What To Know About B.O.
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When it comes to being protected from odors most foul, we truly live in a privileged era. However, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction to the point now that we freak out at even the idea of a natural human smells. Many of our products, and this includes those for both grooming and household cleansing, are so heavily fragranced that they are bad for our skin, our respiration, our reproductive tracts (courtesy of vaginal deodorants and flavored douches, both to which I am vehemently opposed) and the environment.
To mask overpowering body odor, perfume manufacturing was first introduced on a wide scale in a 16thcentury France where even physicians were convinced that bathing was harmful to the health. (One major strike against Marie Antoinette was that she bathed every day, something that the citizenry regarded as disgusting.Off with her head!)Deodorant didn’t arrive on the scene until 1888 and antiperspirant didn’t make its debut until 1903. Even still, it took at least a generation or two before your average Josephine regarded fumigating her underarms as a necessary part of hertoilette. And indoor plumbing as a standard feature in the Western home is less than 100 years old; indeed, many houses in the UK, for example, still used chamber pots and outhouses well into the 1970s. To set the facts straight:
Body odor comes from two sources:
- Site specific like the underarms, groin and feet. These contain the greatest concentration ofapocrineglands that produce odor with the help of skin bacteria. In contrast,eccrinesweat glands are distributed all over the body; the perspiration they secrete is odorless and mostly water and functions primarily to cool the body.
- Skin in general. Most odor is produced by the apocrine sweat glands, but certain substances like garlic and some medications are excreted through the eccrine glands.
So this week, I’m going with a Q & A format of the most commonly asked questions we hear about body odor:
Q: Why do we dislike body odor in others so much?
A: Mainly, it’s cultural and serves as a reminder that we are, indeed, animals. The exceptions to our odor objection come from those to whom we are sexually attracted and (post diaper-change) babies.
Q: Why is that?
A: Instinctively, our species’ survival depends on us – as it does for every other living creature from amoebae to elephants – making babies. But since bearing and raising offspring is laborious, painful and draining, nature provides some powerful propaganda in the form of sexual attraction on the one hand to conceive offspring and strong parental bonds on the other to rear it. Thus, whatever olfactory offenses an infant commits when delivering up a fully loaded diaper, one subsequent whiff off the top of the baby’s head and all is forgiven.
Q: Is it true you start smelling worse as you get older?
A: This one strikes terror into the hearts of nearly everyone who is image-aware. The chemical composition of perspirationdoeschange with age and it’s mainly due to signaling that reproduction is no longer an option. However, studies show that the odor is not necessarily displeasing but just different. Much of what we attribute to ‘old person’s smell’ has to do with inconsistent hygiene, especially oral hygiene and our diminishing capacity to detect smells on ourselves (which we normally don’t smell anyway because of olfactory overload), our clothing, our pets and our environment. Fear not, daily bathing, deodorant and cleanliness around the house take care of it. And should you worry that your living space smells rank but you’re not sure, hire your 10-year-old nephew as a ‘nose’ to tour your premises and report anything dodgy.
Q: Is odor bad for your health?
A: Actually no. If you frequently washed your hands (whichisa health issue) and had tidy toilet habits but only bathed once a month, you’d be fine. You’d probably have no friends left, of course, but your health wouldn’t really suffer. The exception is the odor in the mouth. A lack of oral hygiene is directly linked to heart problems and other systemic breakdowns. So look at bad breath as a blessing in disguise as a reminder to brush and floss your teeth thoroughly. And make it twice a day, please. Also remember to drink 24 ounces at minimum to aid digestion and rinse your mouth.
Q: I love garlic. What should I do?
A: Fall in love with – or at least hang out with – someone else who also loves garlic and neither of you will be the wiser. Your comingling garlic fumes will cancel each other out and everybody is happy.
Odor happens but it doesn’t have to assault your nose.
Follow me on Twitter @DrAvaMD and friend me on Facebook Dr Ava Shamban
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