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Why you shouldn’t buy products with ‘pheromones’ in them to get a Valentine

Is there such a thing as love at first smell? Reactions explains the science behind the aroma of amour. (Video: Reactions/American Chemical Society)
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Lots of animals have secret chemicals designed to ensnare potential mates. Humans might have them, too -- but we have no idea what they are or how they work.

These chemicals (called "pheromones") are the subject of the latest Reactions video from the American Chemical Society. Because love is in the air this month, and a lot of products will try to use "science" to get you a date. Here's some science about why you shouldn't buy products that boast pheromone boosts.

Pheromones are chemical cocktails that many animals produce and emit, and they're designed to produce a particular unconscious reaction in other members of their own species. Ants, for example, can release pheromones when stressed that draw others near to help them. They can release other signals to lead colony-mates to food they've found. And in many animals, pheromones can signal fertility and arousal to elicit the same in a potential mate.

Humans technically have the organ that other animals use to detect pheromones, but many scientists argue that our vomeronasal organ (which sits between the nose and the mouth) is a puny little shell left over from ancient history, incapable of sending smells straight to our brain stem for unconscious response.

That being said, it's totally possible that humans have pheromones -- including ones that drive potential suitors wild.

But since we don't know what those pheromones are, it's impossible to sell them. Instead, when you buy a product that claims pheromones as an ingredient, you're buying the finest in pig-produced chemicals. And despite what many marketers say, there's no real evidence that humans are sexually swayed by the hormones that get pigs hot and bothered.

That doesn't mean scent isn't important when it comes to courtship: Some studies have suggested that women are more attracted to scents that indicate high levels of testosterone, and others have found evidence that we're prone to seek out those with immune systems that would make for complementary reproduction.

Unfortunately, there's no quick fix for a simply irresistible body odor. "If you meet someone in a bar and they spill your drink on you and insult you, it's not going to matter how good they smell," William T. Swaney, who studied pheromones in mice at McGill University, told the Atlantic.

Smell is more likely to become an important aspect of your romance later down the road: Mice have been conditioned to link disgusting odors -- even that of rotting flesh -- with sex and affection. Humans may not be quite so susceptible, but we're definitely guilty of deciding that the one we love smells "good," for better or for worse.