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Dear Matthew Alice: Is there such a thing as human pheromones? Some perfume company is selling something they claim makes men and women irresistible to each other because it mimics the human natural attractant chemicals. Is that just another expensive ripoff? — Toni Mitchell, San Diego

Several high-priced scents have claimed to capture the mysteries of human pheromones. This came after publicity about science’s success at identifying rodent and insect sex attractants. (The perfume companies were careful to say that pheromones are species-specific, and buyers wouldn’t lure hamsters or cabbage moths.) Until recently, most researchers believed that humans’ pheromone-sensing organ was merely vestigial, made obsolete by video dating services, I guess. And the pheromones themselves have remained elusive. But one professor at the University of Utah says he’s “proved” that we do react to certain unscented human skin chemicals, and synthetic versions of these chemicals are added to some perfumes and men’s colognes. Can a substance applied to your body actually blind the opposite sex to the fact that you’re a jerk with a bad haircut and no financial prospects? Pressed to defend themselves, the companies have said that pheromone perfumes actually affect the wearers, making them feel more confident and attractive, thus generating more romantic interest from the smellers. Buy that one? The perfume companies trust you will. Admitted one scent merchant, “This is a business based on hope, let’s not kid anyone.”

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