The secrets of aphrodisiac perfumes
“Home in three days. Don’t wash.”
The words of Napoleon’s famous message to his mistress, Josephine, is the perfect illustration of how personal smell has aphrodisiac qualities for the right partner.
Bathing aside, we all have our own natural smell which is vital to our sexual advertising. Although pheromones are presumed rather than proven in humans, everyone’s natural scent is actually a combination of factors, from our personal genes and hormones to bacteria, hygiene habits, the products we use and other environmental factors. Of these, diet often has the biggest effect.
It’s pretty obvious when someone has eaten garlic, alcohol or curry, but while other foods may be more subtle they still exert an influence. Dr Jan Havlicek of Charles University, Prague, who specialises in how our choice of mate is linked to our sense of smell, revealed, “A few years ago a study compared the smell of men who ate a meat-rich diet for two weeks, with how they smelled after eating a meat-free vegetable diet for the same length of time. The raters, all women, preferred the vegetarian smell.”
Another factor that can affect both the way we smell to others, and the way we in which we perceive the smell of our partner, is the Pill. Divorces have soared since it became available, and many of those relationships foundered after women stopped taking it. Could there be a link? “It’s possible that the Pill may have actually decreased the ability to make good judgements,” suggests Professor Tim Jacob of Cardiff University, “but the results remain to be seen.”
The key to smelling sexy
Most important of all, since many diseases also have a telltale smell (diabetes, for instance), personal smell can be an indicator of health and, above all, of our immunotype, or personal immune system. As far as sexual attraction goes, this is key.
Professor Jacob, who was speaking at an IFRA Fragrance Forum, explained, “Studies have shown that we tend to choose people on the basis of the genes determining our immune system. It seems we naturally pair with someone with a dissimilar immune system to us so our offspring has the advantage of two different sets of genes and immunity. In addition, we tend to dislike the smell of opposite gender siblings and parents, which helps prevent incest.”
What’s also interesting is that similar immunotypes choose similar perfumes, so even our fragrance preferences may be dictated by our genes. Research found that similar immunotypes have the same general preferences across more than 30 fragrance categories, which suggests that we choose scents that somehow enhance and best advertise our immunotype.
But could there ever be a single aphrodisiac perfume that will make anyone and everyone (or perhaps just a special ‘one’) fall at our feet, regardless of our natural scent?
According to Dr Havlicek, “A single aphrodisiac perfume is probably far into the future because we don’t know which chemicals are involved in mate attraction. There are hundreds of different chemicals in our armpits alone, and scientists are researching some of those individual chemicals, but the results are very diverse. Context is also important and there could be even more chemicals involved.”
Finding your perfect perfume partner
The task is made harder by the fact that perfumes smell different on each of us. “Experiments show that if you apply a specific perfume on different bodies, it smells different, thanks in part to the way it mixes with each genetically unique scent,” adds Dr Havlicek. “This supports the theory that fragrance is not just a masking agent but interactive. Perception is also a complicated issue, especially when a perfume is a mixture of ingredients rather than just one - and with the hundreds of chemicals involved in the body, it means making a single aphrodisiac fragrance is an astronomical impossibility.”
So despite the tantalising claims of apparently seductive fragrances, from Escentric Molecules to Charlotte Tilbury’s Scent Of A Dream, not to mention sultry ingredients such as jasmine and musk, unless the formulation happens to be a perfect match for you it will never perform as well as the combination your lover is already ‘programmed’ to prefer.
This explains why so many suddenly fashionable fragrances end up languishing half-used on the dressing table because, as a poor match for someone’s individual immunotype, their owners soon fall out of love with them. It’s why many gift purchases end up the same way.
As with finding the perfect partner, there’s no magic way to finding your perfect perfume except by searching for and judging it yourself. However, one short-cut is to start with a fragrance that you already like, then consult The Perfume Shop’s Fragrances of the World app (created by perfume expert Michael Edwards) to find other examples in the same ‘family,’ such as floral, oriental, fresh, woody, etc.. This helps identify other factors and ingredients that you also like, so you can begin refining your choices until you find your perfect perfume.
And, who knows, perhaps find your perfect partner, too.
Author: Jocelyn Bailey
Image: Dianna Sarto/Corbis