Toddlers smell like blossoms, Teens smell like goats, study finds

Published Mar 23, 2024


In an interesting exploration of human olfaction, a recent study, published in the science journal, Communications Chemistry, delved into the realm of human body odours, comparing the distinct scents of toddlers and teenagers.

Led by researchers from the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg in Germany, the study uncovered surprising disparities in the chemical composition of body odours between these two age groups.

Contrary to popular belief, the study found that adolescents do not necessarily smell worse than babies, although there were notable differences in the compounds that contribute to their body odours.

While both toddlers and teens exhibited similar chemical ingredients in their body odours, adolescents produced compounds associated with sweat, urine, and mustiness, contributing to a less pleasant overall scent profile.

Diana Owsienko, lead researcher of the study, highlighted that the differences documented in the study may contribute to the perception of teenage body odour as less pleasant. However, she stopped short of categorically stating that adolescents smell worse than babies.

Researchers collected body odour samples from 18 young children and 18 teenagers, revealed insights into the complex interplay of sweat, sebum, and skin microbes in shaping body odour.

Notably, adolescents exhibited higher levels of certain compounds, including musky steroids and carboxylic acids, which are associated with sweat and sebum production during puberty.

Characterising these scents posed a unique challenge for researchers, given the subjective nature of odour perception.

“There is no global consensus on how to describe odours,” said Helene Loos, who is an aroma and smell researcher at the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg and an author of the new paper.

Odour experts at the university had previously developed a standard vocabulary for characterising the smells of different compounds, with an initial focus on food aromas. “We now also extended this flavour language to substances occurring in body odours,” Dr. Loos said.

Among the compounds identified in adolescent body odours were musky steroids with notes of sandalwood and musk, as well as carboxylic acids with musty, cheesy, and even "goatlike" aromas.

These compounds, combined with increased sebum production during puberty, may contribute to the distinct scent profile observed in teenagers.

While the study offers valuable insights into the chemistry of body odours, researchers caution against oversimplifying scent perception, emphasising the subjective nature of olfaction.


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Child Development