Even this time last year when this blog was only getting a couple of visits a day I used to get people asking me to promote their products. As the traffic has built up I generally get some kind of request for coverage from somebody most weeks. They rarely keep my attention for long. But last week I was just about to delete something when I decided to give it a second look.
A company was proposing that they could make you appear younger using aromatherapy. ‘Research has proven that men around women who use Ageless ™ believe them to be at least 8 years younger!’ was the phrase that caught my eye. Well that is one heck of a claim and I was instantly suspicious. But in all fairness, it is a specific claim. They say that they have research, and that that research proves an eight year younger claim. Unlike a lot of claims made for cosmetic products this is one that can be proven true or false. Either they have the research or they don’t, and if the research exists it either does or doesn’t show that men assess women at 8 years younger.
As I say, my first reaction was that this was an outrageous claim. But on reflection I thought that maybe it wasn’t totally impossible. We can assess people’s age reasonably successfully visually by looking at them. Was it so far fetched to think that we could do the same with odour? One of the more surprising discoveries of recent years is that our sense of smell allows us to make an assessment of a potential partner’s immune system. This is subconscious of course. The immune system has only been discovered in the last couple of hundred years. If you are on a date you can smell whether you have compatible immune systems by their smell. The phrase ‘the chemistry just wasn’t there’ is truer than you might imagine. So if we can smell out an immune system why not someone’s age? But that doesn’t necessarily mean that this company has actually come up with a viable product.
I decided to challenge them to produce the evidence. I thought it likely that that they would come back with some waffle and I could dismiss it.
Well I got a reply all right. A Kumar Rumani sent me no less than 7 e-mails in quick succession. I happened to be online when he sent them through, and I imagined him breathlessly thinking of yet more information that I might be interested in. I always like things being a bit chaotic – smooth PR operations fill me with suspicion straight away. I have been ploughing through it all when I get a chance. So what evidence have they got? Well it turns out that there are characteristic changes in body odour as we age. This has been reported in a reputable journal. Okay, but can we perceive this difference, and can this perception be perturbed in the direction we want? Well they have some data on a study carried out apparently by an academic and written up in a publishable format. This seems to show exactly that, that men wearing surgical masks infused with particular odours rated the ages of models in photographs differently. The star performer was pink grapefruit – this gave an average of six years younger age perception. As I say, this data has not been published but has been presented at the American Psychiatric Association in 2005 by the researcher, Alan Hirsch. I don’t know how well it went down – he could have been heckled and derided by the delegates, but it read pretty well. The next stage in their evidence was the report of an independent assessment of their fragrance. This again read pretty well, but is unpublished in-house data. This is where the eight years figure comes from. As a scientist you can’t really take this as compelling evidence.
So what conclusion do I draw? This does sound like an interesting approach. A fragrance that makes you look younger sounds like in principal it could work. The drawback is that you would feel no effect yourself – so you would have to have confidence that it was working. Have the manufacturers of Ageless cracked it? I don’t know at the moment. I don’t see why they shouldn’t have. It would be nice to see an independent trial.
2-Nonenal Newly Found in Human Body Odor Tends to Increase with Aging Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2001) 116, 520–524 Shinichiro Haze, Yoko Gozu, Shoji Nakamura, Yoshiyuki Kohno*, Kiyohito Sawano†, Hideaki Ohta† and Kazuo Yamazaki†