April 21, 2024


Puberty makes teenagers’ armpits smell like cheese, goat and even urine, scientists in Germany have discovered.

The specific chemical compounds that make up puberty body odor have been singled out, should someone want to bottle “eau du teenager”.

More usefully, the discovery could help create deodorants that mask those specific odors. It also explained why babies smell better.

The study room compared babies younger than three years old with 14- to 18-year-olds and found that teenagers have two specific chemical compounds not present in babies that smell like sweat, urine, musk, and sandalwood. Babies, on the other hand, had higher levels of a ketone that smells floral and soapy.

Helene Loos, from the Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany, and her colleagues modified T-shirts and babygrows with cotton pads sewn into the armpits. Children slept in it overnight after washing it with fragrance free products.

The pads of the teenagers’ armpits had two steroids present – 5alphaandrost-16-en-3-one and 5alphaandrost-16-en-3alpha-ol – which smelled of sweat, urine, musk and sandalwood. They also had higher levels of six carboxylic acids, which give off unappealing odors, including cheese, goat and wax.

Babies’ samples showed higher levels of the ketone alpha-isomethylionone, which smells like flowers and soap, with a hint of violet.

The hormonal changes that occur during puberty are associated with an increase in body odor, linked to the activation of sweat glands and the secretion of sebum. The chemical compounds in sweat easily turn into gas, which is then perceived as an odor.

Researchers at Erlangen-Nuremberg’s Aroma and Smell Research Facility said that changing body odor in development is known to affect the interaction between parents and children. “Infant body odors are pleasant and rewarding to mothers and, as such, likely facilitate parental affection,” they wrote.

“In contrast, body odors of pubertal children are considered less pleasant and parents cannot identify their own child during this developmental stage.”

The study used a sample of 36 children, half of whom were infants and half were teenagers. Families were warned not to give them spicy or strong-smelling food, such as onions, asparagus and cabbage, that day. They also had to wash their bodies and bedding with perfume-free products.

The researchers extracted the chemical compounds absorbed by the armpit pads, using a technique called mass spectrometry to identify them. Once the chemicals were extracted and further testing was completed, a trained assessor used their nose to detect odors.



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