By Charlene Brannon
Many people are familiar with it: the grassy or greasy odor that permeates elder care facilities, grandparents' homes and other similar places. Commonly referred to as "old people smell," this odor is called "nonenal," and it is widely misunderstood in the United States.
According to a study published by the "Journal of Investigative Dermatology," an increase of nonenal is associated with aging. Found only in participants aged 40 and older, nonenal is a component of body odor that is produced when omega-7 unsaturated fatty acids on the skin are degraded through oxidation.
Despite these findings, many people think that Nonenal is the result of poor bathing habits. Others believe that the smell, which is difficult to detect on oneself but lingers on pillowcases, shirt collars and other such fabrics, is completely impossible to combat. However, neither of these assumptions has any basis in fact; it is time to illuminate the truth about Nonenal.
What causes old people smell?
Nonenal production is a natural by-product of the aging process. Caused by the deterioration of the skin's antioxidant defenses, nonenal production usually begins around age 40 in both men and women, and may be exacerbated by hormonal changes such as menopause.
As the skin grows weaker, its natural oils become oxidized more quickly. Fatty acids, which are secreted by the sebaceous glands, react to the oxygen in the air to form nonenal. Because it isn't water soluble, nonenal can remain on the skin despite washing, even remaining after intense scrubbing. Therefore, the smell persists, even in extremely clean environments.
How do you get rid of old people smell?
Reducing nonenal odor can be accomplished by following a healthy lifestyle: exercising regularly, avoiding stress, abstaining from smoking, drinking alcohol only in moderation, eating a clean diet, drinking plenty of water and getting enough rest.
Certain ingredients can also help combat nonenal, such as persimmon extract and Japanese green tea. Conventional soaps in the U.S. use deodorants to eliminate odors, such as ammonia (found in urine), trimethylamine and sulfide oxygen (found in feces and urine), propionic acid (found in sweat) and isovaleric acid (a smelly component of foot odor). However, due to lack of understanding about aging odor in the United States, brands have yet to incorporate ingredients to address this issue.
The truth about "old people smell" is: it's a natural part of the aging process, and no one experiencing it should feel ashamed.
Instead, we should continue to promote dialogue about it, and ensure that anyone dealing with nonenal is equipped with the information they need to adopt healthy habits and care for their skin effectively.
Dr. Charlene Brannon is the Product Development Manager for Mirai Clinical, a company devoted to developing ground-breaking, naturally safe body and skin care products. Dr. Brannon was a tenured professor at the University of Washington for 25 years, before joining the Mirai Clinical team.