The mysterious scent of time: 2-Nonenal, the scent of the elderly

2-nonenal: the smell of old age? We all know it: that characteristic smell that is sometimes associated with older people. But what actually causes this “old age perfume”? Scientists have found the source: a substance called 2-nonenal. Today we dive into the science behind this mysterious scent!

2-Nonenal is an aldehyde, a volatile chemical compound produced in our bodies. The production of 2-nonenal increases with age. 2-Nonenal is one of the substances released from the skin, resulting in a specific odor: unpleasantly greasy and grassy.


Interestingly, researchers discovered that nonenal becomes really noticeable in body odor from the age of 40 onwards. The explanation for this is twofold:

First of all, omega-7 fatty acids and lipid oxides: As we age, the omega-7 fatty acids and lipid oxides in the skin increase. These substances play a role in the formation of nonenal. It turns out that the level of omega-7 fatty acids on the skin surface increases up to six times with age. However, the cause of the increase is not clear.

Secondly, oxidative breakdown: Nonenal is created when omega-7 fatty acids break down through oxidation, a process in which oxygen plays a role. The increase in lipid oxides with age promotes this process.

Keep in mind that other factors can also play a role in senior odor, such as hormonal changes, medications and diet. Always consult a doctor if you are concerned about your body odor. A medical condition called Bromhidrosis may play a role.

Know more about Bromhidrosis

Omega-7 is an essential fatty acid, which means that our body cannot produce it itself and we must get it through food or supplements. It is an important part of our skin barrier and plays a crucial role in various skin functions.

Omega-7 is located in the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis. It is an important component of the cell membranes of skin cells, where it ensures:

  • Hydration: Omega-7 helps the skin retain moisture, keeping it soft and hydrated.
  • Protection: It forms a barrier against harmful external influences, such as UV radiation and pollution.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Omega-7 has anti-inflammatory properties that can help with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

We can get omega-7 through various foods (plant and animal), including:

  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines are rich sources of omega-7.
  • Vegetable oils: Macadamia oil and sea buckthorn berry oil contain high concentrations of omega-7.
  • Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds contain small amounts of omega-7.

No direct link has been shown between avoiding omega-7 fatty acids in the diet and reducing nonenal odor. Although nonenal is a natural part of aging, there are ways to reduce the odor:

  • Washing: Showering helps remove bacteria and sweat, which increase the odor of nonenal.
  • Hydration: Well-hydrated skin can remove nonenal more easily. Therefore, use moisturizing creams and ointments.
  • Lifestyle: Smoking and stress can increase oxidative stress in the skin, which can promote nonenal production. A healthy lifestyle can therefore contribute positively.
  • Use of perfume: Use a perfume or a scented cream to mask the smell of 2-nonenal.

Although age-related body odor is often associated with poor hygiene, recent research shows that this is probably not the case. Although the reason for this increase is not yet fully understood, it suggests that changes in the skin, rather than inadequate hygiene, may be the cause of age-related body odor.

The odor of the elderly is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by various factors. Although nonenal plays an important role, it is a natural part of aging. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce odor and ensure a fresh, pleasant scent, regardless of your age.

A fragrance in your skin care, some like it, others don’t. In some people, it can even cause allergies. A scent is apparently very personal and also culturally determined. Time to explore what perfume does for your skin and what the facts are.

2-Nonenal, Fragrance In Your Skin Care Iconic Elements

There are thousands of chemicals that have a scent. More than 2,000 chemical ingredients are used in the perfume industry, of which only 300 to 400 are of natural origin.

A perfume consists of many hundreds of fragrance ingredients and a perfumer carries out a long series of experiments to create the optimal balance. A character of a perfume changes over time, and the volatility of the perfume raw materials plays an important role in this.

Perfume is made up of two things: top notes and the bottom or base.
1. The most volatile ingredients are the top notes. For example, that could be citrus followed by a heart note, which can have a floral, fruity or spicy scent.
2. You can smell the bottom or base the longest and consists of amber, vanilla and woods.

The concentration of perfume in eau de parfume, cologne and toilette varies from 3 to 15%, in skin care from 0.2 to 2% and in lipstick around 1%.

Learn more about perfume

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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