If you're an avid fan of fragrance and perfume, chances are you've more often than not heard the terms 'musk fragrance', 'musk smell', and 'white musk' used to describe various fragrances and scents - from body sprays to perfumes, you can often find musk in the base notes of a wide selection of smells. But what exactly is musk? Where does it come from and how is it characterised in the scents we know and love?
We'll be sharing everything you need to know about what makes musks so special; from natural musk and its origins to the various ways in which synthetic musks are utilised to create complex perfume and fragrance profiles.
Where does musk come from?
Surprisingly, musk was originally an animal byproduct - it's actually deer musk, an unpleasant smelling substance which is extracted from the caudal gland of male musk deer, and then soaked in ethanol to create the much more pleasant scent. However, due to the increasing awareness of animal wellbeing and the focus on a need of cruelty-free alternatives, there are now an abundance of synthetic musks which are available instead of natural musk, which don't rely on the musk deer at all.
Synthetic musks are now the most commonly used in most scents nowadays, where there are two main types; polycyclic musk compounds and macrocyclic musk compounds, both of which aim to emulate the fresh, clean, subtle scent of powdery musks without utilising animal byproducts. This means that both cruelty-free and vegan fragrance can also contain a musk base note. There are over 100 types of this synthetic musk, each with various scent profiles, so it can be utilised in a variety of combinations to create complex perfumes.
What does musk smell like in scent?
Due to theses incredibly three-dimensional profiles, musk can be incorporated into fragrance in various ways, including as base, mid, or top notes, Whereas most fragrance notes tend to fall into either earthy, fruity, florals, or sweet scents, musk is characterised by being a relatively unique smell, which is why it's so often used in the base notes of a huge variety of fragrances. That means that, because musk is such a versatile scent, it can be used to either amplify or diffuse a lot of accompanying fragrances, and therefore goes part of the way in explaining exactly why musk is such a common aspect of so many perfume options.
Due to its iconic clean scent, musk is commonly used to create grounded, traditional, and even sensual fragrance, and is commonly paired with sweet top notes like vanilla, floral fragrance like jasmine, and woody or earthy smells like sandalwood or amber.
It's worth noting that not all perfume which is referred to with terms like 'musky' actually contain musk; in fact, due to its various complex facets, the term itself could be used to describe a variety of smells, from powdery notes to woody or balmy fragrance.
Why are musks so popular?
As we mentioned above, there are a huge variety of synthetic musks which have been created, which means they are a truly versatile option that can be paired with a surprising number of scents to create the ideal scent profile.
Aside from this, the clean scent offered by musks means that they possess what is often referred to as a 'your natural smell, but better' scent profile, and respond differently on each individuals' skin to create a fully cohesive perfume.
We hope you've found this insight into the history and provenance of both natural and synthetic musks helpful, and that you've been able to learn something about this star ingredient of so much iconic perfume. Hopefully you can see exactly why musk is so popular within the perfume industry, and why we think it's such an all-rounder! If you'd like to learn a little more about perfume composition and how various elements can impact the resulting smell, we'd recommend reading our 'What is a perfume note?' blog post next!