% year on year. (Source.) It used to be a luxury item, but now it’s affordable for pretty much anyone and will take some time to adopt.

Everyone in our country loves a little spice, but that heat it brings means you gotta love some Old Spice as well.

WAIT, EVERYBODY SMELLS, WHY ARE YOU TARGETING INDIANS?

Yes, you’re 100% right.

Every group of people has smelly stinkers.

My friend Joel at my baraat is American and Mexican, and yes he also stinks if he doesn’t apply deodorant before dancing in the heat.

But most of us in desi communities, myself included, never got it ingrained in our heads that deodorant should be like brushing your teeth. We tread lightly on the topic rather than confronting it head-on.

But why are we so sensitive about something so obvious, that in extreme weather and sweaty situations, you need to put on some deo bro.

Just like we have to find a way to let American people know that TOILET paper IS DISGUSTING, we need to encourage our South Asian brothers and sisters that deodorant is actually spot-on awesome.

In fact, I used to see guys in my IT company office spend 20 minutes after lunch combing their hair in the men’s washroom, but not realize that it didn’t matter because nobody wanted to sit within 5 feet of them.

And then those same guys start trolling people online because they have a frustrated sex life or who knows what.

You feel me?

India is about 5-10 years behind on the BO elimination wave, and the more we help our friends and family realize they’re adding some stank into the mix, the more we all benefit.

Personal hygiene and grooming are a $2 or an INR 150 investment.

BOOKS THAT HELPED ME GET BETTER AT LIFE (AMAZON)

It’s no longer a luxury item, but adoption for the masses will still take some time. So if someone in your gym or work or school or family is stinking it up, do your civic duty and clean it up.

WHEN YOU HELP SOMEONE SMELL GOOD, YOU HELP THEM BE GOOD. AT LIFE.

We all know that guy or girl who stinks, and nobody tells them. Because they’re scared of hurting their feelings. But guess what continuous rejection and not knowing what they’re doing wrong is also doing?

It’s hurting them a lot more than you worrying about their feelings.

If you find a nice or anonymous way to tell them they smell, guess what?

  • They’ll likely do something about it.
  • They’ll build more confidence.
  • They’ll do better at work, life love, and more.
  • But most importantly…they’ll know.

How to Get Someone to Smell Better Politely?

  • You can talk to another coworker (in front of the smelly one) and discuss how some other, made up person didn’t wear deodorant at a restaurant you were at over the weekend and it ruined your date or whatever. The second person can also say “Wow, who doesn’t wear deodorant!?” and drop a massive hint to the stinker.
  • You can gift everyone (including them) a $10-20 bottle of cologne and also use it yourself at work.
  • You can send them an anonymous email like I did.
  • In India…and I’ve heard this many times…bosses and coworkers just tell their employees outright. In fact, in some tech companies, they’ve sent colleagues home to go shower!

Body Odor Shouldn’t Be Taboo or Hygiene Products Thought of as a WESTERN thing

Yes, I know that we use talcum powder, saffron, and we have whatever other natural remedies for fragrance and all that stuff.

I’m all for it.

You want to spend an hour with coconut oil and lotions every evening, be my guest.

But you and I use Google and Chinese goods every day, so please cut the crap that you don’t buy into that western stuff.

Proctor and Gamble aren’t evil, although sure, big bad corporations have their issues.

We modernize every single fact of our lives, so let’s recognize we need to modernize our approach to hygiene.

Two swipes of two pits will save you a lifetime of despair.

CONCLUSION

The simple issue is a lot of us know that person who stinks, probably ARE that person who stinks, and we have a hard time dealing with it in this country or in our international desi communities.

I’ve heard stories from the IT world of managers who had to tell an employee to leave the room and go back and shower or spray some cologne.

I’m 100% serious.

Does it need to get to that?

Deodorant technology has come a long way, trust me. One dab in the morning will keep you going until 10 PM, even in that crazy Chennai or Mumbai summers.

As you smell less and trust me, nobody can really smell themselves…all the other things in life will fall into place.

That will increase your money, career, dating, love life and probably personal happiness.

Although no guarantees on the last one. Happiness is still super elusive to most of us.

Happy Spraying!

