Women in exercise class

Science says there's a (really gross) solution for when you run out of deodorant

It's happened to the best of us: you're sat in the office, or in a spin class, and suddenly you catch a whiff of yourself. In a moment of horror, you realise that in your manic rush to get ready this morning, you forgot to spritz yourself with deodorant. But there's nothing you can do to sort it out right now. Cue: hours of feeling horribly self-conscious, trying to move your arms as little as possible. What a nightmare. 

But embarrassing as this situation is, spare a thought for those people who suffer from the issue daily, regardless of whether they've showered and sprayed. While 98 per cent of people will suffer from body odour at one point or another, for some people excessive body odour is a 24 hour problem. The good news is that new scientific research claims that there may be a solution to both of these situations, but unfortunately, it’s a pretty gross one.

Woman running in park Credit: Pexels/ Tirachard Kumtanom

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego reckon that by rubbing the sweat of a better-smelling friend onto your skin, you can mask your own funky scent. Confused? Well, first, here's the 411 on why you get body odour in the first place.

The smell is essentially caused by the natural bacteria in your armpits breaking down the chemicals, formed mostly of proteins and fats, that are excreted from your skin when you sweat. But these bacteria are highly individualised, varying between different people and even between different parts of your own body - it's the reason your feet don't smell the same as your armpits after a long run. 

But then, if everybody sweats, why do some people have more trouble with body odour than others? Well, it's partly to do with genetics and how much people sweat. For example, men tend to sweat more than women so experience more body odour. But Dr Chris Callewaert, of the University of California's School of Medicine, noticed that this didn't necessarily explain everything. He studied a set of identical twins. One twin suffered from B.O. while the other didn’t have any noticeable body odour issues; as they were genetically identical, the two should, theoretically, have had similar levels of the pesky problem. 

After establishing that they were following the same hygiene routine, Callewaert theorised that the difference may well lie in the type of bacteria living in their armpits. In order prove his theory, the twin without the odour issue was ordered not to shower for four days, so that he could build up as much scent-free sweat bacteria as possible. At the same time, the twin with B.O. issues was instructed to wash thoroughly, using antibacterial soap, so that he was as clean as possible. Once the four days were up, the scientist rubbed the sweat of the twin without body odour onto the skin of the one suffering from the embarrassing problem. As if by magic, the smelly twin’s B.O. issues disappeared.

alt Credit: Pixabay/ LorileeAlanna

Apparently, the technique works by taking the strong-smelling bacteria causing the odour and replacing it with bacteria that doesn’t smell quite so bad. In doing so, your armpits are tricked into breeding this nicer smelling bacteria. Unfortunately, the “bacteria transplant” doesn’t work with just anyone - your kindly sweat donor will need to be a close family member, such as a sibling, in order for the sneaky scheme to work.

Since then, the same experiment has been performed with 17 sets of close family members, and in all but one of the cases, the result was pretty much the same - a dramatic reduction in the symptoms of BO symptoms within a month. In a job that surely nobody wants, the difference between the smelly individual’s original odour and new scent was judged by a “trained odour panel” consisting of eight people.

So what’s next? After all, people with continued body odour issues can’t just go around stealing their sweet-smelling sibling’s sweat forever. Well Callewaert and his colleagues are now working on how to grow a more broad form of the bacteria which can be used instead of someone’s actual skin swabs: “It’s still very experimental, but I’m sure it can work,” he told the New Scientist.

A bottle of Old Spice deodrant Credit: Pixabay/ NoeliaDemaria

Of course, there are a few more traditional ways to beat the B.O. First, remember to use deodorant, and limiting the amount of fatty food you consume will limit the amount of fat for your bacteria to break down. And don't believe the old wives' tale that eating garlic will make you sweat more: it won't. But be warned that it may give your sweat a garlicy tang. Yum. Shaving your armpits and avoiding certain fabrics, such as polyester can also help, as they stop the sweat having anything to cling onto. 

If you’re anything like me you’re probably not unused to nabbing stuff from your sister - after all, you’ve probably spent half your life swiping stuff out of her wardrobe. But next time you get caught short and stuck in a sticky situation, maybe take it one step further and swab your sister for a bit of her sweat. Sharing is caring, after all. Oh, and unlike her new top, you probably don’t have to return this.