We sweat every day, whether we're at the gym, at work, or just sitting down watching TV. Copious amounts of perfume or cologne, in addition to deodorant, can help mask our sometimes not-so-pleasant body odor. These scents not only leave us smelling good, they can also influence how manly or feminine we appear to others. According to a recent study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, wearing a good deodorant can significantly increase others’ perception of masculinity for some men.

The power of smell is alluring when it comes to attracting the opposite sex. Previous research has found that when men smell great they appear more attractive to women. Our unique body odor is influenced by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules, which are genetically determined and linked to the immune system. Experiments in animals and humans have shown we judge potential sexual partners as more attractive if their MHC composition is significantly different from our own. In other words, opposites may attract because this means there’s more variation in our immunity, which can make offspring resistant to disease.

The more different our partner smells compared to us, the more attractive or drawn we are to them.

So, how much can smell influence our perception of femininity and masculinity?

Researchers at the University of Stirling in the UK sought to observe the effect wearing deodorant has on assessing masculinity and femininity. A total of 130 female and male participants rated facial masculinity and femininity using photographs of 20 men and 20 women. A further 239 men and women rated odor samples, with or without a fragrance, of 40 opposite-sex individuals.

The findings revealed females are more sensitive or attuned to odor cues than males. Women are more influenced by their noses than guys are, especially when it comes to romance. Scent plays a major role in biology when it comes to female sexual attraction.

All women who were wearing deodorant were rated as more “feminine-smelling” by men compared to when they didn't have deodorant on. In contrast, men with high or low facial masculinity who did not wear deodorant, received different ratings of odor masculinity. In other words, “Only those men who were rated low in masculinity to start with showed a significant increase after applying their deodorants, and the men who were highly masculine initially showed no increase after deodorant application” said Dr. Caroline Allen, lead author of the study and a psychology researcher at the University of Stirling, in a statement.

This suggests men can use deodorant to “step up their game” when it comes to exuding masculinity, which suggests the “Axe Effect” is real. This effect refers to the men’s body spray known for its overtly sexual ads that focus on the objectification of women and how their products help build confidence and desire in men.

In a 2009 study, researchers found men who used Lynx deodorant, Axe's British-brand cousin, were seen as more attractive by females than men who used a "placebo" deodorant with no fragrance. Women found these men more attractive as they watched 15-second videos the men made describing themselves. The fragranced men got an average rating of 4.2 on a 7-point scale, 0.4 points higher than the 3.8 recorded for the wearers of placebo deodorant. The researchers suggest these men were perceived as more attractive because of the “Axe Effect” — the deodorant helped boost their self-confidence.

So, as humans, why are we so enthralled by scent?

Evolutionarily speaking, we make use of body odor to identify whether a potential partner will pass on favorable traits to their offspring. Several studies have shown body odor can provide significant cues about a potential partner’s genetic quality, health, and reproductive success. Body odor affects sexual attraction in a series of ways, including the menstrual cycle.

A woman’s fertility shapes a man’s mating behavior. A 2004 study showed being exposed to the scent of a woman’s fertility led men to judge these women as more attractive and to smell pleasant and “sexy” than odors during the luteal, or non-ovulatory phase. This suggests our olfactory system reveals information linked to human mating selection, where men are able to detect changes in women’s fertility.

Ladies, gents — it's always good to keep deodorant handy, in case things get a little hot and steamy.

Source: Allen C, Cobey KD, Havlicek J et al. The impact of artificial fragrances on the assessment of mate quality cues in body odor. Evolution & Human Behavior. 2016.