Pheromone trend smells fishy

But who needs solid scientific evidence when you have Paris Hilton's endorsement?

Published July 31, 2009 10:24AM (EDT)

Synthetic pheromones are the new "it" thing in the fragrance industry, according to the New York Times. They used to be a fringe thing, but they're now in Paris Hilton's signature perfume and even "embedded" in a line of Urban Decay  lip gloss dispensers. The idea is that synthetic pheromones boost the wearer's sex appeal. Some of you -- those with a total disregard for Ms. Hilton's scientific stamp of approval -- might ask: But is there any proof that it works?

Well, this Times trend piece starts by describing an "experiment" in which nine blindfolded women were asked whether any men out of a group of nine were potential romantic interests based only on their smell. Three of the men were sweaty and unshowered, three had showered with a run-of-the-mill body wash and three had lathered up with a body wash containing artificial pheromones. One of the women -- yep, just one, uno, un -- chose the pheromone-soaked man. "Which was just what Dial, the event's sponsor and maker of the new 'pheromone-infused' Dial for Men Magnetic Attraction Enhancing Body Wash, wanted to hear," enthuses the Times.

Really? The article is curiously silent about whether any of the others made a choice at all. Somehow, this doesn't seem like a strong tag line: "One out of nine blindfolded women prefer a man who uses our product." Perhaps Dial's audience has low expectations to begin with, though: Brand manager Ryan Gaspar explains, "We don't claim using our product you’re going to hit a home run. We say, 'We’ll get you to first base.'" Pssh, junior high can promise you that.

After I held my nose through the description of this study -- which took place in a candlelit lounge, by the way -- the Times thankfully acknowledged that there isn't solid scientific proof that human sexual pheromones exist and that we respond to them in any way. It's kind of morbidly hilarious that the same industry that has so successfully stripped away and covered up our bodies' natural odors is now churning out synthetic pheromones that are meant to mimic a biological process that we're not even sure exists.

It all smells like snake oil perfume to me.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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