Does perfume make you more attractive?


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Molly: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. This is Molly.

Cristen: And I'm Cristen.

Molly: And Cristen, I think it's my turn to share a slightly embarrassing anecdote with you.

Cristen: Ooh, yay.

Molly: So this takes us back to sixth grade.

Cristen: Awkward time.

Molly: Awkward time, and a 6th grade camping trip, and a bunch of girls hanging out, not talking to the boys of course because that would be too awkward.

Cristen: Gross.

Molly: And I lent one of my friends a sweatshirt, she didn't have one, and it was cold. So I gave her the sweatshirt, she put it on, and she was like, oh, it smells like you. I was sort of like, like soap, like a clean person, and she was like no, like fake strawberries. At the time I wore a spritzer that was strawberry flavored.

Cristen: Was it a body splash?

Molly: It might have been.

Cristen: I wore a lot of those in sixth grade, too.

Molly: It was not the higher scale body splash put out by such brands as Victoria Secret or Body Shop, it was more like a kid's body spray, and it smelled like strawberries, and at that point I stopped wearing it because I didn't want to smell like fake strawberries.

Cristen: Did you just smell like melted lollipops.Molly: I think she meant l smelled like sugar. That was sort of my first introduction to the fact that perfume is a distinctive thing that can mark your scent in the world, and I did not want to smell like fake fruit. Cristen: Yeah, I think everyone has had some kind of experience where they put on a scent that just turns somebody off, whether it's guy, girl, whoever, because yeah, with perfume you either like it or you hate it. Molly: Yeah, but it did make me question if that's why I wasn't talking to the boys on that sixth grade field trip. Cristen: Because they weren't into strawberry lollipops. Molly: They weren't into strawberry lollipops, and you know, it's good to learn that lesson early because as we learned in researching this question, Does Perfume Make You More Attractive, it basically does, right?Cristen: Yeah, but before we go any further, we have to point out that there is no scientific evidence that perfume can have some kind of aphrodisiac effect. I love those perfumes that are advertised to have some kind of creepy animal hormone in them that is supposed to make someone of the opposite sex or whoever you want flock to you.Molly: Yes, as portrayed in the movie Anchorman?Cristen: Oh yes. Well, Molly even though there is no such thing as an aphrodisiac perfume, there is a definite connection between scent and attraction, especially for women because women actually have slightly more fine tuned senses of smell than men, and some researchers think that this is all part of our animalistic mating rituals. Molly: Ooh, tell me more.Cristen: Indeed. There was a study conducted at the University of Lausanne testing whether or not women could be attracted solely by scent, and sort of how all of that works. What they did was they gave men a single tee shirt to wear, and they asked them while they were wearing it for an extended period of time to not use any sort of scented soaps or deodorants or colognes, so it could just get fully absorbed with their natural body odors. Delicious, right? So then they gave the women just the shirts, no pictures of the men or anything like that. They just gave the women the shirts to smell. They found that the scents the women were most attracted to correlated with the men who were the most genetically dissimilar from them, and they think that it's because women are biologically attuned to sniffing out men who are more genetically different, so they can have more successful offspring. Molly: Interesting because that is completely counter to how perfume is marketed to women. Basically what Cristen is saying is that women just need the natural scent of a guy to know if there is gonna be reproductive success, but women are told, and have been told throughout history, which we'll go over, that they need perfume to be attractive to men at all. I guess because men don't have those super sensors, and can't tell for themselves who they need to mate with. Cristen: I guess so. All right, so Molly, why don't we talk about what perfume is exactly. We know that it's usually a liquid, you spray it on you, but what is inside of it that makes it smell so delicious, or revolting to some people?Molly: It's got alcohol, water, and molecules that evaporate at room temperature, and that's it. The molecules are what provide the smell. As you may know there are sort of different levels of how much smell you're gonna get in a bottle. Cristen: Right, the most concentrated amount of perfume oil is going to be referred to as parfum, and then it goes down to eau de cologne and body sprays, like your strawberry body spray that have the least amount of perfume oil. So that's why you had the different designations of like parfum, eau de parfum. I do not speak French, Molly, I feel kind of silly trying to say these.Molly: I'm really enjoying watching you try to do this, but the point is, just because you're wearing a perfume doesn't mean you're wearing the cheap stuff, the stuff with less concentration in it. That's actually what you have to do to kind of get the actual good smell out of all of these molecules.Cristen: Yeah because perfume is designed to release in different stages. First you have the top notes that will evaporate in the first 15 minutes like when you first spray some perfume, and you immediately smell yourself. Those are the top notes being released, and then after 3 to 4 hours, the heart notes, those deeper molecules