Do pheromone colognes really work?
May 26, 2008 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Do pheromone colognes really work?

I have seen pheromone colognes, which supposedly make one more sexually attractive, advertised regularly -- e.g., in the pages of Maxim. Do they work?

Good answers would either contain theoretical or empirical discussions of how pheromone colognes would or wouldn't work, or (less interesting) anecdotes of your personal experience with same. I tend to think personal anecdotes would not be very reliable as evidence because there is no good way to set up a control group for comparison.

For what it is worth, I have no interest in using this stuff, but it is something I have long been curious about. My gorgeous and beloved wife said she actually tried some of the stuff once some years ago and said it seemed to have some effect. But (a) no control group and (b) she's gorgeous anyway.
posted by Mr. Justice to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Nope. Though, depending on who you're trying to attract, if it is obviously expensive enough it might get some action.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:43 PM on May 26, 2008

A quick Google Scholar search reveals that humans do use pheromones to some extent, but both the exact bearing they have on attractiveness and the mechanism by which they operate are debated.

This paper (Cowley and Brooksbank, 1991) reports:
"...exposure of females to androstenol [...] resulted in significantly higher scores of exchanges with males, in terms of all parameters [number, depth, duration and direction of initiation] for all exchanges."

On the other hand, we have "Androstenol as a human pheromone: No effect on perceived physical attractiveness" (Black and Biron, 1982).
posted by goingonit at 3:47 PM on May 26, 2008

Although pheromones play a big role in other mammals (so much so, that if female hamster pheromones are applied onto a male hamster, that male hamster will be "mounted" by male hamsters even from rival colonies), the function of pheromones among humans is widely debated, especially since scientists do not know a whole lot about it. However, what is widely agreed upon is that the impact of pheromones is minimal at best. In fact, the vomeronasal organ in our nose, which supposedly detects pheromones, is known to be one of the "vestigial" organs.

But, how does one explain the synchronization of menstrual cycles between females? or other similar phenomena?

Ultimately, we need more research before we can debunk or embrace the impact of human pheromones.

As for the pheromone cologne, I personally would not spend my hard-earned cash on questionable companies selling questionable products. Instead, I would invest in some good quality cologne/perfume to attract the opposite sex.
posted by mahoganyslide at 4:24 PM on May 26, 2008

Ask yourself this: are the pheromones synthesized (from precursor chemicals/compounds - less likely due to expense) or harvest from living organisms? Will that organism be human or... Even if it's harvested from a person, do you want to rub some other dude's sweat all over yourself?

I had the displeasure of being on a bus with a junior-highschool aged boy with the typical trappings of one with very low self esteem who smelled very strongly, and very unpleasantly, of goat. I asked him if he was wearing pheromone cologne.

"Um, uh, yes, how did you know? I thought that only girls could smell it."

Further on pheromones; there's some evidence that when a potential mate smells "good," chances are that your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) types are highly compatible (ie., greater chance of embryonic implantation, offspring produce "useful" sets of anitbodies, &c). Using some other dude's pheromones might attract the "wrong" girl.
posted by porpoise at 5:29 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can't believe I know this, but... offers sample packs that you can try yourself (for like $5, I think) if you're interested in collecting your own evidence. You might find their forums informative; I find them hilarious and creepy. This forum in particular is most intriguing:
On one occasion a plastic bag was tied arround my balls and i went for a walk. Upon my return the bag was removed and the sweat/odours (directly from the balls) could clearly be seen in the bag. I used this on a tissue and the affect seemed to make many a ladies head turn as i walked down the street. Upon striking up conversation i noticed dialated pupils in almost all of the ladies who spoke with me.
Yep, ball sweat. I have a feeling commercially available pheromones work about that well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:36 PM on May 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

Here is one interesting anecdotal account, from an older gentleman who used pheromones during the Katrina crisis in New Orleans, and believes they helped protect him and the people he was looking after.
posted by Scram at 6:53 PM on May 26, 2008

Here's a brief write-up on the famous National Geographic sweat smell test and the one company that doesn't sell a cologne but sells small vials of pheromones to add to your own cologne. I've smelled the stuff -- yes, I can smell it, and it is very pleasant and unique -- and many people say it works.
posted by Listener at 7:48 PM on May 26, 2008

Think for a second - if they really worked, would they be advertised in Maxim?
posted by gyusan at 8:07 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

The "flaw" (in marketing terms, not necessarily in scientific or social validity) in this idea has always been that it's going to affect you more than anyone else, because you're running around with it on.

Look into oxytocin. That, it seems to me, has a chance of working, but only because it is supposed to induce a sense of trust in you the user, stimulate your mirror neurons to improve your ability to empathize with others, and hence overcome your social confusion and fear.

However, making it do anything to other people without a spraycan to dispense it is unlikely to work, and if it did work, it's ethically dubious.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:43 PM on May 26, 2008

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