Jan 29, 2015


Interviewer: You are a woman and you are not terribly in love with your odor. Is something wrong with you or are you just normal? That's coming up next on The Scope.

Announcer: Questions every woman wonders about her health, body and mind. This is, "Am I normal?" on The Scope.

Interviewer: We're with Dr. Kirtly Jones, the expert in all things women. Dr. Jones, one of the things that are so important to women, men too, but women especially is they leave the house and they want to smell good. But sometimes they just loose that freshness smell throughout the day even though they shower as much as they should or need to. And they have perfume and body spray on but there is still that body odor that they're just not really in love with. What's going on?

Dr. Jones: Well such a great topic so it turns out that body odor is a very important advertisement. So you may not like what you are advertising and maybe somebody else doesn't. So there are a lot of different parts of your body that have an odor. In fact, let's pick your scalp. Do you know what your hair smells like or someone else's hair smells like when it needs to be washed? It smells a little funky and the smell of hair changes when kids go through puberty. So little kids have that wonderful little kids smell, kind of like wet puppies.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jones: With dirty hair. And then when they go through, adrenarche, when their adrenal glands wake up at about 8. They start making a little bit more male hormones, this is boys and girls and their hair starts to smell different.
So what's this smell from in hair? The smell is from a combination of oils that are put out by the sweat glands and the oil glands. Each hair has an oil gland that's attached to it. So hair and the smell attached to it is very important in telling people where we are in a menstrual cycle and where we are in our shower cycle.

Now there are two kinds of hair that are very specifically designed to send out messages. These are the pubic hair and the axillary hair. Those areas have specific glands called eccrine glands that give off odors. Now some of these odors are odors that our brain can actually recognize and some of these odors bypass a part of the brain that lets you know you're smelling stuff. And goes right to the part of the brain that gives you information about sex.

Now we know that many animals tell when others are in heat and it's by smell. Well humans probably do that too and we call this message in smells pheromones. And pheromone smells go through a special area of your nose directly to your limbic system, a part of the brain that senses things sexual. Now what do American women do? Well American women may not like the extra smells that their bodies can register that come with puberty and axillary hair, like sweaty.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jones: So they shave off all their pubic hair and they shave off all their axillary hair and they put antiperspirant on to make them...

Interviewer: So perfume and bodies spray...

Dr. Jones: So they do something to skip from sweating and then they cover on top with deodorants. So there is antiperspirant and then there is deodorants to mask the smell that men might actually be able to assess not in their cognitive part of their brain, but their behavioral part of their brain.

Interviewer: This is all mental.

Dr. Jones: It's so mental but it's not part of the brain that you can get to. In fact, some researchers are trying to create a spray that's made out of the smells that women make when they are ovulating. And to see if it changes behaviors in a bar or changes behavior in whether you are choosing to buy something or not.

Interviewer: That's so weird to me.

Dr. Jones: It is. So let's go back to body odors from the armpit.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jones: So the armpit has this eccrine glands which are sending a signal about where you are in your sexual menstrual cycle. And it may be a message that you can't actually smell. But the smell that you sent is probably a combination of oils that are broken down by the bacteria in your armpit. So your armpit has different bacteria than your forearm which has different bacteria than back of your hand. And the way those bacteria break those oils to release scents may be biologically important.
What we do when we add all those soaps and alcohols, we kill all bacteria that might be good for us. We end up with some bacteria that might not be good for us. And a recent research was done to ask people not to use any soap when they shower for a month and see then if they were releasing different odors that may be were less smelly. It turns out that in this particular study when people were free from using any soap on any of their body parts they actually changed the bacteria on their skin for a better, more health bacteria that didn't create so much obvious odor.

Interviewer: So the key there is, what you just said, is if you don't want body odor, just don't use soap.

Dr. Jones: Don't use soap because you may be changing your body odor.

Interviewer: Fascinating.

Dr. Jones: Now there are other kinds of odors that we give off so our regular skin, not our pubic and axillary skin, but our other skin, can have an odor which defines us. And people are different bio types but different biological what we call HLA antigens, which are the things which define who we are immunogentically, immunologically. Those are run in families and women tend to like the sweaty odor of people who are a little different from them.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jones: Because you don't want to have babies with someone who is just like you. You want someone who can mix it up a little bit more. Women actually smell scent much better than men. So rather than you trying to discover all your scents, I would somebody that you trust, a girlfriend perhaps, not maybe a member of your family, and ask if they can smell you and what they think.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Jones: If they say I can't smell you...

Interviewer: Because most of the time your smell that you don't like is probably not even an issue.

Dr. Jones: They may not be able to tell. If they say "Oh I've been meaning to tell you this, you have the world's worst smell breathe or you have the world's worst body odor." Then you better just keep doing what you're doing which is scrubbing all your parts and putting soap on it and put all your powders on it and good luck for you.

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