The dating sphere has become so painfully dismal that the TikTok crowd has resorted to mammalian mating rituals. Internet users aren't exactly spraying their crushes with urine like porcupines, or performing "submissive defecation" like hippopotamuses — instead of stinky waste products, humans are using pheromones and scent. Pheromone roll-on perfume oils are dominating TikTok timelines, but does the love chemical concoction really work?
Can a few dabs of a pheromone perfume oil under $20 really make our peers extra horny, thirsty for the stench of our bodies' natural chemistry? Or is a sweet-smelling, cash-grabbing placebo effect at play? Let's look at what science has to say.
What are pheromones and pheromone perfume?
Found in bodily secretions like axillary sweat, pheromones are "substances which are secreted to the outside by an individual and received by a second individual of the same species," as detailed in a 2013 study published in Facts, Views and Vision in ObGyn.
Named back in 1959 by German chemist and Nobel Prize winner Adolf Butenandt, as per American Scientist, pheromones are much more than invisible mating instigators; not everything is about sex. Mother rabbits release pheromones to encourage their offspring to nurse, and queen bees use them to send all kinds of signals to worker bees.
Much less is known about human pheromones.
John Hopkins Medicine noted that there are "pheromone-like compounds" present in human salivary glands, semen, and urine. Other chemicals, bacteria, age, menstrual cycles, and emotional well-being complicate human pheromone research.
In 1986, however, biologist Dr. Winnifred Cutler's postdoctoral research in behavioral endocrinology led to the official discovery of human pheromones, which she discovered alongside organic chemist George Preti.
She told The Washington Post that "exposure to pheromones is the essence of sex."
In the '90s, Dr. Cutler released her own pheromone "love potions": a cosmetic fragrance additive for women and an aftershave additive for men, which both include chemical copies of pheromones naturally released by "sexually attractive" young women and men, respectively. Unfortunately, Dr. Cutler's products are solely intended for those looking to attract the opposite sex.
Does pheromone perfume really work?
But do they even work?
The effectiveness of the additive for women is backed by two eight-week studies (see them here and here), and the effectiveness of the additive for men is backed by one double blind, placebo-controlled eight-week study.
As per an ABC segment, Dr. Cutler said her pheromone additives work for 75 percent of individuals.
As for the TikTok viral perfumes, there's less concrete evidence to go by. A beautiful woman's boyfriend wanting to jump her bones doesn't really count as proof.
Also found in boars, androstenone is produced by male bodies. While a 2004 study published in The Journal of Physiology called androstenone "a prospective candidate for odor-mediated communication in humans," it also noted that its ability to work as a human pheromone is "open to debate."
Copulin is produced by female bodies and is found in vaginal secretions. According to a 2016 study published in Evolutionary Psychology, men exposed to copulins ranked women’s faces as more attractive than men not exposed to the pheromone.
After using Pure Instinct's For Her Roll-On Pheromone Perfume Oil (which smells like a spice-infused bouquet of sweet flowers) for a few weeks, TikTok user @_ohheyitsjess found people were extra drawn to her.
"More people start conversations with me. People hold eye contact a lot longer," she says in her September 2023 video.
Vice writer Mary Frances “Francky” Knapp opted for Pure Instinct's OG unisex Roll-On Pheromone Perfume, finding that she "could claim at least one romantic interaction, if not more," each day she doused herself in the fragrance. Her first surprise encounter involved a "dude in a ponytail and an Iron Maiden shirt" requesting her digits in a Bushwick bar, which is a touching meet-cute if we do say so ourselves.
TikTok user @arlettesdiaries had less luck, reporting that Pure Instinct's Crave Roll-On Pheromone Perfume had no affect on her male partner. Still, she described the perfume as an "insanely beautiful skin-like scent."
How does pheromone perfume work?
Dr. Cutler told ABC that her fragrance additive is ideal for middle-aged women.
"Women in their forties are not excreting the same level of pheromones they might've been when they were in their twenties or their thirties," she said. "Adding the pheromone to their perfume could be just the kick that restores some of what they thought they had lost."
According to biochemist and author Dr. Shawn Talbott, pheromone perfumes may be effective due to their relaxing qualities.
“Pheromone perfumes could very well be able to help reduce stress, promote relaxation, or enhance sleep,” he told The Healthy. This restores "a stress-induced low sex drive back to normal levels. People may perceive this relaxing effect as an ‘increased’ libido or ‘enhanced’ romantic feelings."
Of course, a placebo effect may impact these sexy experiences reported on TikTok. But this isn't a bad thing; sometimes seeing is believing, and other times believing is what kickstarts the magic.