Never Repel People With Your B.O. Again

Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
As stinky as our sweat can get, it's not actually the sweat that stinks — it's bacteria. So, our current deodorants and antiperspirants can only do so much. New research suggests that the deodorant of the future may tackle the stink-producing bacteria directly.  The study, presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for General Microbiology, looked at the different kinds of bacteria commonly found in our pits, and measured how much stinky thioalcohols each one created from sweat. Currently, antiperspirants work by causing our underarm pores to constrict and plug up. This keeps sweat away — and the bacteria that feed on it. Deodorants, on the other hand, just mask the smell. Being able to target stinky bacteria (without harming the helpful ones), could make deodorant more effective, while still not relying on pore-clogging. As you might suspect, Unilever helped out with the work. The microbiome is having a bit of a moment these days. Whether it's in your gut, your breath, or your vagina, this interconnected system of little friends does some very big jobs. But sometimes, they have some unpleasant side effects (hello, B.O.), and other times, they're more harmful than helpful. These days, we're seeing a shift in focus from eliminating all bacteria ever, to something a little more peaceful in our hygiene routines. First, we're finding ways to keep tabs on our own personal micbrobiomes, then we're learning how to foster the bacterial buddies we want to keep around, in order to make their jobs as easy as possible. Some have even taken it farther than that, like Julia Scott did for The New York Times Magazine last May. She stopped using her soap in favor of a bacteria-rich mist, to surprisingly great results. What all this means is that, in the very near future, we could be ditching our harsh personal hygiene products in favor of advanced deodorants, body washes, and more that work by keeping our bacteria in balance. It's time to start appreciating bacteria for the handy helpers they are — until things sweaty, anyway.

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