Old person smell is a thing

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My family and I watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last weekend and I was struck by the following exchange as I had read a story about it only days beforehand:

Grandma Georgina: You smell like peanuts. I love peanuts. 
Willy Wonka: Thank you. You smell like… old people… and soap… I like it.

Turns out old people smell is a real thing and we are able to tell how old someone is by their odour alone.

A study collected the body odours of different age groups by asking them to wear T-shirts in bed for five nights with underarm pads to soak up their sweat. These pads were then cut up and placed into jars, which were sniffed by volunteers aged between 20 and 30 years old, who were then asked to rate the pleasantness of the smell and estimate the donor’s age. They got it right every time.

The distinct smell appears to be cross-cultural according to the study. It is known as kareishu in Japan.


A separate study found that odour-producing component 2-nonenal, “an unsaturated aldehyde with an unpleasant greasy and grassy odour,” as well as certain lipids on the skin, increase as people age, suggesting these have a role in that distinct smell.

If nothing else, I love that they seem to have played on Nonna for the name.

I talked about this with Danny Hoyland on West Bremer Radio on 22 July 2023. Listen live each week: Saturday 7.40 am, West Bremer Radio.

Source: Old Person Smell Is A Real Thing, And This Is Why It Happens