By Terrence McCoy August 13, 2014
In 1968, a metaphor of the human body emerged in Scientific American that endures to this day. It called the human body an ecosystem. Within this ecosystem, the author wrote, are several “ecological niches.” The forearm is dry like the desert. The scalp is airy like the cool woods. And then, the armpit: The lowliest of all human body parts. It’s a ‘tropical forest.’ ”
Hot and humid, the armpit populated by bacteria cursed with creating a noxious odor. That smell, however, has proved lucrative. Today more than 90 percent of Americans use some sort of armpit cosmetic, creating a worldwide deodorant bonanza worth $18 billion.
But what if part of that industry is predicated on a notion that smells fishy?
New research published in the Archives of Dermatological Research suggests antiperspirants actually increase the levels of the odorous bacteria populating the armpit, which “could lead toward an altered, more unpleasant, underarm odor,” lead author Chris Callewaert of Belgium’s Ghent University told The Washington Post in an e-mail. “Deodorants were generally not really a problem. … The deodorant-antiperspirant industry should investigate what their products do to the underarm microbiome,” or community of microscopic organisms living on our skin. Antiperspirants “should not enhance the odor-causing bacteria, but rather ‘steer’ towards a non odor-causing microbiome,” Callewaert said.