The Smelly Truth about Antiperspirants
Have a body odour problem? Surprisingly antiperspirants are not the answer.
Antiperspirants have been widely used for over 60 years, but new research from the Archives of Dermatological Research suggest that they may actually make you smell worse!
(Image credit: Alan [CC BY-NC 2.0] via Flickr)
The research from the University of Ghent showed that individuals that used antiperspirants had an increase in the smelliest type bacteria that lives in the armpits called Actinobacteria, specifically Corynebacteria. It is suggested that the aluminium compounds in the antiperspirants kill good odourless bacteria like Staphlococcus allowing the smelly ones to flourish. Deodorants on the other hand, reduced the levels of both types of bacteria.
The study involved 8 individuals refraining from using antiperspirant or deodorant for a month. They compared the results to a person who was told to use antiperspirants and not previously use them.
The experiment has been criticized due to the small sample size with only 9 people in total taking part. But the scientists say that these are simply initial findings and further research will be conducted to substantiate the findings.
Where does body odor come from?
Our skin has a layer of friendly or commensal bacteria on its surface called our microbiome. These bacteria help us to stop harmful bacteria from colonizing and taking over our skin. When we sweat, the bacteria in our armpits consume the amino acids and lipids in the sweat and create smelly compounds that we detect as body odour. Sweat itself doesn’t have any scent.
Antiperspirants work by blocking sweat glands with aluminum based compounds such as aluminium chlorohydrate. This prevents sweating so bacteria have no food source to produce the smelly gases from. Deodorants on the other hand use antimicrobial agents to kill bacteria and mask bad odours they create with better smelling ones.
Staphlococcus epidermidis, an odourless inhabitant of our skin (Image Credit: Microbe World [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0])
Actinobacteria, the smelly bacteria on our skin (Image Credit: AJ Cann [CC BY-NC 2.0])
What can people with chronic body odour do?
Since neither of these address the bacterial composition of the armpits directly, they are not long-term solutions for people who need it the most, sufferers of chronic body odour or bromhidrosis. The researchers shifted their focus to armpit bacterial transplants in order to restore the bacterial balance without the use of antiperspirants or deodorants.
Researchers successfully transferred armpit bacteria from a person without body odour to the washed armpit of a relative of theirs with severe body odour. This led to an almost immediate and permanent reduction in the pungency of his scent with a simple and non invasive procedure.
Problems occur when armpit bacteria transplants are performed between people who are not closely related. This may be due a wide range of factors including differences in skin composition and hairiness.
What should we take away from this?
In the long term, a change to deodorants from antiperspirants would probably be beneficial for your armpit bacterial ecosystem. But wearing antiperspirants is still more socially acceptable than not using any at all. It really comes down to who you love more, your armpit bacteria or your potential date.