Characterization of the microflora of the human axilla

Int J Cosmet Sci. 2003 Jun;25(3):137-45. doi: 10.1046/j.1467-2494.2003.00181.x.


It is widely accepted that axillary malodour is attributable to the microbial biotransformation of odourless, natural secretions into volatile odorous products. Consequently, there is a need to understand the microbial ecology of the axilla in order that deodorant products, which control microbial action in this region, can be developed in the appropriate manner. A detailed characterization of the axillary microflora of a group of human volunteers has been performed. The axillary microflora is composed of four principal groups of bacteria (staphylococci, aerobic coryneforms, micrococci and propionibacteria), and the yeast genus Malassezia. Results indicated that the axillary microflora was dominated by either staphylococcal or aerobic coryneform species. Comparisons between axillary bacterial numbers and levels of axillary odour demonstrated the greatest association between odour levels and the presence of aerobic coryneforms in the under-arm. As the taxonomy of cutaneous aerobic coryneforms is poorly understood, a further study was conducted to characterize selected axillary aerobic coryneform isolates. Using the molecular technique of 16S rDNA sequencing, selected genomic sequences of a number of axillary aerobic coryneform isolates were obtained. Comparisons with sequence databases indicated the likely presence of a range of Corynebacterium species on axillary skin, although the majority of isolates were most similar to either Corynebacterium G-2 CDC G5840 or C. mucifaciens DMMZ 2278. Although for a panel of individuals differences in the carriage of Corynebacterium species were noted, similar species were carried by a number of panellists. All isolates examined in this limited evaluation failed to demonstrate the capability to metabolize long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) to shorter chain, more volatile products. The application of this modern molecular phylogenetic technique has increased understanding of the diversity of aerobic coryneform carriage in the axilla, and on human skin. The application of this technique in other studies to assess the ethnic differences in cutaneous bacterial ecology, or the effects on the microflora of specific product use, will assist in the future development of novel deodorant systems.