Our genes determine what our skin secretes in sweat and, consequently, how we smell. No two body odours are alike as we all have our own unique “cocktail” of bacteria that break down sweat to release volatile substances. But there are people who do not smell ... and they even use deodorant.
Our body odour develops when skin bacteria degrade certain substances produced by the sweat glands: steroid hormones, fatty acids and sulphur compounds. Our genetic characteristics determine the amount and proportion of each such substance secreted and, consequently, differences in how we smell. However, in a recent UK study of 6 500 women it was found that 2% had virtually no smell because of their particular version of the ABCC11 gene. However, over 75% of these women used underarm deodorant – out of habit. Identifying this genetic trait could lead to odourless people both saving money and reducing their exposure to chemicals. Such studies also open the way for the future application of genetics to the field of personal hygiene.