Aging Has An Unexpected Effect On Your Body Odor

You likely didn't notice how you smelled as a baby, but you might notice how a baby smells now (with a changed diaper, of course). Your third-grade teacher probably encouraged your class to begin wearing deodorant. Who can forget the smell of a teenage boy's bedroom? Then you go to your grandparents' house and notice even they have a smell. No, it's not your grandma's Chanel No. 5 or grandpa's Old Spice. It's that woody, musty smell.

This "old people smell" doesn't come from the excess dust on the shelves or the 50-year-old couch that might need cleaning. In fact, that smell unique to older adults comes from a change in body chemistry, not because they haven't showered or worn the same clothes. As you age, hormone changes can cause certain compounds to become more concentrated in your system, creating a different body chemistry and resulting smell (per Great Senior Living).

The smell comes from oxidation of a fatty acid

Your body odor is a complex mixture of bacteria and secretions from your skin glands, and these change with age, according to a 2012 article in PlosONE. For example, your sebaceous gland has oils and fatty acids that become more active during adolescence and peak when you're an adult. These glands are less active when you reach your 70s.

A 2001 article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology studied people aged 26 to 75 and found a specific compound, 2-nonenal, only in people over the age of 40. This nonenal is what causes the musty smell. As people get older, there's an increase in omega-7 fatty acids and lipids that oxidize on the skin's surface. The study suggested that the nonenal substance is produced by the breakdown of these fatty acids.

Researchers believe hormone imbalances produce more of these fatty acids on your skin. As you age, your body also doesn't produce enough antioxidants, so you'll have more of these fatty acids breaking down on your skin (per Franklin Park Retirement Communities).

You can't wash it off

If you're older, you can dilute some of these fatty acids by drinking more water every day. Exercise and eating healthy foods can also help minimize some of the smells associated with aging. Drinking green tea or a Japanese persimmon extract, for example, can help break down the nonenal compounds (per Griswold Homecare).

Bathing more often won't get rid of this nonenal substance on the skin, although a salt or sugar scrub can help remove the oils on your skin. Soaps that have persimmon extract might also combat the nonenal on the skin. Be sure to moisturize your skin with lotions containing the antioxidant vitamin C. Because stress can cause your body to produce more nonenal, try yoga, tai chi, or meditation practices to manage stress.

If the musty smell is in your house, open the windows and use an air filter to circulate fresh air into your home. Wash clothing and bedding often to remove the nonenal that might rub onto them. If it's the home of a loved one, be sure the smell isn't due to a lack of personal hygiene. One of the initial signs of depression can be omitting a daily shower or other hygiene practices, as Great Senior Living noted.