This is a serious question and not intended to demean any ethnic group or racial group. I'm Caucasian and have dated Asian (Chinese), black and South Asian (Indian and Pakistani) men. I have noticed distinct body smells in all three groups and I have been told I had a "white man smell."

Apart from diet, which I suspect contributes to body odor, is there any indication that ethnic/racial groups differ in odor, as they might in skin color or hair texture?

  • 9
    Is anyone claiming that odors differ for any reason other than diet? Apr 4, 2014 at 0:21
  • This is one of those questions where it is easy to find examples of notability if you search for it, but hard to find sites that don't actually answer the question. I feel disingenuous in cherry-picking notability examples that don't have an answer.
    – Oddthinking
    Apr 4, 2014 at 0:32
  • @Oddthinking You don't need to pick any of them. The question doesn't need to contain an example of notability; they just need to exist.
    – user5582
    Apr 4, 2014 at 14:33
  • @Articuno: Yes. The notability was challenged, so I went to add examples, which improves the question even if not 100% required. When I searched for examples, I found a sea of already answered versions of the question. Unfortunately, this is a question that having an answer here probably won't make the Internet a better place.
    – Oddthinking
    Apr 4, 2014 at 14:47
  • Ah.. got it. I understand your point now.
    – user5582
    Apr 4, 2014 at 15:05

1 Answer 1


Different populations may have different odors since earwax type and armpit odor may be correlated in certain select populations. Populations with dry earwax, such from East Asia, tend to sweat less and have little or no body odor, whereas the wet earwax populations of Africa and Europe sweat more and so may have greater body odor.

"There are two kinds of sweat glands: eccrine sweat glands, which are found throughout the skin, and apocrine sweat glands, which are found in the armpits and groin. Eccrine sweat glands produce sweat that is mostly water and salt, and it does not contribute very much to body odor. Apocrine sweat contains proteins and lipids; when bacteria on the skin metabolize apocrine sweat, they produce body odor. The earwax glands (ceruminous glands) are a form of apocrine gland."

"Although the evidence available on Caucasian/Negroid sweating is somewhat inconsistent, it would appear that the Negroid population is capable of producing more malodorous substance in the axilla by virtue of the larger size of the apocrine glands and more prodigious among of secretion observed in experiments. In addition, eccrine sweat gland secretions in Negroids also seem to be higher than in Caucasians, thus providing a volatile medium for radiation of any axillary odor. Mongoloid populations also appear to have active eccrine glands than do Caucasians, but due to the low number of osmidrotic apocrine glands in the axilla, there is a lower level of axillary odor present than in either of the other two groups."

"In Japan, wet earwax has long been associated with greater body odor (Adachi 1937, Matsunaga 1962). Yoo et al. (2006) found that 860 out of 896 patients who consulted a doctor about axillary osmidrosis (the medical term for stinky armpits) had wet earwax, in a population where wet earwax is uncommon. Nakano et al. (2009) genotyped the polymorphism in the ABCC11 gene in Japanese axillary osmidrosis patients and found the genotypes that cause wet earwax in 78 out of 79, while only 35 percent of the general population had wet earwax genotypes; Inone et al. (2010) found similar results in a smaller study."

Martin et. al. (2010) analyzed sweat from people having different ABCC11 genotypes and found that several compounds that are precursors for body odor were either absent or in lower concentrations in sweat from people with the dry earwax genotype.

The characteristic human axillary odor is formed by bacterial action on odor precursors that originate from apocrine sweat glands. Caucasians and Africans possess a strong axillary odor ,whereas many Asians have only a faint acidic odor. These data point to a key function of ABCC11 in the secretion of odorants and their precursors from apocrine sweat glands. SNP 538G → A, which also determines human earwax type, is present on an extended haplotype, which has reached >95% frequency in certain populations in recent human evolution. A strong positive selection in mate choice for low-odorant partners with a dysfunctional ABCC11 gene seems a plausible explanation for this striking frequency of a loss-of-function allele.

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