Pheromones are chemical signals that some animals use to communicate with each other. Researchers are still trying to figure out if humans utilize this method of nonverbal communication.

queer couple laying down together on a yellow hammockShare on Pinterest
Kike Arnaiz/Stocksy United

Pheromones are a fascinating series of chemicals produced by a whole variety of animals and plants.

Some even say they can be found in humans. In fact, you may have come across pheromone fragrances claiming to do all kinds of things.

But there’s still a lot to learn about them. Read on for a deep dive into what they are, what they do, and whether they do exist in the human race.

Officially named in 1959, pheromones are chemical substances that are secreted outside of the body in fluids like urine and sweat.

Essentially, pheromones are a hidden form of communication.

They send signals from one individual to another of the same species. This triggers a response in the individual receiving those signals, such as a hormonal change or specific behavior.

While pheromones have been found in other animal species, scientists still aren’t sure if they exist in humans.

Studies in the 1970s did publish findings that so-called pheromones were involved in “period syncing” — the idea that people who live together or spend a lot of time together start to menstruate at the same time.

And since then, research has primarily focused on whether pheromones have an effect on human attraction and reproduction.

But many of these studies have been questioned and described as “weak” by some researchers.

Despite this, many believe it is possible that people do have pheromones. But some think that humans may no longer respond to them in the same way as other animals.

More robust evidence is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made.

However, if pheromones were found to exist in humans, it’s likely that every person would have them in secretions like urine, sweat, semen, and breast milk —just like every member of other animal species.

Pheromones exist in a variety of animal species, including mammals and insects.

They have been linked to functions like attracting mates, marking territory, and even interactions between a birthing animal and its offspring.

In fact, the first pheromone was discovered in a type of moth. Later research found these chemical signals in the likes of mice, pigs, and goats.

So far, pheromones have been categorized into four types:

  • Releasers
  • Signalers
  • Modulators
  • Primers

Short-acting releaser pheromones tend to cause an instant and specific behavioral response, such as being drawn to a potential mate.

Signaler pheromones are more social in nature, sending information about an animal like their overall health, recent diet, and place in a hierarchy.

Modulator pheromones are even subtler, affecting mood and emotions.

Finally, primer pheromones influence reproductive and developmental systems, such as puberty and menstruation.

Mammals (excluding humans) along with reptiles and amphibians have a tissue that can detect pheromonesit’s called the vomeronasal organ (VNO).

Humans have a VNO, too. But it isn’t thought to be functional.

This doesn’t mean that humans don’t have the ability to detect and respond to pheromones as other animals, like rabbits and sheep, use their main olfactory system to do so.

But there’s still no hard evidence that humans have pheromones.

Studies have proposed some potential human pheromones, such as androstadienone (AND), which is found in male sweat, and estratetraenol, found in female urine.

Some believe that the most likely human pheromone candidate will be found in the nipple secretions of a lactating parent which trigger a suckling response in babies.

If they do exist in humans, how they function remains a mystery. After all, humans are complicated.

What experts do know from other animals is that responses to pheromones are often innate and unlearned.

But certain contexts and experiences, like whether an animal has recently mated, can affect the response.

Two closely related steroids — androstenone and androstadienone — have been the main focus in this area.

They’re thought to have pheromonal effects, according to certain researchers.

Both have been found to have a positive influence on a female’s mood. Androstadienone may also boost female sexual desire and arousal in certain contexts, like when a male is present.

Again, these studies have faced criticism, namely because human sexual behavior is complex.

Further research has even produced conflicting findings that suggest such steroids have no effect on human attraction.

Do pheromone perfumes actually work?

Despite weak evidence, some companies decided to capitalize on so-called human pheromones, adding them to perfume formulas and claiming that they could boost everything from sexual attraction to libido.

Secretions linked to mating behavior in other species, such as the aforementioned androstenone, often feature.

But the truth is that there is no evidence these products do what they claim. In fact, any effects that do occur could well be by chance.

Pheromones do exist in other products targeted at animals like dogs and cats. But there’s more evidence to support these formulas.

For example, diffusers and collars contain dog appeasing pheromone (DAP), which is secreted from lactating dogs and is said to have a calming, reassuring effect on other dogs.

Online, you’ll find plenty of tips for boosting pheromone levels, from exercising regularly to produce sweat to taking certain supplements to increase testosterone.

But since there’s little evidence that humans have pheromones, none of the above is backed by science.

In summary, there’s likely nothing you can do to increase your pheromone levels.

Pheromones are an incredibly interesting field. But right now, the evidence is too weak to state that humans have them.

And even if they are secreted by people, their effects could well be very different to other animals. Only time will tell if science can uncover if they really do exist in people and what their function is.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.