A Gross But Effective Deodorant Alternative: Borrow a Friend’s Armpit Bacteria

Photo: Srdjan Pavlovic/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Here’s a tip for those who are sensitive about both their body odor and their bank accounts: A new stick of deodorant may run you four or five bucks, but friendship is free — and since friends share with friends, a truly great pal just might be willing to lend you some of their armpit bacteria.

Think of it like a fecal transplant for your underarms: If your B.O. is caused by the unique cocktail of bacteria living on your skin, then adding a few new strains from someone a little fresher-smelling might change your scent for the better. That’s the idea behind a delightfully disgusting piece of research recently highlighted by Jessica Hamzelou at New Scientist. Chris Callewaert, a medical researcher at the University of California, San Diego, ran an experiment on identical twin brothers, one of whom was dealing with a noticeably pungent smell. Hamzelou explains:

Callewaert first asked the twin that didn’t smell to refrain from washing for four days. This is because the bacteria in our armpits live deep in the skin, so it takes a few days for them to be shed to the surface with dead skin.

Meanwhile, the stinky twin scrubbed his pits with antibacterial soap every day, for four days. The idea was to remove as much of his armpit bacteria as possible, creating a clean state for his brother’s microbes.

Sure enough, when Callewaert rubbed skin swabs from the first twin onto his brother’s pits, the smell stopped. He performed the same experiment with an additional 17 duos, each consisting of one person battling B.O. (who was deemed appropriately pungent by an eight-person “trained odor panel,” Callewaert told New Scientist) and one less-smelly family member who acted as the donor. All but one of the smelly volunteers noticed their underarms smelling a little fresher after just a month, Hamzelou reported, and around half saw longer-term improvements.

If the idea grosses you out, though, Callewaert also listed a few other natural ways to improve your smell: eat plenty of veggies, avoid synthetic fabrics, and shave your pits. And if all else fails, there’s always, you know, regular deodorant. Your friends will be grateful.

Here’s a Gross But Effective Deodorant Alternative