If Axe body spray commercials have taught us anything, it's that even the nerdiest, least attractive guys can get super hot women just by changing up their deodorant game. At least that was the over-advertised brand would like us to believe, as it preys on the vulnerabilities of socially awkward college freshmen.
But it turns out Axe might be onto something.
That's right—a new study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior backs up the "Axe effect" as a real-life thing. In the report, researchers from Britain's University of Stirling found that less masculine men can be perceived as more masculine by heterosexual women simply by applying a fragranced deodorant. All hail the body spray gods!
Here's how the study worked. Researchers collected two odor samples from 20 men and 20 women by having them wear cotton pads under their armpits for a full 24 hours (sounds super fun). The first odor sample was unfragranced, meaning the odor donors showered with fragrance-free soap, then did nothing else before applying the pad. The second sample was fragranced, meaning the participants showered with fragrance-free soap, then applied their normal deodorant and then the pad.
Next, in the lab, researchers brought in two different sets of people: 239 heterosexual "odor raters" and 130 heterosexual "photo raters." As the name implies, "odor raters" rated the sample scents on levels of so-called masculinity or femininity. "Photo raters" looked at photos of the odor donors and rated their faces on levels of masculinity or femininity.
The researchers then compared the extent to which the two ratings were correlated. Would a masculine-looking guy also have more "masculine" odor? Would a feminine-looking woman have a more "feminine" odor? #science
When men were rated by women, the researchers saw a strong correlation between a masculine-face rating and masculine-odor rating. Specifically, men who scored higher on the masculinity scale based on their photo also received higher masculinity ratings based off their unfragranced body odors. Essentially, the women were able to predict who would be more masculine in real-life by armpit odor alone. Great job, ladies!
But here's where it gets interesting. Once a deodorant was applied, the men who were rated as less masculine based on their photo were suddenly considered just as masculine as their hotter counterparts! The deodorant closed the masculinity gap.
"Importantly, this discrepancy between odor ratings in men with high and low facial masculinity disappeared with the addition of a fragrance," explained the authors. (Just in case you were wondering—no, this study was not funded by Axe or any deodorant company.)
Notably, the increase in masculinity rating didn't apply to men who were already considered high in masculinity. So the boost literally only works for less masculine men … JUST LIKE AXE SAID IT WOULD.
"This finding may suggest that those who already have desirable levels of masculinity achieve little benefit from wearing a fragrance," write the authors. "However, individuals low in these traits can potentially improve how others perceive them through the application of a fragrance."
Essentially, the finding suggests that less masculine men might be able to "artificially raise their game" in order to level the playing field against more conventionally "masculine" men, says Caroline Allen, a psychology researcher at the University of Stirling and lead author of the study in a statement—at least when it comes to how they're perceived by women.
On the flip side, the men in the study were not able to predict a woman's "femininity" in real life based on natural body odor. (Turns out women have stronger noses than men, which the authors suggest might be because, biologically, women must be more adept at picking up scent cues important for reproduction.)
Interestingly, the men rated all women as "more feminine" when smelling the fragranced version of the odor samples versus the unfragranced version. Basically, claim the authors, guys think all women can use a little deodorant boost, despite how feminine their natural odor may already be.
According to the study, men rarely view women as "too feminine," so there's no limit to how much a woman can change herself to please men (sigh)—whereas a man being perceived as "too masculine" can certainly be a turn off to women.
"Our evolutionary preferences have likely shaped this difference in fragrance design," said Allen, adding, "research findings show that we actually don't like high levels of masculinity which are often associated with aggressiveness and hostility, but we show no upper limit on our femininity preferences."
So the real winners here are the already-considered-masculine men, who need to change nothing about themselves. Yippee!
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.