Of course, one reason most of us use artificial fragrances every day is to mask malodour, our armpit smell that's gone stale. But there are other effects too. For example, we have shown that fragrances influence our self-confidence and judgments of our attractiveness even when smell cues are unavailable.
But there is no one-scent-fits-all effect here. Different fragrances suit different people. In a study with my Czech colleague Jan Havlíček, we found that some people get this spectacularly wrong. While overall artificial fragrances improve the smell of their natural body odour, for some people, their armpit odour smells worse when they use their chosen fragrance - they have selected one that clearly doesn't blend well with their own odour. More recently, my excellent ex-student Caroline Allen has shown that the right fragrance choice can emphasise the distinctiveness of our underlying body odour.
Now, Caroline has found something really very interesting about the effects of fragrances. Whereas the smell of unperfumed armpits (relatively masculine or feminine) predicts how our faces look (relatively masculine or feminine), this relationship disappears when men use fragrance. The relationship is maintained in the case of women's smell and faces. And it disappears, in men, in an interesting way: while the addition of a fragrance appears to have relatively little effect on the perceived masculinity of the odour of very masculine men, it has a strong positive effect on men whose odour and faces are at the more feminine end of the very masculine - less masculine continuum. In other words, as the Sunday Times put it, it particularly helps the "wimps".
The lesson? Don't get someone else to buy your perfume (unless you tell them exactly which one you want or use), and spend some time getting it right!
Allen C, Cobey KD, Havlíček J, Roberts SC. 2016. The impact of artificial fragrances on the assessment of mate quality cues in body odor. Evolution and Human Behavior 37, 481-489.
Allen C, Havlíček J, Roberts SC. Effect of fragrance use on discrimination of individual body odor. Frontiers in Psychology 6, 1115. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01115
Lenochova P, Vohnoutova P, Kubena A, Roberts SC, Oberzaucher E, Grammer K, Havlicek J. 2012. Psychology of fragrance use: perception of individual odor and perfume blends reveals a mechanism for idiosyncratic effects on fragrance choice. PLoS One e33810.
Roberts SC, Little AC, Lyndon A, Roberts J, Havlicek J & Wright RL. 2009. Manipulation of personal odor alters men’s self-confidence and judgements of their visual attractiveness by women. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 31, 47-54. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2008.00477.x