Sanjay Manaktala is one of the top stand up comedians in India who started building the comedy community in the country back in 2010. Since then his stand up comedy videos and podcasts have helped millions laugh or get motivated. His latest effort is the Birdy Num Num podcast, helping you learn creativity in life after engineering. You can learn about Sanjay here or check out his YouTube channel here.

24 Comments on “Why Do Some Indian People Smell More of Body Odor?

Jyoti
August 1, 2019 at 5:12 pm

Just sharing my thoughts here upon reading this article.
Deodorant is a quick fix to a bad body odor. However, it does not solve the problem in the long run.
Perhaps, healthy food habits helps in eliminating bad body odor in the long run.
I think a bad body odor is a sign that some aspect of the person’s lifestyle isn’t suiting his/her body type, and that he/she needs to address it and change and improve the quality of living.
This is my understanding.

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sanjayComedy
August 2, 2019 at 4:37 am

That’s a good point, I never really thought of diet because I eat super unhealthy and spicy stuff, but I have stayed away from dairy the last two years. Either way lets hope people start discussing it more openly and find ways to share with random people a nice way of saying “hey put some deo.”

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Kevin
August 16, 2019 at 3:03 am

So all the time I was thinking that I’m being racist, cause I thought an indian person next to me is smelling really bad, was like a real thing? Don’t wanna be offensive, but I do still think indian people smell very different than all other race people.

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sanjayComedy
August 18, 2019 at 6:03 pm

I don’t think it’s racist…but sure, I’m sure a lot of Indian engineers who are working in America probably put coconut oil in their hair or have certain fragrances/spices they use/eat. But body odor was the point of this…I hope none of us emit it 🙂

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Mark angel
September 14, 2019 at 9:09 am

No this sounds different then what I know. It’s not curry smell. It’s stinks worst then any smell. As m a Mongolian we don’t have such gene n secretion from body but Indian people stays in hot country that let them secret more hormones or grow more hair. In some Indian who has less hair growth from body doesn’t stink like us. When Indian got a little sweat it’s start to stink(sorry for bad complement). I stay in India n lots of Indian friends. In south some South Indian people apply coconut oil so there is no probs.

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Mark angel
September 14, 2019 at 9:15 am

Addition to it: Indian people eats more spice, onions, less water take up, less hygienic food, sweats a lot, no deodorant on cloths after washing cloths. Still don’t know the reason but we need to check this problems genetically or with medically approach. May be different body hormone composition.

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Anonymous
September 18, 2019 at 10:56 pm

lmao

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Anonymous
September 26, 2019 at 3:13 am

I stay in a multicultural / multi ethnic country just north of the equator. Some Indians have a stronger body odour than others. So there could be 1. genetic component. 2. type of food intake.
There are also some indians who have minmal/nil BO; possibly either from deodorants, which i dont smell any, or food intake, or are furtunate enough not to sweat from home to work…
But those that have bad BO, can be really bad… SOutherners seem to smell more than northerners; again ?genes.
Some westerners also have a different body odour too, but not as bad, possibly food related ??milk and lamb/mutton?

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Sanjay Manaktala
September 26, 2019 at 2:26 pm

Yeah I don’t know I still think we all carry some inherit stank I think it’s just in the west deodorant has like a 80-year head start.

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Emily swift-Jones
October 3, 2019 at 7:30 am

I’m so glad I read this. My best friends were Sri Lankan and Indian when I lived in Hong Kong as a kid and I first noticed this with their parents. I always thought it was a cultural thing. I’m sure the root of the smell is onions and garlic because I smell that distinctly . My white female business partner refused to wear aluminium based anti-perspirants because they can be unhealthy and she smelt terrible! of course I never had the courage to tell her. My husband successfully switched to using a Salt stick for daily life as the anti-perspiration gave him painful blocked plots. He uses anti-perspirant just for sports.
We are very perfume obsessed in the west thanks to marketing. I find a lot of chemical perfume just as hard to deal with as body odour in a confined space like on public transport and those perfumed air diffuser things make me gag!

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Sanjay Manaktala
October 3, 2019 at 10:00 am

thanks for sharing! yes it definitely is a big mash up of culture, diet and upbringing. regardless of personal tastes in scent I hope we all learn just to be more hygienic with time. my wife is from Hong Kong too though so I’ll ask her about this 🙂

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Santosh
October 12, 2019 at 11:34 am

We are talking about body odour and you’re bringing up deodorant. So you want to smell of BO and deodorant mixed together? You do know we can still smell the BO even if you put on deodorant. You should have a shower everyday. But here’s the thing, I think even the Indians or south Asians who shower everyday, SOME of them will naturally start smelling quickly. I really do believe from my personal experience and what I hear from most people here in the UK, that yes Indian people do smell more than other race.

