The surprising reason why some people don’t produce body odor

(Giphy)

(Giphy)

I once watched a Korean variety show when a Korean pop star admitted to using deodorant. The entire audience proceeded to erupt in laughter. 

“You use deodorant? Poor thing,” a female announcer went on to say. “You must really smell.”

It was a conversation that was completely jarring to me as an American, even though I’m of Korean descent. Are Koreans super unhygienic, I wondered, or do they really just not smell badly? It’s interesting to note that when I went to Seoul, deodorants were nowhere in sight, not sold in drug stores or retailers or anywhere. There’s even countless articles from foreigners who search far and wide for deodorants in Seoul to find that, well, there is none. 

Then, last summer, my crude friend Nich, also a Korean American, dared me to sniff his under arm. It was the middle of a heat wave and we had just wandered around Bushwick, sweating like cats giving birth, if cats sweat. Being the daredevil that I am, I then stuck my nostrils onto his hairless pits, which resembled an ostrich’s eyelashes, sticking out sharply in random places.

The conclusion? To my dismay, they really, truly didn’t smell. At all. 

It’s a sentiment that I found difficult to believe in. All people certainly produce body odor, don’t they? At least, that’s what the cosmetic industry has been selling to us for, well, forever? After Googling “Koreans don’t smell,” I came across several articles explaining how and why. I also realized how much I’d been scammed by the cosmetic industry into reapplying deodorant multiple times throughout the day (not even considering how much I spend on it!)

According to a LiveScience article from 2013, scientists discovered there was actually a gene called ABCC11, which determines if a person is smelly or not. Those who produce a dry version of earwax apparently also lack the same bacteria that festers in underarms and causes odor. Huh. The reasoning, this Guardian article explains, was because those who produce dry earwax also don’t produce the protein that transports sweat out of pores in our armpits, which attracts bacteria that cause body odor.

“While only 2-percent of Europeans lack the genes for smelly armpits, most East Asians and almost all Koreans lack this gene,” an expert named Ian Day, a genetic epidemiologist at the University of Bristol, told the publication.

Still, in the Western world, the study by LiveScience found that more than three-quarters of people who don’t actually smell still use deodorant. Like me, an apparent luddite who’s been continually scammed. But even as I’ve read this information, it’s proven difficult for me to ween off of the sweat stick out of fear that if a crowded subway train ever shuts down ~I’m~ the one that stinks it up.  

So I spoke directly to a third party dermatologist named Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the Department of Dermatology, Mount Sinai Hospital. I wanted to see if these findings were, in fact, true.

“A high percentage of Korean patients have the mutation called ABCC11 which alters the composition of sweat so that they do not produce body odor,” he confirms with Very Good Light. “Body odor is produced when sweat is broken down by bacteria that live naturally on the skin.  Depending on the composition of the sweat, odor may be different or have no smell at all when broken down by bacteria.  The mutation does not alter the production of sweat at all, so wetness itself is not affected.  Antiperspirants may be still necessary to reduce sweating, even if a deodorant effect is not needed.”

Okay, cool. So I know I still sweat (a lot actually, just see me during Crossfit, lol), but good to know that I can walk into a meeting right after and no one will say a damn thing. This definitely makes up for the fact that I can’t drink (get the Asian glow, aka allergic to alcohol aka totally a party pooper). Case closed.

If you’re wondering if you, too, carry the genes (or absence there of!) that produce B.O., the article simply says to check your earwax. Dry? Chances are, you, too, are Korean! We kid. But maybe – just maybe – you don’t smell like what we’d imagine Hodor smelling like, either. RIP, Hodor. RIP. 

How to spook your friends with Korean face masks

Are Koreans low key the biggest of Halloween fans?

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DO YOU SEE ME NOW (Photo by Effie Liu/Very Good Light)

Just look at their terrifying sheet masks and tell me otherwise. These ghoulish masks that are used to hydrate skin are also the same that would make Donald Trump run the other way. There’s nothing attractive about these serum-dripping, vitamin-soaked masks.

And every time you wear one, it scares the bejeezus out of me.

That Instagram post with your Mike Myers mask? Stahp. The duck lips that you pursed as you took a selfie on Snapchat? No, Satan, not today. When you asked me over for Netflix and chilled mask night, the real reason I couldn’t make it? I obviously didn’t have a dog emergency (I don’t even own a dog!). Honestly, I couldn’t bear witness you chortling at the television screen while your wet mask drizzled into the popcorn that you proceeded to pop into your mouth. That’s a true American Horror Story.

Truly, Korean face masks are blood-curdlingly weird. Which is why this year for Halloween, it’s perfect that I’m deciding to wear one to every party. Yes, I’ll be that basic beauty bro at the festivities that totally re-uses a face mask instead of a being an ingenue with a real costume. Because yes, I’m lazy, and when it comes down to it, I love to troll. Bisous, bisous, I’ll double kiss you and every last person as they come through, spreading beautiful drippings of essence onto every last cheekbone. Oh, and don’t worry about the drippings everywhere. It’s snail extract, the face mask’s secret ingredient. Don’t get all PETA on me and pretend you didn’t know. Is that spooky and Halloween enough for you?

Don’t have your own costume? Here, I brought some extra masks for you.

Foam Monster

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What’s a better party trick than foaming at the mouth? Look at me fizzle and sizzle with this petrifying foaming mask I bought in Koreatown yesterday, called Mogongtox Soda Bubble Sheet, as you proceed to walk slowly away from me. It’s the perfect party trick when you want something to come alive on your face. The mask bubbles apparently to get rid of blackheads. While we’re unsure if that actually worked, it did make us look crazy AF, well worth the $4 at Memebox. 

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Blob Fish

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Unfortunately, my face isn’t this plastic. It’s actually blotchy, a little dry, with freckles all over. This, this, is the latest in Korean technologies. It’s not sheet, it’s completely made of gel. It’s perfectly blobby, a clear mask that’s supposed to resemble your second-skin. Yes, it makes me look exactly like a blob fish, and indeed, I’ve never felt sexier. It’s liberating to know that a simple mask gel mask can bring out the freaky side in you. Wait, where are you going? Hello? $7 at Ulta.

You can't tell the difference, can you?

You can’t tell the difference, can you?

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Cereal Killer

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Watch as I walk around posing with absurdity as I stride throughout the party with a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and hemp milk. No, this isn’t a snack. I can’t even eat through this sheet mask, silly! Can’t you see how clever I am? I have a freaking mask on and look like a serial killer with a bowl of cereal in my hands AND A KNIFE. Okay, this is getting weird now and I’m putting this knife away. Get this juicy raspberry sheet mask at Nature Republic, $3.90.

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Hannibal

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“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti,” I say in a deep, creepy voice,  straight-faced. Mind you, I don’t even know what fava beans are, but they sound kinda good? In any case, with this aluminum mask (which I’d actually highly recommend!), there need not be a single word even spoken. It’s completely spine-tingling on its own. Get this Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair mask for $22 at Macy’s.

Terrifying Snapchat Doggie IRL

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Can you tell I put lots of thought into this one? No, I’m not a tired clown with dark circles! I’m a freaking dog! Look at how authentic I am holding a ball. Okay, even I hate me. Goodbye. Get this character mask at The Face Shop at Amazon, $4.

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Flesh-eating bacteria zombie (or is that pepperoni?)photo-oct-26-6-59-55-pm

Take a guess: Am I a flesh-eating zombie, Michael Phelps’ back during the Olympics, or Damian from that one lunchroom scene in Mean Girls? With this odd but amazing Rose Petals Face Mask you truly don’t know. Neither do I. Get it at Soko Glam for $5.

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