Scientists Have Finally Figured Out What Causes B.O.

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Body odor is natural and we all have it in some form, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make us feel insecure or, in some cases, dirty. Sometimes it feels like every deodorant I try can’t fully mask my sweaty scent during a workout or even just taking a walk outside on a hot day. It’s not that those products aren’t effective (I sweat a lot), but maybe it’s that the body odor code hasn’t been cracked, at least not entirely. That is, until now.

Researchers at the University of York in England are now revealing a new discovery: They’ve traced the source of underarm odor to a particular enzyme in a certain microbe that lives in the human armpit, according to The Guardian. “We’ve discovered how the odor is produced,” said professor Gavin Thomas, a senior microbiologist on the research team. “What we really want to understand now is why.”

According to the researchers’ study published in the journal Scientific Reports, our bodies do not produce pungent B.O. directly, but rather it’s released as a byproduct called thioalcohols, which is created when microbes eat other chemical compounds they find on our skin. It sounds nasty, but also, how interesting! After numerous tests, the team found that one species of bacteria found in our armpits, Staphylococcus hominis, was a major contributor to B.O.—most microbes on our skin aren’t even capable of producing thioalcohols. When Staphylococcus hominis feasts on an odorless compound called Cys-Gly-3M3SH, it releases the foul smells we despise through the sweat glands in our pits.

New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD says there are two important conclusions that can be drawn out from this finding. “The first is that we can decrease the amount of Cys-Gly-3M3SH compound released from the sweat glands by using botulinum neuromodulators like Botox, Dysport and Xeomin to relax the muscle that is responsible for sweat excretion. The other approach is to modify the microbiome population of the axilla (armpits) to decrease specific bacteria—Staphylococcus hominis—that is responsible for the creation of B.O. The new direction in skin care using phages—small viruses that can potentially target and kill specific bacteria—can lend itself greatly to creating a new wave of deodorants.”

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