In experiments women were less likely to be fooled by fragrance used to mask body odour than men.

It may be because women are better at subconsciously detecting chemicals in the male scent that give information about their potential quality as a mate, it was suggested.

The study, conducted at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia tested male and female sense of smell when exposed to body odour and when the body odour was masked with a range of difference fragrances.

Study lead author Dr Charles Wysocki, a behavioural neuroscientist, said: "It is quite difficult to block a woman's awareness of body odour. In contrast, it seems rather easy to do so in men.

"Taken together, our studies indicate that human sweat conveys information that is of particular importance to females. This may explain why it is so difficult to block women's perception of sweat odours."

Without scent the underarm odours, made up of sweat collected in vials from armpits of volunteers, smelled equally strong to both women and men.

However once fragrance was added women were fooled by only two out of 32 scents compared to 19 out of 32 for the men.

Male underarm odour seemed harder to mask than female odour even though both were equally strong, according to the study published online in Flavour and Fragrance Journal.

Male body odour was also harder to mask than female sweat, even though underarm odours from the two sexes didn't differ in how strong they were.

Over half of the fragrances masked female odour while only 19 per cent of the fragrances successfully reduced the strength of male underarm odour.

Dr George Preti, an analytical organic chemist who co-led the research said: "Women are more aware of underarm odour and they appear to be detecting differences in odour quality."

Source: Rebecca Smith [Telegraph]