Skip to main content
September 23, 2018

Scientists to make deodorant which stops sweat from smelling

"Understanding the structure of this transport protein means that a new generation of deodorants could be developed to disrupt its function, the scientists say." /COURTESY
"Understanding the structure of this transport protein means that a new generation of deodorants could be developed to disrupt its function, the scientists say." /COURTESY

Help is at hand for those struggling to fight off unwelcome armpit smells during the heatwave, because scientists have come a step closer to blocking body odour.

Researchers have unravelled a key part of the process by which armpit bacteria produce the most pungent component of the nauseating smell we recognise as BO. 

The findings could herald better deodorants with targeted active ingredients, the team from the University of York claims.

Whereas deodorant normally tries to tackle the smelly bacteria or just cover up the odour, this could reveal a way to prevent the smell being made in the first place.

The role of bacteria in the production of BO has been known for some time and scientists have recently discovered a small number of species of bacteria are responsible for the most pungent component of the whiff in our pits.

However, until now, little has been understood about the how they create the smell when we sweat.

Sweaty smells are created when bacteria take up odourless compounds, which we secrete into our underarms when we sweat, and convert them into other chemicals.

Researchers have now worked out the first step in this process by finding the 'transport' molecule which enables bacteria to recognise and swallow up the odourless compounds.

Understanding the structure of this transport protein means that a new generation of deodorants could be developed to disrupt its function, the scientists say.

Instead of just tackling the bacteria which make the smell or trying to cover it up, it could be possible to stop the smell being made at all. 

Co-author of the research, Dr Gavin Thomas from the University of York, said: "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.

"Modern deodorants work by inhibiting or killing many of the bacteria present our underarms in order to prevent BO. 

"We could develop products to block the production of BO'  

"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 researchers were able to see the transport protein's detailed structure by crystallising it in labs and analysing the data to find how it works and how to target it.

The process provided insight that may also have important implications for medical science. 

The team's findings are published in the journal eLife. 

Just three bacteria are responsible for most sweaty smells 

In a study published in 2015, also by the University of York, British scientists identified the bug behind body odour. 

Researchers already knew that sweat itself was odourless, but they discovered the undesirable problem occurs when bacteria feast on the sugary proteins in sweat, releasing foul-smelling chemicals called thioalcohols in the process.

Thioalcohols are so pungent that even tiny amounts – one drop in a trillion drops of water – can create a stink.

The scientists set about identifying which bugs make the most thioalcohols and revealed just three that live on the underarm sklin could do it well.

All were members of the staphylococcus family, and scientists were then able to go further and identify the key genes responsible. 

Lead researcher Dr Dan Bawdon said: "It was surprising that this particular body odour pathway is governed by only a small number of the many bacterial species residing in the underarm."

Click here for the latest political news 

Poll of the day