Some People’s Sweat Doesn’t Make Them Stink

Caucasian woman wiping sweat from forehead
Photo: John Fedele

A sweetly nerdy little video released today by the nonprofit American Chemical Society promises some “fun facts” about sweat, and the funnest of the fun is this: Some lucky people’s sweat doesn’t cause body odor. It’s likely because they have a malfunctioning version of something called a transporter protein, which, in most people, is responsible for secreting the molecules that a certain type of bacteria then consumes, a process that results in body odor. As our Gal Science puts it in the video, “No bacteria buffet, no smell.”

About 2 percent of Europeans and a majority of people in some East Asian countries like Japan and China have the recessive gene that results in the faulty transporter protein. A 2013 study in the U.K. suggested that most of them don’t even take advantage of their genetic good fortune; about 75 percent of people with the recessive gene use deodorant, anyway, likely because it’s an established social norm, the researchers concluded. Humanity’s weakness for blindly following social norms is what truly stinks. (Sorry.)