Women's noses can penetrate fancy colognes and detect male body odor, but men don't have the same ability, say U.S. researchers.
And they speculate that women may be more sensitive to biologically relevant information in sweat that might, in fact, help them select a mate.
"It is quite difficult to block a woman's awareness of body odor. In contrast, it seems rather easy to do so in men," Charles J. Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and the study's lead author, said in a news release from the center.
In the study, male and female volunteers rated the strength of underarm odor, both alone and in conjunction with various fragrances. Underarm odors alone smelled equally strong to women and men. But when fragrances were introduced, only two of 32 fragrances blocked underarm odor when women were doing the sniffing, compared with 19 fragrances that blocked the odor for men.
The study was published online in Flavour and Fragrance Journal.
The results "indicate that human sweat conveys information that is of particular importance to females," Wysocki said. "This may explain why it is so difficult to block women's perception of sweat odors."
Wysocki's co-leader, George Preti, an analytical organic chemist at Monell, further explained the different perceptions of body odor among men and women.
"Women are more aware of underarm odor, and they appear to be detecting differences in odor quality," Preti said.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery has more about smell and taste.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCE: Monell Chemical Senses Center, news release, April 7, 2009