After being called out by her family, a redheaded reader is embarrassed about her body odour. Hattie Sloggett shares her own experience and explains why our hair colour is intrinsically linked to our scent
"This might sound silly, but it is really getting me down. I’ve been spending lockdown with my parents and siblings –two brothers and a sister – for the first time since we were all at school and my siblings have been picking on me for my body odour. My two brothers mercilessly go on about how I stink all the time. They call me a ‘smelly orangutan’ because I’m also the only redhead in the family. Even my sister mentioned it the other day, in a slightly more delicate way, but I am now mortified to go near anyone. I’m nervous about lockdown ending because of the social aspect and I spend most of my time in my room. I shower every day and even use my brother’s hardcore ‘man deodorant’ but nothing I do seems to stop the smell. I always thought everyone smelt the same, but it seems I smell worse! Is there something wrong with me?"
My sweet girl, from one redhead to another, no, there is nothing wrong with you. I know exactly how you feel and your body odour and hair colour are almost certainly linked.
I was cruelly mocked at school for my hair colour, name and size. ‘Fattie Ginger Boggett’ was especially cutting to a nine-year-old, and just a couple of weeks ago my mother called me out on my body odour (I’m now 32!) declaring “you need a shower, you’re starting to smell foxy” and she wasn’t referring to Jessica Rabbit, she meant a bin scrounging feral fox.
However, there is a reason your smell is different to other members of your family and mine and that is red hair. We redheads have a different body odour, in the same way that we’re more sensitive to pain. Scientifically we are just that little bit special. Red hair is beautiful and it is rare and along with our ‘different’ body smells, it brings some awesome benefits too.
“Turns out we're superheroes in many ways,” says Erin la Rosa, author of The Big Redhead Book: Inside the Secret Society of Red Hair . “Ginger women feel the stinging pain of needles less than anyone else and they also can handle pain better than others.”
I recommend this book highly. Not only is it a great, confidence-boosting read, it is full of wonderful facts that we can keep up our sleeves just in case a bullying egotistical maniac decides to put us down for being fabulous as hell ever again. One of my personal favourites from the book is that it’s harder to knock us out. A 2004 study found that on average it takes 19 per cent more general anaesthesia to put a redhead under for surgery.
Redheads have the strongest natural scent of all hair colours, especially among women, French philosopher and author Augustin Galopin wrote in Le Parfum de la Femme in the 1800s. Galopin noticed our scent to be that of ambergris, an earthy and sensual scent. Fragrances smell different on those of us with red hair, especially when applied directly to the skin and it’s the result of our unique biochemistry. All humans have an 'acid mantle' which is an acidic layer that covers every inch of skin. For us redheads, this layer is more acidic than for everyone else. Therefore the same spritz of a perfume or even deodorant will interact differently with the higher acid content, resulting in a different smell, good or bad.
It takes something special to make a redhead. We are the unicorns of the hair world. The genes have to be just right in order to even stand a chance of producing one of us. That’s right; gingers are actually physically and genetically different thanks to one very important gene called MC1R, which produces melanin or skin pigment. Well, more accurately a mutation of the MC1R gene. It is so rare for this mutation to appear that statistically redheads only make-up 2 per cent of the global population. I for one, am really proud I made the cut.
The MC1R gene mutation means that we produce a type of melanin called pheomelanin instead of eumelanin, which is dominant in those with brown or black hair. This protein is directly responsible for our hair colour and can also influence other things such as our fairer skin and propensity for freckles . People with higher amounts of pheomelanin are more susceptible to sunburn. However, this being the case, thanks to evolution we absorb more sunlight, allowing us magical redheads to produce more vitamin D .
Look, being a redhead is really something to be very proud of, but I am also aware that knowing this doesn’t actually fix the problem you are facing. What options have we got? This is what I suggest.
Baby Steps - Dabble with your deodorant
I have used too many deodorants over the years, from Chanel to making my own in the kitchen. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. Unfortunately, we don’t get to be too picky because we do need something fairly substantial to tackle our unique fragrance. If you are looking for something natural that will cover you in day-to-day life, check out Lucy Bee’s Natural Deodorant , £12.50 or Green People’s Quinoa and Prebiotics roll-on deodorant, £11.
If you are looking for something stronger and fancy antiperspirant (this will tackle sweating as well as odour) then try Vichy’s 72-hour Stress Resist Anti-Perspirant , £9.50. Another of my firm favourites is Sanex's Dermo Extra Control 48 Hour Anti-Perspirant Deodorant , £3. It doesn’t last me 48 hours but it does do the trick, even in yoga. By the way, our body odour can become stronger when we’re stressed, so that could also be a factor in your case.
Head-On – Let’s get medical
You could be suffering from hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating, so I would suggest going to your GP first. Armpit injections are also a solution. Leading aesthetic doctor Dr Pradnya Apte of the Skin Southwest clinic in Exeter (I go to her for EVERYTHING) says “botulinum toxin can be safely used to treat the medical condition known as hyperhidrosis for reduction/ cessation of sweating. Results can last approximately six to seven months and can be life-changing for many who suffer from this embarrassing condition.”
Or why not look into Miradry ? It’s a treatment that delivers precisely controlled electromagnetic energy to the underarms to destroy the sweat glands and promises to permanently reduce underarm sweat. Our writer Emma North tried it and said it changed her life.
Full Nuclear – If you’ve got it, flaunt it
Now I don’t mean going around rubbing your sweat glands in everybody’s faces, I’m talking about embracing it. Explain to your family that what they are saying is hurting you and share with them some of the facts about how it is scientifically proven that redheads smell different and you can’t change that. You could even go full Viking woman; grow your leg hair, braid your armpit hair and wander about pillaging from all those that stand in your way.
As a confidence coach I advocate that my clients become the truest most authentic versions of themselves, but confidently. If that means taking a little bit from each option (which is what I’d do), then you go for it girl! It’s your life, it’s your body and it’s your choice.
Got some shame you want to change? Message Hattie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hattie is a confidence and emotional intelligence coach, Master NLP Practitioner and True-Self Advocate. She is so grateful for your emails and reads all of them but cannot reply individually. Names will be withheld if requested and letters may be edited for the wider audience. For a private chat or in-depth consultation find her at www.hattiesloggett.com
Names have been changed