How Social Distancing and Quarantine May Be Changing the Makeup of Your Body Odors
Short of a vaccine, masks and social distancing measures are here to stay, for the foreseeable future, anyway—and your nostrils may have picked up on some of the sudden lifestyle changes connected to this new normal. As the spaces and people we come into contact with are kept to a minimum, so has the everyday sample set that our extensive “microbiological auras” were once normally exposed to, in actively out-and-about, pre-pandemic times. Our bodies, hosts to a community of microbiomes that contribute to their odors, may be reaching a level of bacterial stasis, as a result, and depending on where you live and with whom, you’re likely taking on the scent and microbial makeup of your surroundings.
You might detect the change of smells underarm, sure, but also from your belly button. As biologist Rob Dunn recently explained to us on Ep. 49 of At a Distance, both areas have apocrine glands, which produce the bacteria responsible for your personal funk: “It appears that the only reason those glands evolved was to feed those microbes and produce those aromas, so there’s this other thing of like, ‘Wait a minute, our belly buttons and our armpits are specifically feeding special stinky microbes? What’s going on there?’” Imagining ourselves as landscapes of microbial environments, festering in the recesses of our belly buttons, and how they might smell—let’s just say this all gives new dimension to the term “navel-gazing.”