Love at first scent

Your nose is amazing! Research suggests that humans can fall in love simply through a keen sense of smell. Is this possible? What is the connection between the olfactory (smell) system and who we find attractive?

How does fragrance work with the skin?
Fragrances will always smell different on different people, and much of this has to do with how it reacts with your skin’s pH. Scents generally smell stronger on those with an oilier skin type, and won’t last as long on dry skin. Applying a scent-free body lotion before your fragrance will help your fragrance linger longer. Body temperature is one of the most important factors in how scent develops on the body: the warmer you are, the more powerful your scent – but it will also disappear quickly. The colder, the gentler your scent, but the longer it will last.

How do pheromones and attraction come together?
Pheromones are a chemical substance we produce and release that can trigger a reaction in those around us. Animals secrete them too and use them to communicate danger or intent to mate. With human pheromones, much has been made about spritz-on synthetic pheromones that promise to make you more attractive, but the scientific evidence is lacking.

In a 2012 study published in the journal Plos One, showed that odours alter how people perceive one another. The same study found that natural body odour plays a significant role in how newborns seek out their mother’s nipple for breastfeeding. Everyone has a different perception of what a pleasant-smelling odour is meant to smell like. This is largely based on how we have been socialised regarding scent, culture, memories and emotions associated with certain scents.

Do we all have a scent?
Some people have a stronger natural odour than others, but everyone has a scent that’s unique to them, dictated by their genes. The way we smell also depends on our biology and hormones. And, this has much to do with finding that someone special. We look (or rather smell) for signs that a person has good genes, health and fertility.

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In a study conducted in Switzerland, women were given the t-shirts worn by men without deodorant. This way, their natural smell was absorbed by the shirt. The women were then asked to smell the t-shirts, and based on the scent alone, decide who they found most attractive. Interestingly, most women were more attracted to men who had an MHC profile most different to their own. Your MHC is the part of your genes that detect diseases: they are like your immune system’s eyes. If you pair up with someone who has an MHC profile most different from your own, your kids would probably be better protected against diseases.

Can personal odour change or develop?
Diet and medication can alter your natural odour. For the most part, your natural underlying smell will endure. Interestingly, certain diseases also create a unique “odour print”. You may not be able to smell it, but research has been done, and found that dogs can be trained to sniff out certain types of cancer. So, not only can your scent find you a soulmate, but in the near future, it could even save your life!

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