Hey guys! One of the biggest problems you
hear foreigners talk about in Japan is their lack of a deodorant selection. There are all
kinds of rumors about why Japanese people don’t have as much body odor as us stinky
foreigners. You’ll hear that it’s because we foreigners don’t clean ourselves, unlike
Japanese people who often take a full bath every single night. You’ll hear that it’s
because of our diet and our love of dairy and meat products. Or you’ll hear that it’s
because Japan is a magical land where when you step off of the airplane, suddenly you
don’t need to wear deodorant anymore. But like most mysterious questions, the actual
answer lies in SCIENCE. To understand this, you need to know where body odor comes from.
We have two primary types of sweat glands. Eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine sweat glands
are small and found almost everywhere on the body. As you can see from this picture, they
go directly from underneath your skin, to your skin’s surface. They secrete a mixture
of water and salt, and this is used to cool down your body.
But then we have apocrine sweat glands. And these are the glands that cause body odor.
These glands are larger and are only found in certain areas of the body, primarily your
underarms and pubic region. Instead of secreting directly onto your skin, they secrete into
a hair follicle, which then carries the sweat up onto your skin. And these glands secrete
primarily proteins, lipids (which are things like fatty acids), and steroids. By itself,
this sweat does not smell. However, it IS a delicious and desirable substance for the
bacteria that live on our skin. Bacteria feed off of this sweat, metabolize it, and then
their waste products are what smell. So, body odor essentially comes from bacteria poop.
This is also why if you want to prevent body odor, you should be looking for a deodorant
that makes your underarms an inhospitable place for bacteria to live.
Different bacteria and the different enzymes they use to break down our sweat produce different
smells, which is why different people have different body odors.
So then what makes Japanese people have less body odor? Genetically, they have fewer of
these apocrine sweat glands. Why? That’s not fair? How does that happen? Why do I have
to be more smelly? It all comes from one specific gene: ABCC11. There are two variations of
this gene. One with the allele A, and one with the allele G. People born with the G
allele have more active apocrine sweat glands. Whereas peopleborn with the A allele have
fewer active apocrine sweat glands, and little to no body odor. The smelly allele G appears
to be the original version of the gene, whereas the non-smelly allele A appears to have emerged
approximately 2,000 generations ago. Why did the A allele appear? We don’t really
know, but we think it might have something to do with colder climates.
Here you can see a chart of what percentage of different races have which allele. So most
of us who are African, Latin American, European, or Pacific Islander have the smelly version
of the gene. However, only about a quarter of Japanese people, less than 10% of Chinese
people, and pretty much no Koreans have the smelly version of the gene.
But, there’s more to this gene than just whether you produce body odor or not. There’s a type
of apocrine gland in your ear canal that produces ear wax. As many of you may have heard, Japanese
people typically have something called dry earwax, which is flaky, unlike our earwax,
which is wet and goopy. The type of earwax you have is also determined by the version
of gene ABCC11 that you have. So, if you have the G allele version, you will have wet earwax,
and if you have the A allele version, you will produce dry earwax. So that is a very
quick way to check which version of this gene you have, and whether or not you’re likely
to have much body odor. In conclusion this is why most Japanese people
don’t smell as much and why they don’t have as large a variety of deodorant as we have.
So, just because you move to Japan, that doesn’t mean you can magically stop using deodorant.
I have a video coming up soon where I will show you different types of Japanese deodorants,
and which ones work best for us smelly foreigners. Thanks for watching guys! I’ll see you later.