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What's that smell? Companies taking measures over body odor

Participants at a seminar on body odor care sniff a body smell sample, in Koto Ward, Tokyo. (Mainichi)

As hot weather continues, body odor emanating from sweat and sebum remains a concern for many. The phrase "smell harassment," has started making the rounds at workplaces, and it is becoming expected etiquette for workers to be careful not only of body odor, but also of the smell of their breath and perfume. Companies offering their employees odor care have even begun to surface in what could be seen as a move toward an odorless society.

    "Take a whiff of the odor of oily skin and the smell that comes with aging," says a teacher at a company seminar on body odor. Participants scrunch their faces in displeasure as the smell from sample bottles hits their nostrils.

    The seminar was put on in mid-August this year by men's cosmetics maker Mandom Corp. Around 40 workers from mobile phone company SoftBank took part, including store staff and in-house employee trainers. The goals of the seminar included learning the causes of body odor and how to properly use deodorants.

    Yasuko Okabe, a SoftBank employee who attended the seminar, commented, "Body odor is a very sensitive subject, and it's not easy to tell employees to their face that they smell. But if we pass on the content of this seminar at our workplaces, problems with body odor may improve."

    It is said that middle- to senior-aged men bear the brunt of criticism relating to body odor. In addition to the smell of armpit sweat, the smell of sebum, common in men in their 40s, and the odor that comes with aging in men in their 50s and later can bother people in the vicinity. The smells of cigarette smoke and excessive perfume are also problems.

    In the service industry, unpleasant smells can potentially damage sales. For this reason, eyeglass manufacturer and seller Owndays Co. places emphasis on odor care among its employees. It even includes "smell" among the dress code it uses in its employee evaluations.

    The company noticed the importance of odor care after receiving complaint from a customer about store staff smelling like cigarettes. Its staff members often get close to customers' faces when adjusting glasses for them, and the company realized anew the importance of being careful about body and breath odors. It embarked on improvement measures not only at its stores, but across the company, including at its headquarters.

    Store staff members are instructed to brush their teeth after lunch or a break, to refrain from using perfume -- although sweat-blocking deodorants are acceptable -- and to avoid eating strong-smelling foods before or during work. A dress code also features in written tests the company uses to evaluate employees.

    "Smells can worsen the impression of our stores," a company representative explains. "There are many positive sides to the measures, too, such as an increase in employees who, concerned about cigarette breath, are trying to quit smoking."

    Keisuke Oku, from Mandom's product PR division, suggests that companies are interested in odor control for their employees because "a marked increase in the workforce of women, who are sensitive to the smells of men, and the spread of energy-saving awareness leading to higher air conditioner temperature settings may have led to a demand for finding ways to stop perspiration."

    However, Tsuneaki Gomi, head of Gomi Clinic in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, which treats body odor and excessive sweating, says that people are "being overly sensitive to smell." He says around 70 percent of people who come to his clinic over body odor concerns do not have a body odor problem.

    "Worrying excessively about the smell of one's body can lead to self-rejection. People can become so afraid of their body odor that they avoid others and lose their self-confidence," Gomi says. He adds, however, that body odor can increase due to exhaustion or lifestyle habits and can function as a barometer of one's health.

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