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Sunday, July 20, 2008

WEEK 3

What's that smell?

On the sniff for solutions to bad body odor


Staff writer

No one in Japan can avoid the sweat and smells of hot humid summer, regardless of sex, age or ethnicity. But a recent survey on body odor reeked of bad news for men.

News photo
News photo
Magic potions: Deodorants and fragrant products are available to combat Japan's hot summers. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Chuo Bussan International Co., a deodorant maker in Tokyo, polled some 700 women in their 20s and 30s about the waft from males in December 2007.

Of the respondents, 89 percent said they have caught a whiff of BO from guys on commuter trains, while 85 percent said they have sat next to a stinky man in a meeting. Nearly all — 97 percent — said the smell of sweat doesn't enhance a masculine image.

"Many women care about their body odor, and they often wipe away their sweat and use deodorant. Men, on the other hand, care less about their odor," according to Tomoko Iitaka, marketing manager of Chuo Bussan.

Still, whether male or female you may be thinking, "I often have to wipe away my sweat, but does that mean that I stink? What else could I do?"

To sniff out solutions — based strictly on scientific method, of course — I visited a sweat and body odor expert, Tsuneaki Gomi, a doctor at the Gomi Clinic in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.

Gomi explained that body odor is caused by sweat secreted from apocrine sweat glands and eccrine sweat glands. These glands exist around the underarms and sexual organs and are connected to pores. The glands secrete thick sweat that contains protein, fat and other materials. Germs living on the skin decompose the sweat and oxidize its ingredients, which creates the odor.

"Men have more apocrine sweat glands, and male sex hormones promote the secretion of sweat," Gomi says, adding that Caucasians and blacks have more apocrine glands than Asians, so they tend to give off a stronger body odor.

It is surprising that among animals, which have more apocrine glands than humans, the smell of their sweat attracts the opposite sex, according to Gomi. But humans shed this biological function long ago, that's why we consider the smell so unpleasant.

Eccrine sweat glands exist all over the body and secrete a perspiration that's more than 99 percent water, along with salt, calcium and other minerals, Gomi says.

Even though the sweat is thinner than that from apocrine glands, when it is mixed with skin oil and dirt, then decomposed by germs, it becomes smelly. The only way to fight body odor caused by sweating is to keep your body clean, Gomi advises.

"After sweating, don't leave the sweat on your skin — instead take a shower or wipe it away with a wet towel or using a disposable wet cloth," Gomi says, explaining that the odorous materials on the skin are soluble in water.

Unfortunately, you can't shower while at your desk. And office etiquette means giving your underarms a fulsome mop is also out of the question.

With this in mind, Chuo Bussan in February introduced deodorants for men that claims to protect against odor for an entire day.

The Deonatulle Otoko Crystal Stone is made of refined natural alum (hydrated aluminum potassium sulfate), which is produced in volcanic regions.

Asuka Nakamura, assistant brand manager at Chuo Bussan, explained that users simply wet the stone with water and then roll it around under their arms, so that the melted alum is spread onto the surface of the skin.

"Alum has been used as a natural deodorant since the period of the Roman Empire. It is a popular deodorizing product in Europe," Nakamura says.

The mineral contracts pores, which restricts the amount of sweat, she explains. Alum spread on the skin also has an antibacterial effect that prevents germs from mixing with sweat and propagating.

The company also introduced a deodorant especially for feet. The product, Otoko Ashiyubi Sarasara Kurimu (literally "men's toes dry cream"), is aimed to keep the feet free from a fetid funk.

By spreading the cream, which also contains alum, in-between the toes and on the soles of your feet, you can reduce the amount of sweat there, according to Chuo Bussan's Tomoko Iitaka.

"The skin on the foot has 2.5 times more sweat glands than the skin on the abdomen," Iitaka explains.

Because skin on human feet is more than 10 times thicker than the rest of the body, it naturally contains more protein and oil. Wrapping your foot inside socks and shoes and walking around on a hot summer day provides a feast for those odor-producing germs, according to the company's research.

While many women fret over their own fragrance, not to mention the whiff of the opposite sex, only about one-fifth of men feel the same. The market for male deodorants is ¥6 billion, compared to a whopping ¥30 billion for women, according to Chuo Bussan's Nakamura. The company has enjoyed such brisk sales of deodorants for women since 2003 they can almost smell the money.

A number of makers have jumped on the olfactory bandwagon by selling a variety of deodorants and fragrant products for both sexes. Among them is the chewing gum brand Otoko Kaoru, meaning fragrant men, manufactured by Tokyo-based Kracie Foods.

The gum contains geraniol, a fragrant ingredient that smells like roses. A couple of hours after chewing the gum, which tastes like rose and apple, the ingredient — by now absorbed by the mouth and bowels — enters the makeup of your sweat, says Ikuko Morimoto, assistant marketing manager of Kracie Foods.

"We proved scientifically that the scent is excreted from the sweat glands," Morimoto says.

The chewing gum became a megahit when it was launched in July 2006. The gum, priced at ¥120, racked up sales of ¥300 million in one month and quickly ran out of stock.

The maker then launched a new version that contains 1.7 times the amount of geraniol in March last year, as well as a new minty version. Each is priced at ¥150.

"Fashion-conscious men in their 20s to 50s are buying our products," says Kunio Kametaka, manager of the product development team at Kracie.

But he added, to enjoy the fragrant effect, people need to keep their body clean and not to eat foods with a strong odor, such as garlic, for example — all perfectly obvious advice.

Less obvious is that body odor cannot be avoided simply by hiding away in an air-conditioned room all day.

Gomi explains that when a person's body is given less opportunity to sweat, the glands start to function differently and secrete a denser perspiration.

"People who avoid sweating by staying in air-conditioned spaces and who do not exercise tend to produce sweat with a strong smell," he says.

So men, it's good to sweat. And if women are keeping a distance from you, use deodorant and keep a towel handy to keep your perspiration at bay.



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