The Chemicals Responsible for Teens' Strong Body Odor

22 March 2024 2094
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The changes that come with puberty include more than just growth and muscle development; they also include the emergence of distinctive body odors. Scientists have recently identified the compounds that contribute to the unique aroma of teenagers.

Adolescent body odor significantly differs from that of infants and toddlers, as revealed by a study published in Communications Chemistry on March 21. The study found two particularly odorous steroids and increased levels of carboxylic acids in teenagers. These chemicals result from bacteria breaking down sweat and sebum, the oily substance that keeps our skin moisturized. They could be responsible for the distinct change in body odor during puberty.

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg chemist Helene Loos notes that body odor varies throughout each stage of human development, displaying a diverse range of odor compounds.

Loos and her fellow researchers obtained body odor samples from 18 teenagers aged 14 to 18 and 18 young children aged between 0 to 3. The subjects had slept with cotton pads under their arms for a night to collect the samples. The analysis revealed more than 40 common compounds between the two age groups.

While some chemical classes showed no distinction between the age groups, carboxylic acids were more prominent among the teenagers. Some of these compounds emitted pleasant fruity, soapy, or grassy scents, while others had less desirable cheesy, musty or goatlike odors.

Two distinct steroids were found only in the teenager's body odor. One, known as 5α-androst-16-en-3-one, emitted scents reminiscent of sweat, urine and musk. The other, known as 5α-androst-16-en-3α-ol, smelled of musk and sandalwood.

Surprisingly, the study detected the presence of some scented product components, despite the participants specifically avoiding deodorant and using unscented body wash and detergent for two days before the sample collection.

However, biochemist Andreas Natsch of Givaudan, a fragrance and flavor manufacturer based in Vernier, Switzerland, pointed out that certain compounds known to contribute to strong body odors were not found. This could be attributed to the need for different detection methods or the likelihood of these compounds manifesting themselves more after physical activity.

In forthcoming research, Loos plans to search for these missing compounds and expand the study to body odor changes during other developmental stages.