Lingering traces of perfumes can help solve crimes such as sexual assaults as chemical components of a fragrance can transfer from one person’s clothing to another, a new study has found.
Even if contact is brief, the scent’s signature lingers for days, although it lessens over time, researchers said.
The study found that analysing fragrances could be a useful tool in cases where there has been close physical contact, such as sexual assaults.
“We thought there was a lot of potential with perfume because a lot of people use it. We know about 90 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men use perfume on a regular basis,” said Simona Gherghel from University College London (UCL) in the UK.
“While there is a lot of work in forensic science on transfers – for example, the transfer of fibres or the transfer of gun-shot residue – until now there has been no research on the transfer of perfumes,” said Gherghel.
Perfumes are concocted from many different chemical components, which in combination give an individual fragrance its distinctive smell, researchers said.
They looked at a single male fragrance and found that some of these components were easily transferred from one piece of cotton to another.
When the two pieces of material were pressed together for just a minute, 15 out of 44 chemical components were detected on the second piece of fabric. If the contact time increased to 10 minutes, 18 components were measured.
They also tracked how time affected the transfer of the volatile compounds.
Researchers found that five minutes after an initial spray of fragrance, 24 out of 44 perfume components were detected on the second piece of fabric after it had been in contact for 10 minutes.
Six hours after the perfume was applied, 12 components were transferred and seven days later, six volatile components were retained.
“We have shown that first, perfume does transfer, and second, we can identify when that transfer has happened,” said Ruth Morgan from UCL.
“In the future there could well be situations where contact between two individuals is made and this is a way of discerning what kind of contact is made and when it was made,” said Morgan.
The findings were published in the journal Science and Justice.