Our “Soap-Society” & Why do we have a body smell?
Beneficial microbes on your skin
Have you ever questioned the way we use antibacterial soap, the amount of washing gel we use, and why some people have a more pronounced body odor than others?
Let’s start with the soap story. Antibacterial products are a triumph of advertising and assumptions over science. We all know the classic sentence “this product removes 99,9% of bacteria”, but what does that actually mean for us humans when removing all the bacteria?
As we clarified in our last chapters of the gut-mind journal:
NOT ALL BACTERIA ARE BAD
And here comes the relation to our very own body smell. Your smell is to a large extent determined by the beneficial microbes on your skin “your identity to some extent”. When removing all the bacteria and microbes from your skin in using antibacterial soap you lose that very own identity.
In our western society we are bombarded with advertisement about how to stay clean and smell fresh (e.g. 48 hours no smell ads) whilst wearing the newest designer cloths made from fossil fuel based materials (synthetic fabrics).
Have you ever wondered why people living in tribal societies don’t face these challenges of “bad smell”? I would split people living in less developed countries into two groups when it comes to personal hygiene.
- Had very little contact with western culture. In cooperate personal hygiene into their daily tasks, say when they go fishing down the river. But they DON’T use soap, and they wear cloths made from natural materials (hemp, cotton, linen etc.)
- This group doesn’t smell bad, even when they exert themselves
- From remote villages that have been exposed to western culture often through religious missionaries. Tend to wear synthetic clothing (mostly from the 80s sent as aid from economically strong western countries). They wash themselves in the great new soap and perfume inventions (again made in western “paradise”) but have very little understanding of why you wash yourself and your cloths with these products.
- This group often have a very pungent odor!
What have our microbes to do with smell?
So why are many people in western society become unacceptable smelly after only 2-3 days of not using they favorite shower gel while native tribe people not using soap or hot water in the tropics manage to stay “clean”?
It may be all about a sensitive group of microbes called Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) found in healthy soil and water sources.
Most of the human sweat comes from the apocrine glands (scent glands). The smell that these glands release is actually completely odorless. It only gains a scent when our skin microbes tuck in and convert into and convert into a whole host of smelly compounds. The scent you then produce depends on the composition of the microbes you harbor.
According to Dr. Whitlock (from AOBiome), without AOB´s the ammonia we sweat out is not converted into nitrite and nitric oxide (chemicals which play a role not only in regulating the running of human cells but also in governing our skin microbes). Without nitric oxide, corynebacteria and staphylococci that feed on our sweat can run wild and bring bad smell (Graham, 2019).
Now it’s getting a bit scientific here:
By washing with shower gels and soaps, as well as using deodorants which work by removing or masking the odor producing bacteria, we alter our skin microbiota.
We need AOB´s on our skin because the ammonia we sweat out is converted into nitrite and nitric oxide (chemicals which govern our skin microbes). Without nitric oxide, the corynebacteria and staphylococci which feed on our sweat can run wild and are responsible for the bad body odor what we all want to avoid.
The irony is that in washing with chemicals and using deodorant to ensure that we have a permanent great smell, we are kicking off a vicious cycle.
Soap is removing our AOB´s, no AOB´s means disruption to our other skin bacteria, this disruption causes bad smell on our body, and therefore we must use soap to clean up the mess. → I would say the cosmetics and detergents industry has achieved their goal
What can we change?
- One solution would be to drastically reduce the use of soap, deodorant, and antibacterial cleaning detergents (better use alcohol to disinfect).
- Time to explore your real natural scent again, which combined with a healthy diet (pro & prebiotics) and low stress levels can be very appealing and full of pheromones (sex hormones)
- If you feel like having a scent on you try to use essential oils in small doses instead of chemically produces scents (deo, perfume etc.)
- Wear cloths made from sustainably sourced natural material (hemp, linen, cotton, etc.). They take in bodily fluids way better and don't expose you to microplastics.
“The solutions to our everyday struggles can be so simple, it helps to look back on how we used to handle life decades ago, how life works in native tribes, before the consumer society evolved”.
If you have any questions to this topic or how to integrate changes in your lifestyle & diet, feel free to contact us any time via email@example.com
Microbiome: a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body. Your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome.
Bacteria: Plural of Bacterium. Microscopic single-celled organisms lacking a distinct nucleus are known as bacteria. They may be shaped like spheres, rods, or spirals. They inhabit virtually all environments, including soil, water, organic matter, and the bodies of animals
Lactobacilea: there are >150 different spiecies of Lactobacillae.
- Alanna Collen (2015). 10% Human: How Your Body's Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness. HarperCollins
- De Filippo C, Cavalieri D, Di Paola M, et al. Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010;107(33):14691-14696. doi:10.1073/pnas.1005963107
- Mayer, E. (2018). The mind-gut connection: how the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health. HarperCollins.
- Rook, Graham. (2009). The Hygiene Hypothesis and Darwinian Medicine. 10.1007/978-3-7643-8903-1.
- Soliman, Moomen & Eldyasti, Ahmed. (2018). Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB): opportunities and applications—a review. Reviews in Environmental Science and Bio/Technology. 17. 10.1007/s11157-018-9463-4.
- Lam, T.H., Verzotto, D., Brahma, P. et al. Understanding the microbial basis of body odor in pre-pubescent children and teenagers. Microbiome 6, 213 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-018-0588-z
Thank you Soleil for your question, ill try to answer as broad as possible to leave room for a discussion on the topic.
Regarding the AOB´s.: Soil and natural water sources contain a lot of AOB´s. Sweat contains ammonia. Most of human sweat doesn´t acutally come from the ammonia-containing fluids that our eccrine glands release, but from the apocrine glands (scent glands). These glands are all about sex (confined under the arms and the groin). The sweat the apocrine glands release is actually complete odorless. It only gains a scent when our skin microbes tuck in and convert it into a whole host of smelly volatile compounds. The scent you then produce depends on the composition of the microbes you harbour.
According to Dr. Whitlock (from AOBiome), without AOB´s the ammonia we sweat out is not converted into nitrite and nitric oxide (chemicals which play a role not only in regulating the running of human cells but also in governing our skin microbes. Without nitric oxide, corynbacteria and staphylococci that feed on our sweat can run wild and bring bad smell.
The process is natural but requires AOB´s to function well. A small example is you see horses rubbing into the dirt often and since AOB´s can be found in healthy soil this only makes sense for the horses to build up their ammonia in the skin.
I hope this answers your questions and gives more clarity on the topic, if you have any more questions please feel free to email us towards firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for writing this interesting article. Can you explain a little bit more about the proces: ‘’It only gains a scent when our skin microbes tuck in and convert into and convert into a whole host of smelly compounds’’. What is the reason for the microbes to tuck in and what do they convert in smelly compounds, or are the microbes themselves converted?
And are the AOB’s the ones that convert the ammonia into nitrite and nitric oxide or is this a naturally occurring chemical proces that happens with the only presence of AOB’s?