Recently, a team of highly-qualified Japanese scientists assembled for a mission, the danger of which was equaled only by its importance to society. On May 22, they announced their findings to the public, revealing that a menace we have always been aware of has grown to staggering proportions.
90 percent of men have smelly armpits.
The researchers all hold officially-recognized certifications in aroma evaluation, which we imagine they had hoped would land them jobs working in perfumeries, wineries, or chocolate fudge-eries. Instead, they were hired by Japanese grooming product manufacturer Mandom to measure the armpit odor of males between the ages of 10 and 69. It could be worse–they might have ended up smelling farts like these poor souls.
You might imagine that, in this modern age, this involved a plethora of machinery able to detect the subatomic particles that crate the smells we perceive, measure them, and plot them in numeric form, but you’d be wrong. The researchers simply stuck their noses by the participants’ armpits, none of whom had bathed in the last 24 hours, took a good long whiff, and recorded their impressions. “Some of the specimens smelled like livestock,” commented one scientist.
By the way, this up-close and personal data collection process continued for five years.
Armpit rankness was divided into six ranks. No participants were found who could be classified in the two least-offensive levels of “no odor” and “a faint odor that becomes apparent after extended exposure.” The largest group, composed of 54 percent of test subjects, was described as having an odor that was noticeable in close proximity. Meanwhile, 33 percent were evaluated as bad enough that they could be smelled even if you briefly passed by them in a hallway.
The researchers found three primary types of armpit odor: milk, curry, and acidic/sour. The curry and sour odors were judged to be the most unpleasant, and, unfortunately, the majority of participants with strong body odor fell into these two groups.
Needless to say, with summer fast approaching, this is a major problem. Following the major earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 and the subsequent energy crisis, many companies have adopted what the country refers to as a “cool biz” dress code, where employees can go without suit jackets or ties in the summer months. On the other hand, this means many workplaces have turned their air conditioners off, or at least down, so there’s still as much sweat to be found as ever.
▼ And no, we’re not talking about Japan’s favorite sports drink
Thankfully, author Takumi Nara, who has written on the subject of how men can control their body odor as they age, is on the job. Due to the mixture of sweat and grease it produces, “It’s unavoidable that the human body will create odors,” he explains. Especially after the age of 30, the body tends to secrete larger quantities of grease, which then oxidizes and results in the sour smell the researchers, and anyone who has ridden a packed midsummer Tokyo commuter train, have noticed.
However, there are countermeasures one can take. First, he recommends bucking the Japanese custom of taking a bath at night, and instead bathing in the morning. “People’s bodies start to smell approximately 12 hours after washing, and in extreme cases, the phenomenon starts to occur in only six. Count backwards from when you’ll be appearing in public, and time your bath accordingly.” For those who lack the time for a leisurely, pre-work bath (i.e. just about everybody), Nara says that a quick shower will also do the trick.
While in the shower, regular body soap won’t be effective enough against the oxygenated grease that results in what’s commonly known as “old man smell.” To get rid of it, Nara says, you need a soap with polyphenol. “I use the brand Kakishibu Family, which you can get at any store in Japan for just 200 yen,” Make sure to shampoo thoroughly, too. “Usually when you notice someone on the train who smells bad, the smell is coming from his head,” he explains.
Nara also advises taking a few minutes during your lunch break to wipe yourself off with a deodorizing sheet, which can be bought in packs at any Japanese drugstore.
▼ Now somebody just get this man a razor, and he’ll be good to go
“Use it on your armpits, neck, chest, and groin. Don’t forget to wipe behind your ears, and from there your whole head.” We’re going to supplement his expert advice by offering the guideline of making sure to use the sheet on you head before your groin. Nara recommends topping the process of with a spritz of spray-on deodorant.
There are precautions to take when doing laundry, too. “Your body odor will also make the jump to the fabrics of your clothes,” Nara continues. “Ordinary detergent doesn’t do enough to wash away sweat and grease, so you need to add some oxygen bleach to the wash.”
Of course, it can be hard to tell if you have a body odor problem if you’ve become used to spending every waking moment surrounded by your own funk. When in doubt, it can be helpful to consult someone you trust and speak frankly with, such as a spouse, close friend, or family member. But even if there’s no one you feel comfortable asking, there’s still one place you can go for answers.
▼ Tell me, man, do I have a problem?
A quick sniff of your pillowcase should tell you all you need to know. If it doesn’t pass the smell test, give the techniques above a try. The people around you, literally, will appreciate it.