LifestyleOlder individuals' distinct scent: A natural occurrence, not a hygiene problem, scientists say

Older individuals' distinct scent: A natural occurrence, not a hygiene problem, scientists say

The characteristic smell of older people is not a matter of hygiene.
The characteristic smell of older people is not a matter of hygiene.
Images source: © Adobe Stock | feliks szewczyk

10:34 AM EST, February 7, 2024, updated: 4:03 AM EST, March 7, 2024

Older individuals emit a scent that proves challenging to define. Descriptions range from a "mustiness" to a "greasy" aroma. Though it's often attributed to a lack of hygiene, such is a misconception.

Scientists explain that the scent of older people is a natural process, not a result of lack of hygiene

The scent released by the elderly is not accidental and it certainly isn't due to a lack of hygiene. As it turns out, this is a natural process with a scientific explanation. This discovery was brought to light in 2001 by a team of scientists led by Dr. Shinichiro Haze of Yokohama.

The distinct aroma, as identified by experts, results from alterations in the body's chemical substances. The culprit is a compound termed as 2-nonenal, which forms through the oxidation of fatty acids. As we age, our bodies secrete this compound in increasing measure which intensifies the smell. Additionally, older people have weaker skin which oxidizes its natural oils quicker, culminating in a higher generation of 2-nonenal.

Interestingly, scientists hypothesize that 2-nonenal is an evolutionary remnant from our ancestors. The distinct smell enabled them to determine the age and health status of other individuals.

"Old person smell" is normal but isn't prevalent among all older individuals

The smell emitted by the elderly isn't attributable to a lack of hygiene. It's been evidenced that more frequent showers or heightened cleanliness routines will not neutralize the particular scent. The reason being, 2-nonenal is insoluble in water. Despite meticulous washing, the smell prevails.

Is there a way to minimize this smell? Indeed, there is. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle - avoiding stress, consuming a balanced diet, drinking an adequate quantity of water daily, quitting smoking, and getting sufficient exercise - could help.

Furthermore, Dr. Haze’s study revealed that not all elderly people emit this distinct smell. For half of the participants, the amount of 2-nonenal on their skin was so negligible that they didn’t produce any peculiar odor. Those who do should feel no embarrassment - the so-called "old person smell" is completely natural.

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