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Back in college, there was an embarrassing moment that will forever be etched in my memory: A girlfriend borrowed my backpack for a weekend trip. When she came back she handed me her backpack and said something I will never forget:
“Michaeleen, you must have sweated a lot because your backpack stinks. The arm straps smell like onions. Ew.”
I stood there silently. I don’t know how I answered. But I remember thinking, “I don’t eat much onions. Does my sweat really stink?”
Now, 25 years later, I know that the smell of my sweat was actually a signal of something good for my skin. Something that prevents skin problems like eczema and protects me from dangerous infections like MRSA.It is used in hospitals worldwide and is the leading cause of skin infections in the United States
What makes your body a unique bouquet?
To understand what I’m talking about, we need to take a step back and look at what actually causes body odor… not sweat per se.
“No, I don’t think your sweat itself smells,” says Gavin Thomas, a microbiologist at the University of York.
Thomas studies how and why humans carry bouquets of particular scents. Sweat immediately after coming out of the pores is basically odorless.
“I mean, most sweat is salt water,” he says. This is sweat that is produced throughout the body to cool the body in hot weather.
“But that’s not what we’re interested in,” he explains. “I am interested in this other type of sweat that is produced in the armpits and around the genitals.”
this other Sweat is not just salt water, it also contains a treasure trove of compounds such as oils, fats, and proteins.
It is not known exactly why humans sweat this second type. But one of his purposes, Thomas said, likely has to do with the stench that it eventually releases.
This second type of sweat has no smell of its own. But something that lives on our skin, a tiny creature, absorbs that sweat and makes it smell.
Yes, I’m talking about your skin bacteria.
“Human skin is home to about 200 different species of bacteria,” says Teruaki Nakatsuji, a biologist at the University of California, San Diego. The microbiome of the skin is very diverse.”
These bacteria are hungry. Some of them really enjoy eating the molecules in our sweat. They munch on some of the molecules and then spit out new molecular compounds. Some of them are quite aromatic. For example, they can smell like cumin or goat, claims the American Society for Microbiology.
And some of these molecules are downright smelly.
Back in 2020, Thomas and his colleagues found a creature in their skin. Staphylococcus hominis, produces a particularly pungent odor. “These types of compounds stink pretty badly.”
Wait a second! This creature and your stinky sweat are actually beneficial and even necessary.
Back in college, when my backpack smelled a little, it wasn’t because of my sweat, it was called tiny microbes hominids of staphylococci.
You may want to take a shower. Wait a second! Before you get your hands on antibacterial soap, there are a few things you should know about this bacterium.What I didn’t realize until recently: These bacteria and their relatives actually do really good things for you and your skin. requirement these bacteria.
“without it S. hominidsyou’re in trouble,” says Richard Gallo, a dermatologist at the University of California, San Diego.
Over the past five years, how have Garo, Teruaki Nakatsuji, and their colleagues S. hominids It actually protects the skin from inflammatory problems like eczema and dangerous infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
The team developed a cream made with bacteria and tested in preliminary trials as a treatment for eczema.
“S. hominids Basically, we create a kind of antibiotic that specifically targets the bacteria that cause MRSA,” says Gallo.
But Gallo says the creature isn’t the only part of its skin that produces antibacterial agents. Twenty years ago, he and his colleagues discovered that the body itself also makes antibacterial molecules and puts them into sweat.
“So sweat is pretty much like antibiotic juice,” says Gallo. It’s one of the ways our skin tries to fight off bad bacteria.”
So the next time it’s hot, sticky, and smells a little, before you hit the shower, thank the sweat and the bacteria that feed on it for keeping your skin healthy and safe.
Because even after you shower or use an antibacterial soap, the protective organisms are there to help you.
“Washing your skin removes surface material,” he says. But these bacteria live deep in the pores of your skin, where detergents and antibiotics can’t reach them.
“So in some ways your skin is smarter than you,” he adds. I know what you need better than you.