Human pheromones? More like snake oil

  • 09/03/2017
Woman sniffes a snake-oil love potion (Getty)
Science has found no evidence love potions work or pheromones actually exist in humans (Getty)

You'd might as well be slathering yourself in snake oil.

A new study has found two substances commonly sold as 'love potions' online don't do anything at all.

It's been claimed androstadienone (AND) and estratetraenol (EST) are human pheromones - chemicals we can't smell but have an effect on our behaviour, especially around potential mates.

A number of species use pheromones, including lizards, earthworms, spiders and fungi. While there is no evidence they exist in humans, that hasn't stopped retailers selling pricey vials of the steroids.

A quick Amazon search brings up products aimed at both men and women, bearing names like 'Pure Passion', 'Primal Instinct' and 'Scent of Eros'. They can cost as much as NZ$90 for 40mg.

One of the many 'love potions' available on Amazon (Amazon/supplied)
One of the many 'love potions' available on Amazon (Amazon/supplied)

Scientists at the University of Western Australia (UWA) decided to find out if AND and EST do anything - but their verdict is a real turn-off for would-be Casanovas: it seems they don't do anything at all.

Ninety-four heterosexual participants took part in two different tasks involving gender-neutral and opposite-sex faces, and the results were the same regardless of whether they'd been exposed to AND or EST - the 'love potions' did nothing to get people in the mood.

"Much of the research currently promoted focuses on studies that back AND and EST being pheromones in humans, because of the human fascination on how we can improve our attractiveness to the opposite sex," says UWA School of Biological Sciences Professor Leigh Simmons.

"This contributes to a skew in public perception on whether humans do have pheromones with many people believing we do, because research suggesting the opposite tends not to be as published, and if it is published it does not get the same degree of attention."

EST is only produced by women, but the scientists say that doesn't automatically make it a sex-specific pheromone - it could signal something else entirely, or be "a simple metabolic by-product" of pregnancy.

AND is produced by both men and women, so is unlikely to have any effect on a man's ability to attract women, the research concludes.

"If any human chemicals affect our judgments of gender, attractiveness or unfaithfulness from faces, they are unlikely to include AND or EST."

The research was published in journal Royal Society Open Science.