Q: The purpose of perfume is to completely cover up a person's body odor, right?
A: No. In fact, research has shown that perfume can increase a person's attractiveness, pleasantness, and intensity not by covering up their own body scent, but by enhancing and interacting with their natural body scent. Knowing this scientific fact can help men choose the right perfume for their own bodies.
In an article published in the open-source journal PLoS ONE in 2012 (Link: https://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0033810), a group of researchers used a series of three studies to test two hypotheses:
- The first hypothesis suggested that perfume works because it masks or covers up a person's body odor.
- The second hypothesis suggested that perfume works because it enhances and blends with a person's body odor.
The researchers suggested that a man's natural body scent is not all bad. In fact, previous research has shown that women use a man's body scent as part of their mate selection.
- Women can detect slight differences in a man's DNA from their body odor.
- Women are more likely to be attracted to men who smell differently than they do – it's a way of Nature ensuring that the gene pool stays diverse.
- Women are also more likely to say that their mate's scent is an important factor in their attractiveness.
STUDY 1 and STUDY 2
These two studies were relatively similar.
In both, a group of men were instructed to apply a fragrance to one armpit and apply nothing to the other armpit.
Then, the men kept cotton pads in their armpits for 24 hours.
- In order to reduce the effect of other variables, the men were put on a strict diet to avoid the interaction of strong food odors (e.g. garlic, peppers, vinegar)
- The men were also instructed not to use any perfume or deodorant during the 24 hours.
Then, the cotton pads were put into jars and a team of brave women volunteers smelled the open jars and rated them on:
As you can expect, women rated the perfumed jars (vs. the plain body odor jars) as more attractive and more pleasant.
But the most important finding is that this effect differed according to the individual donor.
In other words, the perfume worked better for some men and worse for others.
For some men, the particular perfume enhanced their body odor a great deal, and for some men, it had a relatively weak effect.
If the purpose of perfume is simply to MASK a man's odor, then it shouldn't matter which man the women were smelling – the perfume should just cover the man's scent.
But that's not what happened. There was some kind of blending interaction going on.
This means men should find a perfume that enhances their own personal scent, rather than one that simply covers it up.
But how does a man go about doing this? The answer is coming up in Study 3.
In this study, the same procedure was followed as above, with one major difference:
- The men used a perfume that they already use on a regular basis in one armpit, and an assigned perfume in the other armpit.
- The men were instructed to choose a perfume that they use pretty often, and that they find personally pleasant.
- None of the men in the study (there were 12 total) chose the same perfume.
The men still wore the assigned perfume in one armpit and their own chosen perfume under the other, and collected an “odor sample” using cotton pads for 24 hours.
Once again, the women smelled the jars and rated them on attractiveness, pleasantness, and intensity.
Additionally, the women rated the perfumes on their own, without being blended with the smell of a man's underarm.
Here's the kicker. The females rated the men's own chosen perfume/armpit blend as significantly more attractive and more pleasant than the assigned perfume/armpit blend.
However, when women rated the actual unblended perfumes, they did not prefer one over the other.
In other words, the men were naturally able to select a scent that compliments their own body odor – and that's what they used on a regular basis.
You cannot let someone choose your perfume for you.
In order to truly reap the benefits of a perfume, you must wear it and determine whether you like it yourself.
Your nose “knows” what scents will enhance your own body's odor and which scents won't.
Lenochova, P., Vohnoutova, P., Roberts, S. C., Oberzaucher, E., Grammer, K., et al. (2012). Psychology of fragrance use: Perception of individual odor and perfume blends reveals a mechanism for idiosyncratic effects on fragrance choice. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e33810. Link: https://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0033810