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The attraction of your perfume: Pheromones

Updated: Mar 24

We all are different and unique in many terms but also in terms of scent. Millions of people sometimes wear the same perfume but they do not smell the same. Sometimes you like what someone smells and ask for their perfumes but when you put it on, you don't feel the same. Because of the pH of the skin, things we eat, where we live, etc. Many things affect our personal scent. Each of us has a unique odour.

As mammal animals, we smell our partners, friends, families, and our enemies. That is a mechanism that is developed for protecting ourselves. Scientifically, when we meet someone who has a similar scent to ours, our limbic system recognises and categorises it as an “already known”. But how our body can classify people depends on their scents. What causes it? Animals secrete some chemicals called pheromones to communicate among their species. Pheromones evoke various behaviours or reactions in the ones who receive them. Throughout this scent, they’re able to recognise their territory, enemies, or sex partners. Since animals attract others by some pheromones, they could have been used in fragrances for humans to induce a seductive smell.

In fragrances, it is very common to use plants such as flowers, seeds, or leaves but there is another element on the table that has been used since very ancient times, animal resources. You probably heard of “musk”. It is a perfume component that used to be obtained from deer’s glands but nowadays, it is possible to synthesise it. Another example is “ambergris”. It is a perfume component that is obtained from sperm whales. It is described as a very odd natural scent. Ambergris is used as an ingredient for a perfume called “Fleurs de Bulgarie” by Creed for Queen Victoria in 1845. Due to animal rights, whales are no longer allowed to be hunted for this reason. “Bombykol” is also isolated from the silkworm moth, Bombyx mori, and it is known as the first insect sex pheromone. Some of the elements that we mentioned above are used in the perfumery industry and there are very trendy and classic perfume examples on the market that consists of pheromones.

How do they actually work? Although the certain mechanism has not been explained, it has been found that a particular pheromone which is used in mostly men's fragrances called androstadienone increases the level of cortisol in females. It is obtained from boar saliva, celery cytoplasm, and truffle fungus. This molecule’s smell is described variously. When some people described it as urine, some of them described it as very floral, dulcet smelling[1]. Other variants of the pheromones are androstenol, androstenone (from male sweat glands), Aliphatic acids, or "copulins" (from the vagina’s wall), etc. A study[2]focused on if those molecules in women have a positive effect on “attracting” men. In the study, androstenone has been applied to a group of women’s lips in order to test if androstenone has a seductive effect on men. The results have shown that women who wear androstenone on their lips have been found more attractive by men.

To conclude, since we are talking about feelings, and abstract concepts, it is not a thing to be measured and is pretty subjective. As far as it is known, the menstrual cycle, diet habits, etc have an impact on the scent of the person but more study is needed. Moreover, partners are able to recognize the ovulation period of women through the pheromones. This means that pheromones work on us unconsciously. The regulation of pheromones in fragrances does not have a clear borderline. The more it enters the market needs to be discussed its effectiveness, ethics, and marketplace.


[1] Araneda RC, Firestein S. The scents of androstenone in humans. J Physiol. 2004 Jan 1;554(Pt 1):1. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2003.057075. PMID: 14678483; PMCID: PMC1664751. [2] Saxton, Tamsin & Lyndon, Anna & Little, Anthony & Roberts, S.. (2008). Evidence that androstadienone, a putative human chemosignal, modulates women's attributions of men's attractiveness. Hormones and behavior. 54. 597-601. 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.06.001.

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