A Lucky Two Percent of People Have a Gene for Stink-Free Armpits

But a new study finds most of them still use deodorant

Image via SuperFantastic

It’s conventional wisdom that three things in life are inevitable: death, taxes and smelly armpits. But the third trouble on that list, it turns out, only afflicts 98% of us. According to a group of researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK, 2 percent of people (at least in their survey) carry a rare version of the gene ABCC11 that prevents their armpits from producing an offensive odor.

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of Investigative Dermatologyexamined 6,495 British mothers who have been part of a longitudinal health study since they gave birth in either 1991 or 1992. About 2 percent—117 mothers, to be exact—had the gene, according to DNA analysis.

Researchers have apparently known that this gene exists for some time, although most work on it has focused on its connection to earwax: People with the rare gene variant are more likely to have “dry” earwax (as opposed to wet or sticky). Thus, one way to try figuring out if you’ve been blessed with stink-free armpits is to consider whether your earwax is uncommonly dry. It’s also been discovered that the non-stinky gene is more common in East Asian populations.

Researchers still aren’t sure how the gene affects both earwax and sweat odor, but they believe it has to do with amino acid production. Rapidly growing bacteria give sweat its smelliness, and people with the rare gene variant appear to produce less of an animo acid that engenders bacteria growth.

This particular study examined just how many of these remarkable individuals still wear deodorant despite their lucky genetic inheritance. Whether they knew that they carried the gene or not, people with the trait were less likely to wear deodorant or antiperspirant: 78% reported wearing it on all or most days, versus 95% of the others in the study. At some point in their lives, a decent proportion must have figured out that they really don’t need to wear these sorts of products to avoid stinking.

Still, most of the people with the gene wake up everyday and apply deodorant, a trend the researchers chalk up to socio-cultural norms. They think their findings could save these people a little money and trouble and let them skip deodorant entirely.

“These findings have some potential for using genetics in the choice of personal hygiene products,” Santio Rodriguez, the lead author, said in a statement. “A simple gene test might strengthen self-awareness and save some unnecessary purchases and chemical exposures for non-odour producers.”

A noble cause, indeed. We have just one suggestion: You may want to confirm you have the gene before leaving the house au naturale.

Get the latest Science stories in your inbox.