I’m not Indian and I can’t remember the last time I sprayed some deodorant. I just shower almost everyday and I don’t smell. Even after exercise, I won’t be as fresh as before but i definitely won’t be smelling of BO. I had a Pakistani friend who didn’t smell but after playing football (soccer) with them he was stinking sooo bad of BO.

Also I don’t think it’s the food. I’m a Nepali, our foods are very similar and we don’t smell like other South Asian Indo Aryan people. Im sorry but I do think it’s the truth. Indo Aryan people smell more quickly in general (but not all) than other races. I think it’s genetics.

Last quick note, what prompted me to search this topic was I went out last night. Some Indian clubbing event. And when i would walk from one side of the club to other, It was like almost guaranteed I would smell multiple people stinking of BO. Like hot BO. I was getting pissed as well because I was tipsy.

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Sanjay Manaktala
October 13, 2019 at 5:13 am

I’m Indian (at least my body is I mean) even though I was raised in the USA and I think deodorant is at least something to help people get into a habit of smelling decent. Most Indians (especially the ones who’s parents didn’t teach them about talcum powder or morning showers) have gotten so used to their habits they forget that others are around.

Funny story about the club though, I can understand that. Thanks for sharing your experience, hopefully we all smell great going forward and you don’t need fancy products, just basics to make it happen.

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Santosh
October 13, 2019 at 10:45 am

Ok i understand. Please note, i also said not all Indo Aryan people because from my experience it’s definitely not all.

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Solomon
October 19, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Hey Sanjay!

Everything you mentioned was probably correct but are you not missing one thing? What about the Indian diet? Most indians are vegetarians I am assuming? I know some white dudes (the hippy kind) who are vegetarians or even vegans and they also smell pretty bad. I wonder if you or someone out there has any data on the BO profile of someone who is a vegetarian/vegan vs non-vegan? I would bet that the stink is going to be stronger for the vegetarian/vegan group as I read somewhere that the BO causing bacteria do better on a person with a vegetable based diet as they are easier to breakdown vs someone who eats meats – protein or meat is much harder to break down in the body.

This does not undermine what you already said about using deo and paying attention to your personal hygiene of course, but it may be a missing piece of the puzzle.

Stay excellent!

-Sol

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Sanjay Manaktala
October 19, 2019 at 6:44 pm

Hey Solomon! Yeah, very valid point. The challenge is that I’m not qualified to talk about the diet stuff and also is it the milk, or the meat, or the types of veggies? I know eggs and onions both stink. I’m more focused on regardless of diet and the fact that we sweat (I probably smell worse after the gym than a veggie who might have natural BO if that were the cause). The strange thing is most people who read this post are actually from the US and Canada, not India itself. I just hope we can all find natural easy ways to tell people about this simple life hacks (e.g smell good) that are 5 minute jobs that will take a long way.

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Marisa
October 22, 2019 at 1:26 pm

Im indonesian and my husband is indian.. in the second we met in airport when we was friend i found him have body odor and i told him why you smell like curry.. and he said : i didnt shower since yesterday..

It’s so awkward and after few times we found we are dating after that he told me that it caused he tried to made surprise after back from work he go to mall to buy me some gifts (it’s so precious for me) and got traffic jam so he decided it to go directly to airport and tell his friend to bring his luggage to airport and flight for 10 hours to Indonesia..
it’s so sweet for me maybe if i can turn the time i would never said like that

but after married he never have body odor.. always smells good, use deodorant, parfum and i love him very much.

For sure body odor it caused about sweat + bacteria. And it is not only indian, indonesia, western also aftican also maybe someone from another planet can get that problems.

When i was in flight doha- indonesia some african men oh my god smelled so so bad i cant sleep for 8 hours flight. Im done !!

It’s not about the country it is about how we care about hygiene.. if we care about it i believe it will disappear. I collected many parfums from cheap to expensive one but that parfum will never work if you not care about hygine like maybe u shower every 3 days or never changes your clothes. For me deodorant is so important.

