Women are still likely to use deodorant, the study says.
(Photo: altrendo images Getty Images)
by Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
- A gene called ABCC11 appears to drive armpit odor
- One form of the gene means no underarm odor and dry ear wax
- Most of the women with the odorless form of the gene still used deodorant regularly
Ah, the sweet smell of science: An English study published Monday confirms a link between an underarm odor gene and deodorant use.
Geneticists have discovered a wide variety of roles for a humble gene called ABCC11, which plays a role in everything from drug reactions to dry ear wax. In 2010, researchers revealed that the gene also plays a role in underarm odor, where a form of the gene seen only in about 1.6% of people nationwide means they don't have any odor.
Good news for them but bad news for deodorant-makers, suggests the study published in the July Journal of Investigative Dermatology and led by Santiago Rodriguez of the United Kingdom's University of Bristol. Those folks turn out to be roughly five times less likely than other people to frequently use deodorant, finds the study of about 18,000 women, their male partners and children in an English survey group, a unique finding linking a single gene to a human behavior.
"I think this is a really remarkable result," says Elizabeth Hopper-Borge of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, an expert on the drug-related effects of the ABCC genes, which are seen playing a role in moving compounds in and out of the body's cells. "I think this is just the beginning of research showing all the things that this gene is involved in."
Most of the women with the odorless form of the gene still used deodorant regularly, says Ian Day, a senior researcher on the study, likely because of social expectations. "A surprising number of non-odor producers, nearly 80%, still use deodorant every day or nearly every day," he says. But that was a lot less frequent than other people in the study.
Since the study notes that dry ear wax is linked to the odorless armpit form of the gene, anyone with sticky ear wax doesn't have a genetic excuse for skipping the deodorant. About 4.7% of the "genetically odiferous," people in the study skipped the deodorant anyway.
Deodorant sales average around $1.9 billion nationwide, but given the low frequency of the gene "it is not likely to have a large impact on the deodorant/antiperspirant market," says genetic medicine expert Sara Brown of the United Kingdom's University of Dundee, in a commentary accompanying the study. The study also didn't find any hints that body odor affected who married whom in the study. Perhaps the deodorants are working.