Study Confirms What Many Know: Babies Smell Good, Teens Stink

2 min read

March 22, 2024 – Have you ever wondered how your sweet-smelling baby changed into a stinky teenager? Scientists in Germany may have come up with an answer, says a small study published in Communications Chemistry

The scientists sewed small cotton patches into the armpits of T-shirts worn by 18 teens between the ages of 14 and 18 and the body suits worn by an equal number of toddlers under age 3. The people in the study wore the garments overnight and were not supposed to eat fragrant foods such as garlic or onions.

The patches were taken to a lab and analyzed with chromatography-mass spectrometry, gas chromatography-olfactometry, and the good old human nose.

Researchers found that the teens emitted two steroid compounds the little ones did not because they’d entered puberty and their sweat glands had begun working. 

Those compounds were described as smelling like cheese, urine, sandalwood, and an animal universally acknowledged as stinky: goats. 

Toddlers, in comparison, smelled wonderful – like flowers, soap, and violet.

The scientists theorized that changing body odor has a purpose. Parents will want to stay close to a good-smelling baby, which they can usually identify by its smell. But parents may want to put distance between themselves and a teen who craves more independence and doesn’t smell exactly great.

“Did you ever hold a baby in your arms and noticed a pleasant odor followed by the urge to hold it closer and cuddle even more? Or on the contrary, entered a teenager’s room and smelled a rather unpleasant scent deciding to give them the privacy that teenagers usually request?” the scientists wrote in a news release. “Body odors change during the development of children and influence interpersonal communication with their parents.”