Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 569–581 | Cite as

Shaving of axillary hair has only a transient effect on perceived body odor pleasantness

  • Dagmar Kohoutová
  • Anna Rubešová
  • Jan Havlíček
Original Paper


In contrast to other apes, humans have relatively greater amounts of armpit hair, which is thought to retain signaling molecules. Although armpit shaving is widespread cross-culturally, its effect on body odor has been little investigated. In four experiments, we tested the effect of shaving and the subsequent regrowth of axillary hair. Armpit odors were collected from men who regularly shaved (group S) or who had never shaved (group N) their armpits before. The samples were subsequently rated by women for intensity, pleasantness, and attractiveness. In Experiments I, II (group N) and III, subjects firstly shaved one armpit and then let the hair regrow over 6 or 10 weeks. In Experiments I, II (group S) and IV, subjects shaved both armpits before the sampling and subsequently shaved one armpit during the same period, leaving the second armpit unshaved. Odors of the shaved armpits were rated more pleasant, attractive, and less intense compared to the unshaved armpits (Experiment I (group N)). However, no significant differences found in Experiments II and III (group N) suggest the effect of shaving is relatively minor. Moreover, there were no significant differences in odor comparing unshaved armpits with armpits after 1 week of regrowth (Experiments I, II (group N) and III) or comparing regularly shaved armpits with armpits after 1 or 3 weeks of regrowth (Experiments I, II (group S) and IV). The odor of shaved armpits was rated significantly more attractive compared to the armpits where hair had been regrowing for 6 or 10 weeks.


Armpit Attractiveness Human Olfaction Scent Smell 



We wish to thank all volunteers for their participation in the study, Jindra Havlickova, Robert Martin, Tamsin K. Saxton and Jarka Valentova for the valuable advice and language corrections, Pavlina Lenochova for helping with data collection and Aroma Corp. Decin for providing samples of essences. The study was supported by Grant Agency of Charles University (GAUK 57010), Grant Agency of Czech Republic (GACR 406/09/0647) and Czech Ministry of Education grant 0021620843.

