Does Jock Itch Smell? All About Body Odor: A Board Certified Dermatologist’s Point Of View.

Is it normal for my skin rash to smell?

Jock itch, skin fold rash, itchy rash, scaly red skin, are all terms used to describe the uncomfortable and sometimes odor producing skin condition frequently seen by doctors among their patients. Don’t feel alone if this happens to you. The groin area can be prone to rashes as a result of a fungal infection, medically known as tinea cruris but commonly referred to as jock itch. It turns out that some skin disturbances like jock itch, can get your attention with their smell. Some people describe the odor as “musty”, “stale” or “cheesy”. When you find yourself in this situation, your nose is picking up on the biology of the skin, because the odor emanates from microbes like fungus and bacteria when these interact with the skin. This happens when key elements are present on the skin allowing for these to flourish (more on this below). These sometimes pungent- smelling rashes are caused by fungi or a subset of fungus such as yeast, or from a skin-specific fungus called dermatophyte. These yeast and dermatophyte organisms are present on our bodies all the time but when overgrowth happens, you can appreciate the scent it causes. You may know these as “candida” “jock itch” and “ringworm”. Candida is a form of yeast and has a predilection for moist skin and candida too can create odorous skin infections in some people.

What is jock itch and how do I know if I have it?

Jock itch gets its name from the rash being encountered by athletes in the genital area or “jock strap area” due to the combination of moisture from sweating/exertion as well as skin chafing from physical activity. The friction along with moisture and fungi lead to this rash. The rash appears as red scaly patches (often symmetrically on both sides) in a characteristic arc like pattern in the thigh folds and around the genitals. Another related term, “ringworm” , which is not actually from a worm, and doesn’t usually produce odor, but results from a type of dermatophyte that when present often causes a circular or ring-shaped scaly patch that often will cause itchiness. The medical term for this is tinea corporis. While jock itch is present in the sweat/ moisture prone underwear area, tinea corporis/ringworm can show up on drier skin areas like the abdomen and back. Bacteria species, such as one named corynebacteria, can breed odor too and are also more readily found within the humid skin folds.


Symptoms of jock itch or other skin fold rashes:

  • Moist skin that may appear spongy or shiny
  • Discoloration (pink to red patches, white moist patches or hyperpigmentation of tan, brown or gray that does not match the normal skin pigment)
  • Scaly skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Blisters
  • Textural changes
  • Discomfort
  • Odor

Where on my body is the odor most common?

Skin folds are the most commonly affected areas of our bodies for producing odor. These are the warm, damp skin sites which are covered by clothing most of the day and lack air circulation, like these:
  • Thigh creases
  • Inner thighs and upper thigh creases
  • Genital skin perineum skin
  • Buttock crease
  • Armpits or underarms
  • Skin under and between breasts
  • Abdominal fold
  • Belly button
  • Toes and Feet

Why are skin folds prone to body odor?

The reason for these body areas being more prone to smelliness has to do with the presence of what are known as “resident” of “commensural” fungi or bacteria. Scientists have actually mapped out the human body and it is known that certain skin regions are home to particular bacteria (just like in nature some plants grow in desert climates and others grow in the jungle), known as the microbiome. It tends to be that the damp parts of our skin make a moist environment hospitable to some skin flora and these fungi and/ or bacteria flourish here. A part of their life cycle is a breakdown that produces odiferous compounds.


Can a skin fold rash like jock itch be prevented?

If you were to think of body odor production as a simple equation it would be:
moist areas of skin lacking air flow + bacteria or fungi + time = body odor
So with the above hypothetical equation in mind, be aware of what could be your risk factors. Knowing these common scenarios which cause jock itch smell or odor ahead of time, can help in prevention. These conditions may lead to skin fold rash like jock itch:
  • Tight-fitting clothing which leads to friction and also reduces air circulation to the skin
  • Obesity or large sections of overlapping skin that increases moisture trapping
  • Undergarments that are not wicking away moisture and maintain high humidity
  • Skin pH being altered
  • Friction from clothing that causes rubbing or chafing
  • Improper hygiene 
  • Immune system compromise
  • Other medical issues that cause susceptibility to fungal infection or immune depletion
  • Some medications

How can I treat the odor from a rash like jock itch?

The good news is that typically once the skin is improved, so is the odor. Over the counter antifungal creams and other topical medications such as medicated body wash you can use in the shower as well as powders and sprays are available to treat the affected skin. Avoid home remedies. See your doctor who can diagnose the problem and determine if you actually have a fungal infection or a bacterial infection. Your dermatologist will usually ask for a simple medical and surgical history and provide a skin exam and sometimes a scraping or swab of the skin will be performed, which can confirm the cause. Once the cause is known, your doctor will prescribe an antifungal medication or antibiotic if necessary. In the majority of cases a simple treatment and skin care that avoids the risk factors will be all that is needed. Rashes can be misleading so seek an expert opinion.

Of note: Be sure to get checked for athlete’s foot (dermatophyte infection of the foot) because sometimes the fungus on feet can spread to other areas. This too can be discussed with your healthcare provider.

*The above is NOT intended to serve as medical advice.