You spent $85 on a new eau de toilet (marked up a reasonable 4,500 percent), but what if that’s just not enough to cover up the fact that men smell like cheese? And ladies, the news isn’t good for you, either: Your natural stench is akin to onions and grapefuit.
That’s the conclusion of research in Switzerland that involved taking armpit sweat samples from 24 men and 25 women after they had spent time in a sauna or ridden an exercise bike for 15 minutes.
The researchers found marked differences in the sweat from men and women. “Men smell of cheese, and women of grapefruit or onion,” says Christian Starkenmann of Firmenich, a company in Geneva that researches flavours and perfumes for food and cosmetics companies.
The team found that the women’s armpit sweat contained relatively high levels of an odourless sulphur-containing compound – 5 milligrams per millilitre of sweat versus 0.5 milligrams in men. When the researchers mixed this compound in the lab with bacteria commonly found in the armpit, the bugs turned it into a thiol – a previously discovered odour from armpits that is akin to onion.
“The more sulphur precursor we added, the more intense was the malodour,” says Starkenmann, whose team’s results appear in Chemical Senses (DOI: 10.1093/chemse/bjn076). Bacterial enzymes turn the otherwise odourless precursor into the malodour.
The men, meanwhile, had relatively high levels of an odourless fatty acid which turned into a cheesy odour when exposed to the same types of bacteria.
The balance of oniony to cheesy precursors in women’s sweat made it smell worse than men’s as rated by independent smell assessors.