Pheromone Science: Chemosignaling And Handshakes

Happy Friday, Love Scent fans!

This week, we’re going to look at an interesting bit of science related to human communication: how handshakes might play a role in chemosignaling.

Simply put, “chemosignaling” is how we communicate with other people via smells–specifically, pheromones. Chemosignaling of pheromones can play many roles, from stimulating interest in sex to enhancing focus on emotional cues to warning others of potentially dangerous or suspicious people and much more. If you’ve worn pheromones, you’re very familiar with the wide range of effects that chemosignaling can have on someone else’s behavior.

Researchers have assumed that the pheromone-based chemical signals are sent from person to person primarily through the air, which is why we recommend wearing pheromones on your pulse points: doing so helps them diffuse further into the air. But there might be another way to transfer chemosignals from person to person: handshakes!

Handshakes are a common greeting all across the globe. Different cultures have different styles of handshake (some cultures demand firm or light handshakes, some restrict handshakes to members of the same gender, some involve just a brief touch, and so on), but the greeting itself is found in many cultures. There are plenty of theories about how this became such a widespread, cross-cultural tradition. Recent research suggests that chemosignaling might play a role in the popularity of the handshake.

In this study, men and women were left alone in a room and told that they were about to participate in a research study. After three minutes of waiting alone, the study subjects were greeted by an experimenter, with or without a handshake, and told that the experiment would begin soon. The study subjects were then left alone for another three minutes. The whole time, they were being observed by hidden cameras so researchers could evaluate their behavior before, during, and after the handshake.

The researcher’s main focus was how the study subjects who got a handshake would respond to it, and they had a theory: that the subjects would smell their own hands after the handshake, to get some information about the person they had just met.

Now, while we don’t often realize it, humans frequently smell our own hands. This is probably a habit left over from our distant past, when we had to gather a huge amount of information from our environment–and each other–in order to survive. The researchers had already established through earlier experiments that handshakes transfer significant amounts of molecules from one person’s hand to the other, and therefore could provide us with information about our new acquaintance if we were to sniff our own hand after the greeting.

So, the researchers theorized, if the study subjects who did get a handshake were more likely to smell their own hands afterwards, it would suggest that they were (probably subconsciously) trying to gather information about their new acquaintance. This would suggest that handshaking serves the functional purpose of nonverbally (and perhaps unintentionally) sharing information.

As we said above, pheromones can give us a lot of information about people and our surroundings, so giving our hands a sniff after coming into contact with someone else’s pheromone profile could potentially provide us with a lot of useful information–whether they’re interested in us, whether they’re in a dominant social position, whether they’re worried about someone in the vicinity, and so on. So, the question was: do humans gather this type of information after a handshake, or not?

The answer: yes, we do…depending on a few factors!

The researchers found that the study subjects spent more time smelling the hand they used in the handshake if they had just shaken hands with someone of the same gender. If they had shaken hands with someone of a different gender, they spent more time smelling the hand they had not used in the handshake–possibly to compare their own pheromone profile to that of the person they had just met. (It’s important to note that, when shaking hands with someone of a different gender, participants still smelled their own hands…just not as much as they did when meeting someone of the same gender.)

However, if female study subjects shook hands with another woman who was wearing a unisex fragrance, they spent more time smelling the hand they had not used in the handshake rather than the hand they had used in the handshake. This was also a possible attempt to compare their own pheromone profile to the distorted, fragrance-muddled profile of their new acquaintance.

Finally, if female study subjects shook hands with another woman who was wearing either the unscented female pheromone Estratetraenol or the unscented male pheromone Androstadienone, the subjects were no more likely to smell their own hands. This suggests that the pheromones were not enough to make the woman feel the need to compare herself to the experimenter, which in turn suggests that the sex-specific pheromones were not enough to make the woman confused about the gender of the experimenter.

The results support a few hypotheses: that human beings actively, though probably subconsciously, seek out olfactory information about their surroundings and the people around them, and that handshakes could have evolved (at least in part) as a way to gather that information.

So what does this mean for you, as a wearer of pheromones? First, it reiterates that those around you are actively seeking out information about you, even if they aren’t necessarily aware of it, so you in turn should be aware of how you are presenting yourself–whether you’re wearing pheromones or not.

Second, it’s a good example of the fact that pheromones are not exclusively for communicating with members of the opposite sex, which is what many people assume; clearly, chemosignals have a strong impact on people of the same gender too, and we are hard-wired to seek out information about people of the same sex.

Third, and most importantly, this study has some practical significance in terms of where to apply your pheromones–especially if you are wearing them in anticipation of interacting with members of the same sex (whether those interactions will be romantic, platonic, or professional). Wearing a small amount of pheromones on the palms of your hands gives you a chance to directly transfer the pheromones to another person after a handshake, and they will instinctively spend more time gathering that information if you are both of the same gender.

If you work in business or sales, for example, this could be an ideal opportunity to expose your colleagues and clients to some trust-promoting, mood-elevating pheromones such as Liquid TrustOr, if you’re interested in making a confidence-boosting first impression with a new acquaintance, dabbing some New Pheromone Additive for Men or Super Primal for Her on your palms can give you the boost you need. Now that you know about this particular method of pheromone-based communication, there are plenty of possibilities for you!


There you have it, Love Scent fans! We hope you find all of this as interesting as we do. With so many layers to human behavior, there’s no telling what we’ll discover next!


As always, feel free to contact us directly with your thoughts, comments, questions, and concerns. And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to hear about blog posts, new products, exclusive promotions, and more!


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.



Further reading:

1.  Cerda-Molina A., Hernandez-Lopez L., De la O C. E., Chavira-Ramirez R., Mondragon-Ceballos R. (2013). Changes in men’s salivary testosterone and cortisol levels, and in sexual desire after smelling female axillary and vulvar scents. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 4, 1–9.

2.  Miller S. L., Maner J. K. (2010). Scent of a woman: Men’s testosterone responses to olfactory ovulation cues. Psychological Science, 21, 276–283.

3. Hornung J, Kogler L, Wolpert S, Freiherr J, Derntl B (2017) The human body odor compound androstadienone leads to anger-dependent effects in an emotional Stroop but not dot-probe task using human faces. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0175055.

4. d’Ettorre P, Bueno S, Rödel HG, Megherbi H, Seigneuric A, Schaal B and Roberts SC (2018) Exposure to Androstenes Influences Processing of Emotional Words. Front. Ecol. Evol. 5:169.

5. Schneier, Franklin & Rodebaugh, Thomas & Blanco, Carlos & Lewin, Hillary & Liebowitz, Michael. (2011). Fear and avoidance of eye contact in social anxiety disorder. Comprehensive psychiatry. 52. 81-7. 10.1016/j.comppsych.2010.04.006.

6. Idan Frumin, Ofer Perl, Yaara Endevelt-Shapira, Ami Eisen, Neetai Eshel, Iris Heller, Maya Shemesh, Aharon Ravia, Lee Sela, Anat Arzi, Noam Sobel. A social chemosignaling function for human handshaking. eLife, 2015.


  1. Thanks for this story it was fascinating and very enlightening.

Leave a comment