are then released, and then finally you've got the base notes that will stick around after 5 to 8 hours of application that are really the essence of the perfume. That's the stuff that's gonna stick around on your sweatshirt.Molly: Yeah, and so the next time you get a bottle of perfume, treat it like a wine, impress all your friends by talking about base notes, and heart notes. Cristen: Yeah, oh, I love heart notes in your new cologne. But one thing that I thought was interesting Molly was that after the top notes evaporate, perfume smells the same on everybody. Molly: Yeah, that's kind of interesting.Cristen: Yeah because I thought we picked different perfumes because they'll smell different. My perfume will smell differently on you, but maybe it's just because our sense of smell is different, not necessarily the way the perfume is released.Molly: Yeah, people have been looking at the psychology of why women even wear perfume. So there is this question of whether the perfume we like is kind of genetically ingrained with odor receptors or if it's more that you start to learn what smells good to you.Cristen: Yeah because the scent is so individualized. There is no one scent that researchers have been able to find that every culture enjoys. So let's just talk about maybe the differences why men and women might wear perfume. According to the book, The Scent of Desire, discovering our enigmatic sense of smell, men wear cologne to attract women. If anyone has ever seen a commercial for Acts Body Spray, I think that marketers have definitely tapped into that reason behind it, and then older men supposedly do it out of gratitude to the women who gave them their cologne, which okay, I guess as long as they like it beforehand. But women on the other hand wear it for a little bit different reasons. Supposedly women in their 20s, like me and Molly, are inspired by the media to wear it. We see Jessica Simpson or Brittany Spears or Insert your favorite pop icon, advertising different types of perfumes, and we say oh well, if Brittany Spears wears that kind of perfume I'll do it too. Molly: And I think that's the last time people want to emulate all of Brittany's behavior, just an idea. Cristen: But maybe some people like it. By our 40s, supposedly women are wearing fragrances just because we like it. We found something, for me it is Channel Chance, that we like, even though I'm not 40. I guess I'm ahead of my time, and then by 60, women wear the things that they think other people will like, usually like their daughters or other family members really enjoy.Molly: But you know, it wasn't always that way Cristen. I was reading a really interesting article in the Journal of Pop Culture that kind of evaluated perfume over time, and how it's been marketed to women at different times, and it was talking about how in the 19th century when women were very much living in a domestic sphere, serving husbands, raising children, you had to be very modest, and you couldn't wear much of a scent at all. It was sort of associated with prostitutes to be wearing a scent, and it wasn't until the 1940s when you know, the men went off to war, and had pinups of girls that it was kind of a good thing in society to be an alluring female, and so that was why it started becoming more and more acceptable that you could wear perfume to allure a man. Cristen: Well, that makes sense because almost any perfume ad that you'll see has some element of sex in it. Either the woman just has a come hither look in her eyes or she's rubbing up on another man or something, there's a very sensual aspect to perfume and marketing, probably because it can become sort of a part of your identity marked by your smell. Molly: It can, but you know in the 1950s things hadn't progressed for women that much. Your identity is still as a good housewife. So all the ads at that time were just about this perfume will please your man, wear it. Men had none of those responsibilities, and then it's not until the 1970s when we got a lot of women's lib feminist stuff going on that perfume became kind of a lifestyle choice. You can wear this because you are making a choice for you, how you want to smell.Cristen: Interesting. Well, it's kind of funny that this marketing is really just linked to attraction, sexuality, and all of that because some psychologists think that deodorant and perfume and all of these things that we supposedly need to have to make ourself look and feel more attractive has diminished women's capabilities of sniffing out a good mate. Molly: Oh, dear. Cristen: Yeah, so maybe we're actually shooting ourself in the foot by dousing -Molly: By shooting ourselves with perfume.Cristen: Exactly, Molly. Molly: So think twice before you're putting on the perfume. You don't want to scare away potential mates.Cristen: Yeah.Molly: But I will give a slight tip to all of our mothers out there. I was reading that if your favorite perfume is one that is very similar to the one your mom used to wear, that is because scents do bring back emotions, and women often choose to smell like their mothers to bring back the presence of their mother, even when they're not there.Cristen: Right Molly, and just like your friend, who knew you in sixth grade, as her friend who smelled like frosted strawberries, it really does stick around with you.Molly: Yeah, I'm always gonna be known as the strawberry girl. Cristen: Too bad, Molly, too bad.Molly: But if you want to learn more about smells, and how perfume works, then head on over to www.HowStuffWorks.com. Cristen: And if you have any questions or comments for me or Molly you can E-mail us at MomStuff@HowStuffWorks.com.

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