YORK, England — It’s happened to the best of us: it’s hot out, we sweat, and eventually, we stink. Even the best-smelling armpit sprays and sticks can’t completely prevent body odor from happening, but there may be new hope. Scientists have pinpointed a key cog in the development of BO, and the finding could lead to tougher deodorants down the road.
Researchers from the University of York say they’ve broken down the process that causes armpit bacteria to create the horrific stench we identify as body odor. They’d already recently discovered that a species of Staphylococcus bacteria is behind the worst-smelling scent emitted from our underarms — but how does that recognizable odor come to be?
Scientists had long struggled to show how the odorless compounds in our sweat manage to morph into pungent chemicals when we begin to sweat in our underarms.
“The skin of our underarms provides a unique niche for bacteria. Through the secretions of various glands that open onto the skin or into hair follicles, this environment is nutrient-rich and hosts its own microbial community, the armpit microbiome, of many species of different microbes,” explains study co-author Dr. Gavin Thomas in a university news release.
Thomas says that his research team discovered what’s known as a “transport protein” that allows bacteria to take hold of the odorless compounds in sweat. The team decoded the structure of the protein by crystallizing it, which allowed them to fully analyze it in the lab. By better understanding the breakdown of the molecule, the believe they can use deodorant to target it and stop the process that creates BO in its tracks.
“Modern deodorants work by inhibiting or killing many of the bacteria present our underarms in order to prevent BO,” says Thomas. “This study, along with our previous research revealing that only a small number of the bacteria in our armpits are actually responsible for bad smells, could result in the development of more targeted products that aim to inhibit the transport protein and block the production of BO.”
The full study was published July 3, 2018 in the journal eLife.