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Senior Hygiene Tips: What Is Nonenal and 5 Best Ways to Avoid It

A smiling senior without nonenal odor smelling fresh flowers.

If you’re living with your senior mom or dad, you must have had those instances when a distinct greasy, grassy, and musty scent wafted up into your nose as you moved closer to them. People often call this unpleasant odor an old lady smell, but healthcare professionals call this nonenal. It’s in no way due to poor hygiene. It’s a unique body scent you’ll only smell from older people.

Like other physical bodily changes, nonenal is part of the aging process. But the good thing is the musty smell can be prevented. If you want to know how, read this article to understand what nonenal is and how you or any senior family members can avoid this kind of body smell.

What Is Nonenal?


A senior woman with nonenal problem.

One interesting fact about aging is that it also changes body odor. This explains why older people have a distinct smell that doesn’t go away even after several showers. This body odor is called nonenal. Others use the term 2-nonenal, and it is a chemical compound naturally produced in the body. Its production in the body can start as soon as an individual is 40 years old.

Two organs protect the body by maintaining hydration on the skin: sweat glands and sebaceous glands. Sweat glands produce water-based sweat that cools the skin and regulates body temperature.

On the other hand, sebaceous glands produce and secrete sebum, which is a mix of fatty-based lipid acids. Omega-7 unsaturated fatty acid, chemically known as Palmitoleic acid, is a basic element of skin sebum. When Omega-7 fatty acid rises to the skin’s surface, it degrades and results in nonenal.

Nonenal was first identified by a team of scientists working for Shiseido from Japan in 2001 and called it 2-nonenal. It can start as early as age 40 as a result of the decline in the function of the skin’s antioxidant barriers. People also refer to it as aging odor or old woman smell. It’s not an immediate health condition, but the nasty smell can be embarrassing and lead to social isolation.

Why Do Old People Smell Different?

A middle-aged man who is worried about nonenal smell.

The skin has antioxidant defenses which naturally weaken with age. This antioxidant protection disrupts the effect of the oxidation of lipid acids on the skin’s surface. As it declines, it can no longer prevent the oxidation process, so the acids that are broken down create a chemical called 2-nonenal or old lady smell.

Even to this day, scientists don’t fully understand why this happens. Many speculate that this is due to the hormonal imbalances that occur during old age as the sebaceous glands produce and secrete more lipid acid that an aged skin with reduced antioxidant defenses is unable to minimize. Meanwhile, others believe that nonenal is triggered by changes in metabolism among older people.

The change in body odor or scent also happens to other animals as they age, so some scientists are convinced that nonenal is a way to distinguish older animals from younger ones. They believe it could be the same for humans.

Bathing won’t remove nonenal. If you notice an unpleasant odor coming from your senior loved one, don’t assume it’s because of poor hygiene. Nonenal is not a sign of a health condition. It’s normal for older people to smell differently due to the changes in the body related to aging.

What Is the Treatment for Nonenal?

A senior woman changing the bed cover to avoid nonenal or old lady smell.

There’s no medical treatment for nonenal, so getting rid of it comes down to using special personal care products and specific lifestyle changes. It also doesn’t dissolve in water since it’s made of fatty acids. Regular soaps also might not help because they only remove dirt and sweat, but not nonenal. A shower with everyday soap will do nothing about the nonenal problem.

A skincare line company based in Japan called Mirai Clinical offers a new line of soaps that harness the odor-neutralizing power of persimmon, which experts confirmed to be the key ingredient in eliminating nonenal smell.

The company’s soap products have persimmon extracts that contain abundant quantities of tannin, a chemical found in persimmon and other plants, fruits, vegetables, and other foods that have antioxidant properties. The antioxidants in tannins prevent the formation of musty odors on the skin’s surface.

Another solution for nonenal is a perfume from Shiseido Group specifically formulated to dissolve the old lady smell. It is called Harmonage Fragrance.

On top of these products, certain lifestyle improvements can tremendously help reduce nonenal odor. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Wear breathable clothing, such as garments made of cotton

  • Take a shower daily

  • Get enough sleep

  • Eat foods rich in antioxidants, such as Broccoli, sweet potatoes, and squash

  • Change bed linens often

  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol

Can You Smell Nonenal on Yourself?

The sense of smell is another function that may fade or decline with age, making it hard to detect nonenal odor on yourself. If you have recently visited an assisted living or any retirement site community, you may notice that residents don’t often complain about unpleasant or grassy smells since it’s hard to detect the unique nonenal scent in other senior residents or on themselves.

But it’s a different story for younger caregivers or community staff who work with seniors. They’re constantly exposed to nonenal odor and can smell the lingering grassy scent on older people’s clothes and bed covers.

Can You Get Rid of Nonenal Smell?

A senior woman cleaning her home to eliminate nonenal odor.

Like typical body odor, clearing away nonenal is possible if you combine lifestyle changes and use effective personal care products. Apart from shifting your lifestyle, here are five best tips from Amy’s Eden caregivers.

  1. Ventilate the living areas every day An enclosed area or home can magnify nonenal odor, so make sure that you let air into your home through the windows to improve ventilation.

  2. Wash seniors’ clothes using hot water and detergents that remove grease.Hot water and detergent may not completely remove the lingering greasy nonenal smell on clothes, but they will help minimize it.

  3. Always wear clean clothes Don’t re-wear clothes or socks, or use handkerchiefs twice a day. After showering, always change into clean, freshly laundered clothes and toss used ones in the laundry.

  4. Apply moisturizer after a shower Some lotions have antioxidant properties that may help mask nonenal smell.

  5. Clean your home regularly Make sure you clean your bathroom, living area, kitchen, and other home areas that a senior loved one frequents. If you need support in maintaining the upkeep of your loved one’s home, Amy’s Eden has trained caregivers to help.

Creating a Good First Impression Through Proper Hygiene

A senior woman taking a bath to remove nonenal odor or old woman smell.

Good hygiene is older people’s first layer of defense against infections and diseases. While usual body odor can be eliminated by bathing every day, it takes more effort to remove nonenal odor. Using personal care products with persimmon extract and fragrances that conceal bad smells will surely get you around any odor problem.

Like how you smile, how you smell also creates an impression on others. So whether you mostly stay at home or socialize with others, it’s essential to have a self-care routine that keeps your body clean and smelling good all the time.

Need help maintaining good hygiene? No worries, Amy’s Eden caregivers can help. Get high-quality care from the comfort of your home.

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