Why do babies smell so good and teenagers stink?

Have you ever wondered why our body scent changes as we grow? We humans have a strange fascination with smells that accompanies us throughout our existence. In fact, smell plays a fundamental role in our interactions and perceptions of the world. Our olfactory journey begins from our earliest days and follows us through the transition to adolescence, marking significant changes not only in our behavior but also in body chemistry.

Why do babies smell so good and teenagers stink?

The study on body odors.

Recent research published in the journal Communications Chemistry delved into this evolution of body odors, revealing the chemical bases that differentiate the sweet aromas of childhood from the more intense and less pleasant odors characteristic of adolescence. And anyone who has ever been in a truck with a group of teenagers won’t let me lie.

The study was carried out on two groups: 18 babies between zero and three years old, and 18 adolescents between 14 and 18 years old. Each participant spent one night wearing a pre-treated cotton T-shirt with pads attached under the arms. In the 48 hours prior to the study, each individual followed strict dietary and hygiene protocols, avoiding fragrant cleaning products and highly seasoned foods.

The cotton pads were then subjected to various analyses, including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O). From these analyses, Researchers identified up to 42 compounds with distinctive odors in body odor.

The sweet scent of baby.

From time immemorial, the smell of a baby is associated with purity and tenderness, evoking images of innocence and awakening protective instincts in adults. The “baby smell” is so marked in our subconscious that it is often used in olfactory marketing. Now, science has finally revealed this phenomenon, attributing it to a particular compound. Its about α-isomethyl iononeresponsible for the characteristic floral fragrance similar to violets that emanates from the little ones.

Furthermore, they identified other smells associated with babies with tones reminiscent of perfume, suggesting the persistence of cleaning product aromas to some extent. However, rigorous screening of ingredients and scented foods during the study ensured that the smells recorded came directly from the biological characteristics of the infants.

The strong smell of teenager.

Upon reaching adolescence, profound transformations occur in the human body. A stage where biology signals the beginning of a new chapter. This phase is characterized by a hormonal activation that drives the sweat glands to work at full speed, although this increase in sweat production only tells part of the story. It turns out that The characteristic odors of adolescence emanate from the synergy between this sweat and a unique microbial community. Differentiating adolescents from babies and adults in terms of body odor.

The research identified specific components such as 4-ethyloctanoic acid, with a strong aroma reminiscent of goats, and dodecanoic acid, similar to wax, present at significantly higher levels in adolescents. These findings reflect the complexity and power of the aromas associated with this stage of life.

Furthermore, the exclusive presence in adolescents of steroid compounds, such as 5α-androst-16-en-3-one and 5α-androst-16-en-3α-ol, was highlighted by olfactory tones that varied from sweat, through urine, to musk or sandalwood​, suggesting a link between these steroids and the olfactory changes observed.

The explanation why babies “smell better” than adolescents does not lie in a greater amount of pleasant odors emanating from them. Rather, it attends to the absence in infants of those steroid compounds with particular odors that are characteristic of adolescence.

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