What Your Body Odor Says About You

When Annlyse Retiveau leaned in to sniff my armpits, I held my own breath as she inhaled. I’ve spent a vast majority of my life using products to avoid this precise critique—another human intentionally evaluating my armpit aroma. Yet, whether we like it or not, humans do smell each other, and we can glean useful social cues and health information from the body odor of others, albeit sometimes unconsciously. There’s nothing unconscious about Retiveau’s sniffing. As a professional nose at the New Jersey-based company Sensory Spectrum, she smells things for a living, to help companies assess the aromas in a new coffee brew, or to evaluate whether a deodorant successfully blocks body odor. She’s neither chagrined nor embarrassed, just professional, as she demonstrates exactly how far her nose must be from my armpit—6 inches—to properly assess my aroma, as well as the correct inhaling technique: short bunny sniffs to avoid sensory overload. And yes, “bunny sniffs” is the technical term. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Most of our potent body odour arises from a kind of sweat that emerges from apocrine glands in our armpits. Apocrine glands become active at puberty and are primarily responsible for turning armpits into stink zones from adolescence onward. Meanwhile the salty stuff that flows when we exercise or are overheated emerges from a different, more abundant, kind of sweat gland—the eccrine gland. Most ...
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