Ethical standards

This study complied with the current laws of the Czech Republic.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Caruso S, Grillo C, Agnello C, Maiolino L, Intelisano G, Serra A (2001) A prospective study evidencing rhinomanometric and olfactometric outcomes in women taking oral contraceptives. Hum Reprod 16:2288–2294PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cohn BA (1994) In search of human skin pheromones. Arch Dermatol 130:1048–1051PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Comfort A (1971) Likelihood of human pheromones. Nature 230:432–433PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cowley JJ, Brooksbank BW (1991) Human exposure to putative pheromones and changes in aspects of social behaviour. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 39:647–659PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Doty RL, Snyder PJ, Huggins GR, Lowry LD (1981) Endocrine, cardiovascular and psychological correlates of olfactory sensitivity changes during the human menstrual cycle. J Comp Phys Psychol 98:45–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ferdenzi C, Schaal B, Roberts SC (2009) Human axillary odor: are there side-related perceptual differences? Chem Senses 34:565–571PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gower DB, Holland KT, Mallet AI, Rennie PJ, Watkins WJ (1994) Comparison of 16-androstene steroid concentrations in sterile apocrine sweat and axillary secretions—interconversions of 16-androstenes by the axillary microflora—a mechanism for axillary odor production in man. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 48:409–418PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Grammer K (1993) 5-α-androst-16en-3α-on: a male pheromone? A brief report. Ethol Sociobiol 14:201–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hartmann AA (1983) Effect of occlusion on resident flora, skin-moisture and skin-pH. Arch Dermatol Res 275:251–254PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Havlicek J, Roberts SC, Flegr J (2005) Women’s preference for dominant male odour: effects of menstrual cycle and relationship status. Biol Lett 1:256–259PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Havlicek J, Dvorakova R, Bartos L, Flegr J (2006) Non-advertized does not mean concealed: body odor changes across the human menstrual cycle. Ethology 112:81–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Havlicek J, Lenochova P (2006) The effect of meat consumption on body odor attractiveness. Chem Senses 31:747–752PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Havlicek J, Lenochova P (2008) Environmental effects on human body odour. In: Hurst JL, Beynon RJ, Roberts SC, Wyatt TD (eds) Chemical signals in vertebrates XI. Springer, New York, pp 199–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Havlicek J, Roberts SC (2009) MHC related mate choice in humans: a review. Psychoneuroendocrino 34:497–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Havlicek J, Saxton T (2009) The effect of diet on human bodily odors. In: Hasegawa K, Takahashi H (eds) New research on food habits. Nova Science Publishers, New York, pp 35–44Google Scholar
  16. Havlicek J, Murray AK, Saxton TK, Roberts SC (2010) Current issues in the study of androstenes in human chemosignalling. In: Litwack G (ed) Pheromones, vitamins & hormones, vol 83. Academic Press, London, pp 47–81Google Scholar
  17. Havlíček J, Lenochová P, Oberzaucher E, Grammer K, Roberts SC (2011) Does length of sampling affects quality of body odor samples? Chemosens Percept 4:186–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hays WST (2003) Human pheromones: have they been demonstrated? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 54:89–97Google Scholar
  19. Hold B, Schleidt M (1977) The importance of human odor in non-verbal communication. Z Tierpsychol 43:225–238PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hopwood D, Farrar MD, Bojar RA, Holland KT (2005) Microbial colonization dynamics of the axillae of an individual over an extended period. Acta Derm Venereol 85:363–364PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Hummel T, Gollisch R, Wildt G, Kobal G (1991) Changes in olfactory perception during the menstrual cycle. Experientia 47:712–715PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jacob S, Garcia S, Hayreh D, McClintock MK (2002) Psychological effects of musky compounds: comparison of androstadienone with androstenol and muscone. Horm Behav 42:274–283PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kuukasjärvi S, Eriksson CJP, Koskela E, Mappes T, Nissinen K, Rantala MJ (2004) Attractiveness of women’s body odors over the menstrual cycle: the role of oral contraceptives and receiver sex. Behav Ecol 15:579–584CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lenochova P, Roberts SC, Havlicek J (2009) Methods of human body odour sampling: the effect of freezing. Chem Senses 34:127–138PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Leyden JJ, McGinley KJ, Holzle E, Labows JN, Kligman AM (1981) The microbiology of the human axilla and its relationship to axillary odor. J Invest Dermatol 77:413–416PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lundstrom JN, Hummel T, Olsson MJ (2003) Individual differences in sensitivity to the odor of 4,16-androstadien-3-one. Chem Senses 28:643–650PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Marti VPJ, Lee RS, Moore AE, Paterson SE, Watkinson A, Rawlings AV (2003) Effect of shaving on axillary stratum corneum. Int J Cosmet Sci 25:193–198PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Martin R, Saller K (1961) Lehrbuch der Anthropologie in Systematischer Darstelung. Gustav Fisher Verlag, SttutgartGoogle Scholar
  29. Martins Y, Preti G, Crabtree CR, Vainius AA, Wysocki CJ (2005) Preference for human body odors is influenced by gender and sexual orientation. Psychol Sci 16:694–701PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nakagawa S (2004) A farewell to Bonferroni: the problems of low statistical power and publication bias. Behav Ecol 15:1044–1045CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Natsch A, Gfeller H, Gygax P, Schmid J, Acuna G (2003) A specific bacterial aminoacylase cleaves odorant precursors secreted in the human axilla. J Biol Chem 278:5718–5727PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Natsch A, Derrer S, Flachsmann F, Schmid J (2006) A broad diversity of volatile carboxylic acids, released by a bacterial aminoacylase from axilla secretions, as candidate molecules for the determination of human-body odor type. Chem Biodivers 3:1–20PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nixon A, Mallet AI, Gower DB (1988) Simultaneous quantification of 5 odorous steroids (16-androstenes) in the axillary hair of men. J Steroid Biochem 29:505–510PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. O’Connell RJ, Stevens DA, Zogby LM (1994) Individual-differences in the perceived intensity and quality of specific odors following self-adaptation and cross-adaptation. Chem Senses 19:197–208PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pause BM, Sojka B, Krauel K, Fehm-Wolfsdorf G, Ferstl R (1996) Olfactory information processing during the course of the menstrual cycle. Biol Psychol 44:31–54PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pawlowski B (1999) Loss of oestrus and concealed ovulation in human evolution—the case against the sexual-selection hypothesis. Curr Anthropol 40:257–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pierce JD, Cohen AB, Ulrich PM (2004) Responsivity to two odorants, androstenone and amyl acetate, and the affective impact of odors on interpersonal relationships. J Comp Psychol 118:14–19PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Perneger TV (1998) What’s wrong with Bonferroni adjustments. BMJ 316:1236–1238PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rennie PJ, Gower DB, Holland KT (1991) In vitro and in vivo studies of human axillary odor and the cutaneous microflora. Br J Dermatol 124:596–602PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Roberts SC, Gosling LM, Carter V, Petrie M (2008) MHC-correlated odour preferences in humans and the use of oral contraceptives. Proc R Soc Lond B 275:2715–2722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Saxton TK, Lyndon A, Little AC, Roberts SC (2008) Evidence that androstadienone, a putative human chemosignal, modulates women’s attributions of men’s attractiveness. Horm Behav 54:597–601PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sergeant MJT, Dickins TE, Davies MNO, Griffiths MD (2007) Women’s hedonic ratings of body odor of heterosexual and homosexual men. Arch Sex Behav 36:395–401PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Shelley WB, Hurley HJ, Nichols AC (1953) Axillary odor; experimental study of the role of bacteria, apocrine sweat, and deodorants. Arch Dermatol Syphiol 68:430–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tiggemann M, Kenyon SJ (1998) The hairlessness norm: the removal of body hair in women. Sex Roles 39:873–885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tiggemann M, Hodgson S (2008) The hairlessness norm extended: reasons for and predictors of women’s body hair removal at different body sites. Sex Roles 59:889–897CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wysocki CJ, Preti G (2004) Facts, fallacies, fears, and frustrations with human pheromones. Anat Rec 281A:1201–1211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zeng XN, Leyden JJ, Lawley HJ, Sawano K, Nohara I, Preti G (1991) Analysis of characteristic odors from human male axillae. J Chem Ecol 17:1469–1492CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dagmar Kohoutová
    • 1
  • Anna Rubešová
    • 2
  • Jan Havlíček
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Faculty of HumanitiesCharles UniversityPrague 5Czech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and History of Sciences, Faculty of ScienceCharles UniversityPrague 2Czech Republic

Personalised recommendations