Bats, Brain Parasites, and Your Luxury Perfume

How Humans Process Smells 

The aroma of baking sugar cookies, freshly cut grass, apple tarts with cinnamon, and acrid Listerine. We smell 100's of distinct scents every day. But how many do we remember? 

According to psychologist Johan Lundstrom, PhD, a faculty member at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, "We don't have a good language for odors." We can describe objects by denoting rich color descriptions or shape. Sound can be defined by tonality, speed, and emotional sentiment. But it is almost impossible to describe an odor without comparing it to another scent. 

Most all senses go to the thalamus of the brain first, where the sense is process. Olfaction, however, occurs first in the centers of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. Therefore, we process the emotion and memory of the scent before we are even consciously aware that we are smelling it. 

Our strange way of processing of smells leads to gross ingredients in every day perfume. 


Chanel No. 5,  Cats, and Brain Parasites 

"Le monstre," the $300 an ounce perfume, Chanel No. 5, keeps Coco Chanel's empire afloat to this day. But how? 

The Chanel No.5 secret ingredient: scrapings of sexual pheromones from the perianal gland of the Abyssinian civet cat.

It turns out, a chemical in sauvignon blanc, 3-mercapto-3-methylbutan-1-ol, has a similar scent to cat urine. And we humans find the scent attractive. “Compare [cat pee] to an off-note that adds complexity to a piece of music," said a wine critic. 

But there's even more to the story. Some scientists believe a brain parasite called "Toxoplasma gondii" may be tricking us into loving the scent of cat urine. Czech scientists recently conducted a study that tested the 'pleasantness' of various animal urine. Those who tested positive for 'Toxo,' found cat urine most pleasant. 

Once you have 'Toxo,' you have it for life. And you most likely got it from cleaning your cat's litter box or simply getting a bit to close to your fluffy friend. Sounds like 'Toxo' is the reason American's are obsessed with cats. 


Bat Urine in Perfume

The male greater sac-winged bat, Saccopteryx bilineata, bend forward to suck up their urine, then lick the sacks beneath their wings to store it. Then they press their gular glands against their penises to add pheromones for good measure. The whole process takes 30 to 60 minutes. One bat scientist describes the scent as "sweetish with an almond musk."

Interestingly, the fact that each bat contributes an hour a day to making these perfumes means its likely bats rely on sense of smell for survival the same way humans do. 

Maybe we're one step closer to becoming Batman. 


Sperm Whale Vomit

Ambergris is a by-product of endangered sperm whales that comes from their “diseased stomachs.” Sometimes they puke it up, sometimes they defecate it. Still, the substance is extremely expensive and still used in luxury perfumes. 


Male Musk Deer Pheromones

Male Musk Deer are practically extinct, so their sexual perfumes are highly prized amongst sommeliers. 3-4 times its weight in gold to be exact. 


Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercrombie has been known to douse every square inch of its clothing and store in its pungent perfume. 

To shed some light on these unknown chemical exposures, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of health and environmental groups, commissioned tests of 17 brand-name fragranced products at an independent laboratory in spring 2010. The resulting study, “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance”, revealed that the 17 products contained, on average:

  • Fourteen chemicals not listed on labels due to the loophole in federal law that allows companies to claim fragrances as trade secrets. American Eagle Seventy Seven contained 24 hidden chemicals, the highest number of any product in the study.
  • Ten sensitizing chemicals associated with allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis. Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio contained 19 different sensitizing chemicals, more than any other product in the study.
  • Four hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer. Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, and Glow by JLo each contained seven different chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system.

Ironically, A&F's brand image is one of sexually active, virile young men. But their obnoxious spraying habits may be destroying young men's reproductive systems. 

Abigail ManginComment