Supposedly, it’s irresistible to your partner or crush.
Ever since I was 12 years old and dousing myself in the $15 Japanese Cherry Blossom mist from Bath & Body Works, I’ve loved grabbing attention with the way I smell. I’ve tried nearly every scent, from musky vanillas to caramel accords, but I’ve never experimented the smell of my pheromones — which, according to TikTok, might be the most irresistible fragrance to a potential romantic partner. But you don’t have to ditch your deodorant — the idea is to embrace an authentic, clean, “just out of the shower” smell.
On TikTok, the hashtag #pheromoneperfume has more than 54 million views, featuring content creators testing out a pheromone perfume oil to attract their partner or crush. TikTok’s favorite product is the Pure Instinct Pheromone Perfume Oil, which claims to be a “sex attractant perfume oil.” According to the product description, the oil blends with your skin’s pH, creating a “one-of-a-kind scent.” It blends a mixture of popular key notes: honey, white musk, cinnamon, Australian mango, and mandarin.
Pheromone perfumes like Pure Instinct contain pheromone-based compounds like androstenone, androstenol, androstadienone, and estratetraenol, which have the potential to be found in the human body — however, their impact on humans is scientifically unknown. After using the perfume, some TikTokers find that their partners cling to them more than usual, while others report receiving attention from random people on a night out. There are also those who claim it’s a hoax.
Before trying out this perfume on my long-distance boyfriend, I wanted to do my own research and talk to experts to understand the intricacies of the oil — and if it might grab the attention of Chris Evans if I happen to bump into him on my daily #hotgirlwalk. Let’s just say I didn’t expect the journey this experiment took me on.
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What Are Pheromones, Exactly?
Picture yourself and your bestie shopping at Trader Joe’s for all the pumpkin spice goodies, and you pass someone who smells absolutely delicious. Both of you turn your heads, immediately drawn to that person for no reason other than the fact that their aroma is intriguing. Pheromones are like that, but the smell isn’t a specific perfume or cologne; it’s a person’s natural scent. “Pheromones are chemical secretions emitted from the body via scent that serve as a form of communication among animals — leading to a specific innate behavior process,” Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., sociologist and sexologist, tells Elite Daily.
“During mating season, many different species, especially animals, emit a specific scent that can attract a mate,” Melancon says. Almost every species of animal — squid, mice, fish, rabbits, rats, and bees, to name a few — have been scientifically proven to have pheromone molecules — but not humans yet. “Pheromone research has generally been of low quality and suffers from many methodological concerns that render findings questionable at best,” Melancon says. The pheromone perfume oil claims to mix with your natural smell, initiating an aromatic reaction from those around you — but that’s not exactly what the science says.
“The pheromones used in perfumes are synthetic, and we have no scientific research that proves that humans react in the same way to them [as animals],” says Nina Nguyen, sex educator and co-founder of Fraulila.de, an LGBTQ+ platform that provides information about sexual health.
It may be that simply believing the perfume works is enough to increase your self-assurance. “It is highly likely that simply wearing a pheromone perfume may lead one to behave more kindly or flirtatiously,” Melancon tells Elite Daily. Nyugen adds, “A lot of people can fall into a placebo effect, believing so hard that their perfume works that they start to project confidence. ... It could also be that specific perfumes combine very well with their skin and their pH, enhancing their natural body smell and making it more attractive.” Perhaps it’s the placebo effect that has TikTokers obsessed, and not actually a magical love life concoction.
How Did The Pheromone Perfume Oil Trend Start?
Curiosity surrounding the Pure Instinct Pheromone Perfume Oil started on TikTok in October 2020, but creators began to conduct their own experiments around January 2021. They’d apply the perfume oil at the gym to get asked on a date and at their office to get a promotion, and one person even claimed the product helped them get a job offer.
As the trend gained popularity, thousands of viewers filled the comment sections. “I wore this yesterday and the guy at the bakery flirted hard!” one person said. Another gushed, “Bro I wore this around my boyfriend today and he COULD NOTTTT stay away from me.” Some commenters were frustrated by the trend: “For the last time people, pheromones are not proven to be present or detected by humans, and if they were, you wouldn’t find them in some random perfume,” said one. “Doesn’t work for me, but wasps now find me irresistible,” said another disappointed TikTok user.
Some commenters also noticed creators who were highly praising the product had partnered with the company or put a purchase link in their bio, generating a portion of the sale back to them. Despite its many devotees, it’s safe to say the pheromone perfume is also prompting a fair share of uncertainty.
Is The Pure Instinct Pheromone Perfume Oil Worth The Hype?
At first, I was excited to liven up my scent, as I’ve been wearing my trusty Ariana Grande Cloud Eau de Parfum for years. My boyfriend and I have a tendency to splurge on fragrances for each other. I knew he’d pick up on the scent right away, but I had this feeling it wouldn’t affect his attraction to me. One of his love languages is physical touch, so he’s already a very touchy-feely person — I didn’t think there was any way a magical perfume could alter that. I figured that, just like Nguyen explains, my natural odor would mix with the perfume oil, making a unique smell, but not creating a miraculous love potion to uproot my love or sex life.
Right off the bat, I wasn’t a big fan of the smell myself. I usually wear scents that have more of a warm, sultry fragrance, so the intense mango notes threw me off. The overwhelmingly fruity scent reminded me of a teenage boy who just discovered that cologne exists. (OK, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean.) TikTok users suggested putting the perfume on my neck, my wrist, behind my ears, and my collarbone, so that’s exactly what I did.
As much as I despised the aroma, I do believe the perfume heightened my confidence a bit. I usually feel a tiny bit of nerves when reuniting with my boyfriend, either because we’re in a very public place and I don’t want to express too much PDA, or a family member or friend is with us so our reactions are reduced in energy. But this time, I felt calm, exhilarated, and most of all, self-assured. I stood up a little straighter, my smile was a bit brighter, my bangs were doing exactly what I wanted them to do that day — overall, I just felt very confident in both my physical and mental self that day. As the day went on, and the placebo effect wore off, I just couldn’t get over how strong the mango was. Instead of a fresh, “just ran through a meadow of lavender” scent, my sister compared the smell to dog shampoo.
I realize now just how impactful the placebo effect was. I could barely stand the smell, but somehow the perfume made me feel like I just lathered myself in the elixir of desire. And due to its popularity, I was expecting an over-the-top, extravagant reaction from my boyfriend. Even with all this scientific evidence that the perfume is a hoax, I was still rooting for the product — I truly wanted my boyfriend to have an out-of-body experience, just like many TikTokers claimed he would.
Sure enough, he automatically noticed the smell, asking me if I used a new laundry detergent — not exactly the sensual, “Oh, my god, I’m obsessed with you” reaction I was looking for. “You smell good! I’m just not sure if you smell like you,” my partner said. I told him I was trying out the trend, leading him to say, “I don’t need a special perfume to be attracted to you.” Cue the waterworks. Needless to say, I never used the product again.
Ultimately, it looks like Pure Instinct is just another perfume. Pheromone perfume oils aren’t harmful, so if you want to give them a try, go for it — just maybe don’t expect to find the love of your life in a Target and have passionate, life-changing sex in the checkout aisle.
Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., sociologist and sexologist
Nina Nguyen, sex educator and co-founder of Fraulila.de, an LGBTQ+ platform that provides information about sexual health
Hare, R. M., Schlatter, S., Rhodes, G., & Simmons, L. W. (2017). Putative sex-specific human pheromones do not affect gender perception, attractiveness ratings or unfaithfulness judgements of opposite Sex faces. Royal Society Open Science, 4(3), 160831. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160831