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Dear Diabetes: The Smell of Insulin

The DX explains why insulin smells the way it does

Dear Diabetes:

Why does insulin smell like Band-Aids?

An interesting question that confounds many people on a nearly daily basis: why insulin smells like Band-Aids. If you’ve ever given yourself an injection or delivered a bolus while your pump wasn’t attached, you might be familiar with this phenomenon. There’s something about the smell of insulin that can immediately transport you back to your childhood doctor’s office.

After pursuing multiple avenues of investigation, we think we have an explanation! It comes courtesy of Robert Scheinman, PhD, professor of biochemistry in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy. Dr. Scheinman was willing to do some sleuthing of his own. After hearing our hypothesis that it may have had something to do with the preservative and stabilizer used in many brands of insulin (meta cresol or 3-methylphenol), he went to the lab of a colleague working with meta-cresol and sniffed it for himself. The result?

“We have not one, but two labs that have meta-cresol around, so it was pretty easy for me to get a whiff,” he wrote in an email. “One of the post-docs brought me over to his bench, opened the tube and, voila, Band-Aids! I think we have it solved.”

Thankfully for Dr. Scheinman, we didn’t ask him about insulin’s taste.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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