Underarm Odor, Why Some People Smell and Others Don’t
You may think underarm odor depends on whether people shower regularly or use deodorant, but that may not always be the case. A new study found that a small percentage of people have armpits that never smell.
Some people never need deodorant
Sales of deodorant around the world was projected to reach $10.5 billion in US dollars in 2010, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc. Even if that projection fell short, that’s still a lot of deodorant.
Yet about 2 percent of the population can use deodorant money to buy other things, because they never need to apply this item to their underarms. At least that’s what researchers from the University of Bristol in England found in their latest research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
The British researchers came to this conclusion after they evaluated 6,495 women who were part of the Children of the 90s study conducted by the University of Bristol. They discovered that 117 (2%) of the participants had an unusual form of a gene called ABCC11, which meant they never have smelly armpits.
This study comes after previous research, which showed that underarm odor depends on having an active ABCC11 gene, and that the gene is not active in some people. Now researchers have more information about underarm odor that may be of interest to some consumers, even though it is relevant to a small percentage of the population.
Here’s a breakdown of the findings:
- Of the 117 women who had the altered gene, 78 percent still used deodorant, even though they did not produce underarm odor.
- The remaining 22 percent of women with the variant did not use deodorant.
- Of women in the study who did produce underarm odor, 95 percent used deodorant and 5 percent did not
Professor Ian NM Day, of the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol and one of the study’s co-authors, commented that “One quarter of these individuals must consciously or subconsciously recognize that they do not produce odor and do not use deodorant, whereas most odor producers do use deodorant.”
Of the women with the variant who continue to use deodorant even though they don’t need it, he noted that “we believe that these people simply follow socio-cultural norms.” However, these individuals could save money and exposure to potentially irritating or harmful chemicals found in many deodorants if they stopped using these products.
Are your underarms smelly?
Of course, there is a simple way to answer this question. But what if you suspect you may be among those who have the ABCC11 gene variant?
One option is to take a gene test, although this may seem like a dramatic step just to discover if your underarms are capable of producing odor. The authors of the study point out that individuals who have the gene variation also have a greater likelihood of having dry ear wax (as compared with sticky ear wax).
Therefore, you may discover if you have non-odorous underarms by checking your ear wax.
The bottom line
The underarm deodorant industry is likely not shaking in its boots or worrying about losing sales, given the small percentage of people (only women were involved in this study) who carry the modified ABCC11 gene. But the findings of this new research provide some interesting information about underarm odor and why some people smell, and others don’t.
Global Industry Analysts
Rodriguez S et al. Dependence of deodorant usage on ABCC11 genotype: scope for personalized genetics in personal hygiene. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2013 Jan; doi:10.1038/jid.2012.480