Skincare girlies, fear not — your moisturizer probably does not attract spiders.
Sol de Janeiro’s Delícia Drench Body Butter, which launched earlier this month, is quickly becoming a holy grail product among skincare enthusiasts. In addition to hyaluronic acid, the lotion is packed with flashy ingredients like copaiba resin, passionflower seed oil and prebiotic hibiscus to lock in moisture and soothe parched, “lackluster” skin, according to the brand’s website. Scented with velvet plum, vanilla orchid and sandalwood for a “mind-boosting experience” and packaged in cute violet jars, the $48 body butter is sure to be a staple in beauty hauls and GRWM videos.
Sol de Janeiro went viral on X (formerly Twitter) and Reddit this week after users claimed they were hunted, bitten and (unsuccessfully) courted by wolf spiders when they applied the brand’s new moisturizer. While the body butter may be irresistible to humans, it’s unlikely that it’s sexually arousing to lonely arachnids.
Catherine Scott, a spider behavioral ecologist and postdoctoral fellow at McGill University’s Lyman Lab, told TechCrunch that wolf spider mating involves visual and vibratory signaling, not just scents.
“They have excellent vision (for spiders) and they would not simply run toward the source of an odor, even if it did smell like a potential mate, unless it also looked like a spider,” Scott said.
The product began gaining popularity in beauty circles when early reviews lauded it for its hydrating properties and irresistible fragrance, but went viral on mainstream social media this week after a Sephora reviewer known as chemkats claimed that the scent “attracts wolf spiders.”
“I wanted to love them sooo bad, but one of the ingredients is like kryptonite to wolf spiders! When I put it on instantly one will come out,” the reviewer wrote.
They added that they’d normally see one “every like 3 years,” but since using the lotion, said they began seeing wolf spiders “every day.”
“Oh and one time, the spider wanted to eat whatever ingredient it is so bad that it chased me,” chemkats continued. “Like it was legit following the scent.”
One person claimed that a wolf spider bit them after they used their wife’s lotion. Another Sephora reviewer wrote, “Spiders love it, so do the people in the elevator.” A Reddit user said they put another product from the brand — known as “Brazilian Bum Bum Cream” — on a tissue, and a different brand’s lotion on a different tissue, and that spiders only appeared to be interested in the tissue with Sol de Janeiro’s product.
Scott noted that the phrase “wolf spider” can apply to an “entire family of spiders” scientifically named Lycosidae. What many people might mistake as “wolf spiders” are likely house spiders in the Agelenidae family, which behave and chemically interact differently.
If the users did correctly identify their arachnid pursuers as wolf spiders, it’s “technically possible” that the lotion could contain compounds that spiders might investigate because they think they’re following chemical cues associated with prey.
“But the story about the spider chasing the person wearing it does not hold up,” she continued. “This sound typical of when people are moving a lot near a spider and it is frightened, so it tries to run for cover, often into the person’s shadow — which makes the person think it is ‘attacking’ when in fact it is trying to hide.”
Wolf spiders are “visual hunters,” and would only try to prey on a target smaller of them, she said, and they don’t feed on human blood, so they generally don’t have any reason to approach humans.
The original reviewer’s story is especially dubious because they’ve left similar Sephora reviews about beauty products attracting spiders, including a nearly identical one on another Sol de Janeiro product in March this year. In 2022 reviews of two different BondiBoost products, chemkats claimed that spiders kept landing on their head because of the products’ fragrance.
“If they’re just trying to have fun, or if they truly have a grievance with Sol de Janeiro is uncertain,” a Reddit user wrote in a thread warning others about chemkats. “What [is] clear is that they’re trying to spread misinformation … I know that it’s been fun and games, but I just wanted to nip this in the bud before it gets even bigger.”
But hysteria over the body butter has already spread, and many online — including news outlets — quoted a Reddit comment about the “pheromones” in the product. In response to a thread asking about the body butter, a Reddit user posited that the chemicals in the Sol de Janeiro’s product are also found in spider pheromones, and that the right combination of those compounds “might bring all the thirsty boy spiders to your yard.”
The commenter appeared to cite a 2009 paper that identified compounds in the webs of sexually receptive female spiders, indicating “possible pheromone components.” The researchers also found that a combination of two of the identified compounds, farnesyl acetate and hexadecyl acetate, attracted male spiders. Both compounds are used in cosmetic products for fragrance and texture — just not in the viral body butter.
“All of our products, including our new Delícia Drench Body Butter and upcoming Cheirosa 59 Perfume Mist are free from farnesyl acetate, diisobutyl phthalate, and hexadecyl acetate,” Sol de Janeiro said in an Instagram Story posted Thursday. “So while they may attract a lot of attention from people, they won’t from arachnids (even though we love all creatures at Sol de Janeiro. Hope that clears up any concerns and Happy 2024!”
Even if the products did contain those compounds, as many cosmetic products do, the paper only identified components in the female-products sex pheromone of a specific species of spider, Scott said. Pheromones are used for members of the same species to communicate with each other and provide species-specific information like age, sex and previous mating experience.
“Many spider pheromones used for sexual communication are short-range and require direct contact, with the spider essentially ‘tasting’ the silk or body of another individual to determine if it is the correct species and sex before approaching and attempting to court and mate,” Scott added.
In other words, the compounds that would attract one species of spider wouldn’t attract another, like wolf spiders or house spiders.
“What we are more likely talking about here are kairomones, which are info-chemicals produced by one species (like an insect pheromone, intended for communication between males and females of that species) used by another species (a spider) which is not the intended recipient of the chemical message,” Scott said.
Some wolf spiders, for example, user kairomones to avoid larger spiders that might hunt them, or hunt in areas where there’s more prey for them. Research into the specific compounds that make up wolf spider pheromones is limited, but it’s highly unlikely that common beauty products will send them into a hunting (or mating) frenzy.
It’s unfortunate news for those who were planning on building a spider army, like one Reddit user who asked others to send them unwanted body butter.
“I believe pesticides can be harmful, despite the need for them, and spiders are a natural way to keep harmful insects from overpopulating!” the user said. “Taking on the first part of this project in winter means I can release my spider army when the weather is the best for them to survive and do their duty of killing these damn mosquitoes.”