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Sanjay Manaktala
October 23, 2019 at 8:02 am

wow thanks so much for sharing. I totally agree, everybody smells but all we can hope for is that hygiene continues to improve. not just aluminum or organic deodorant but anything which permits good smell in any culture, to each their own. thanks for sharing 🙂 i’m happy as long as everybody showers and everybody puts whichever fragrance or soap they like, we only have one body lets take care of it!

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Ade
October 28, 2019 at 10:44 am

Hi Sanjay,

Thank you for this post – I live in Amsterdam and I usually drive to work. However, today I decided to use public transportation. I picked a window seat and was enjoying my podcasts when an Indian gentleman entered the bus and sat beside me. The immediate ‘curry’ smell from the gentleman was so overpowering that I felt choked. I couldn’t breathe and I felt nauseated. As the weather was quite cold, all the bus windows were closed so it made the smell more pungent. The gentleman was well dressed and from his backpack, it was quite obvious that he worked for an IT company in the Zuidoost area of Amsterdam which made it more confusing that the smell was coming from him.

I debated whether to get off the bus at the next stop but I was almost late for my early morning meeting so I had to endure it. When I finally got to my bus stop, it was all I could do not to rush out of the bus.

I have experienced the same odor while in college in Canada with some Indian students but it was the first time that I felt overpowered by it. I felt ashamed about my feelings of revulsion and decided to call up my Indian (ex) girlfriend for absolution – She of course only laughed at me and in her Californian singsong voice said… Dude, some Indians smell, and some don’t… be grateful I am one of the later 🙁

Wanting more information, I came online to read about it and found your page – thank you for explaining the issue while also sharing some comic relief.

Question to you… in the event that I see this gentleman again, how do I help without getting a slap in the face?

Thanks!

Curious-in-Amsterdam

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Sanjay Manaktala
October 28, 2019 at 3:31 pm

Hey, thank for such a nice comment and sharing your story. I personally wouldn’t find it offensive, but in the future maybe you could pass them a note once you get off the bus (and they keep going). Or simply say like I said in the post “Hey, you’re an attractive healthy person, (e.g. open with a compliment), but maybe nobody has told you but you smell. If you wear a $4 deodorant perhaps things will go better. I mean no insult, just help.”

Anybody who gets mad at that will at least remember and if they tried to hit you take them to the Amsterdam police!

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cakefaced
November 13, 2019 at 4:08 am

I really don’t think this answered the question. Deodorant is actually not the real solution.
Indian need to study and investigate the reason why there are more body odor of Indian than say Japanese and Chinese (who actually also don’t wear deodorant), and even more than any western countries. Find the cure, not just resort to deodorant.

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Sanjay Manaktala
November 13, 2019 at 5:50 am

Japanese and Chinese smell as well if they’re not wearing deodorant also. But you also have body hair, spices, diet, climate, fashion and soaps that all play a part. But at it’s most basic level if deo was more widespread we’d see this, just like somebody way overweight would naturally apply more than somebody who doesn’t sweat as much in similar conditions. either way thank you.

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Silvia Naashira
December 12, 2019 at 7:08 am

Actually I think that they smell due to their diet. I’m Italian, I had a friend who went crazy about Tumeric, he started using it everywhere, after a while his skin began to smell quite bad.
Remember? We are what we eat.
Tumeric is quite pungent, as many other Indian spices. If you use them regularly, it will inevitably affect your odor.

Anyway, I think it comes only out if you don’t have a correct hygiene, or if you maybe sweat due to physical effort or heat.

I’m curious, why you say toilet paper is disgusting? What should we use in your opinion?
In Italy we wipe, then we use a thing called “bidet” to wash our intimate parts, ofc only when we’re home, otherwise we just wipe and wash ourselves once we get back.

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Sanjay Manaktala
December 12, 2019 at 7:23 am

Agreed, diet plays a part but I couldn’t find a definitive study regarding the causes with regards to odor so I just left it open ended. Also I meant ONLY using toilet paper. By itself I find it gross (after growing up in America)…with a bidet to wash and then toilet paper to dry off, I’m all for 🙂 In America for example only using toilet paper is like a bird pooping on your arm and just wiping it off with a napkin…wash and then wipe!

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Let me know if this helped you or any comments?