Mitigating Odor with Innovative Polymers

Recently, we blogged about volatiles and how they’re responsible for many of the wonderful biological scents we associate with warm weather, like the fragrance of flowers in full bloom and the aroma of freshly mown grass. However, chemicals, biology and molecular reactions are also behind a less pleasant, but unfortunately no less common, summer-related scent: B.O.

Sweat is a major oarmpi tffender in creating body odor, although there are others we would rather not think about, let alone whiff. When temperatures rise in summer, people sweat more. There’s only so much standard deodorant can do when the body it’s been applied to has been exercising vigorously outdoors in 95-degree weather.

To be fair, it’s not the sweat itself that causes the characteristic smell of body odor. The chemical components of sweat are essentially odorless. The stank occurs when bacteria present on the skin essentially “eat” the sweat — hydrolyzing it through enzymatic reactions. The biological process transforms those innocuous components we secrete into something malodorous.

Now, a team of French researchers has found a way to use molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) to rob skin bacteria of the fuel they need to cause a stink. Scientists from cosmetic-maker L’Oreal’s research and innovation division and the Sorbonne’s Universite de Technologie de Compiegne recently reported their accomplishment in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Regular old deodorant works because it kills the bacteria, but that can upset the balance of naturally occurring bacteria on the skin. Anti-perspirants rely on aluminum salts to block the flow of sweat. By incorporating MIPs into a body-care product, however, the French researchers have taken a whole new approach to mastering B.O.

The MIPs they created are a polymerization of Na-hexanoyl glutamic acid and the monomer 4-acrylamidophenyl (amino) methaniminium acetate, Chemistry World reports. These MIPs essentially capture and bind to the chemical components in sweat that bacteria would normally latch onto to create stink.

“By trapping the precursors of malodors in the MIP, these are inaccessible for hydrolysis by enzymes in the skin bacteria, and thus odorous molecules will not be formed,” researcher Karsten Haupt told Chemistry World.

Essentially, the MIPs rob the bacteria of a meal, preventing the formation of the volatiles that compose that offensive pit odor everyone knows and no one loves. Researchers hope their creative use of “plastic antibodies” will serve as the foundation for a whole new generation of deodorants. Fingers crossed, they’re right and a few summers from now you’ll be able to breathe deeply on your afternoon run without fear of stinking up the neighborhood.