The Allure of Musk: A Comprehensive Guide on Musky Scents.

If asked what a musky scent is, it would be hard for anyone to give an answer that best describes the rich and alluring aroma that has captivated our olfactory senses for centuries and forms the backbone of many perfumes. An enigma in the fragrance world, musky scents are often described as intoxicating, warm, clean, and sensual scents often associated with vanilla notes. Moreover, their long-lasting odour makes them essential in modern perfumes as a foundational base note. However, the iconic musky fragrance is so much more than that. Let’s dive into the essence of musk and uncover the secrets behind this captivating fragrance note. 

The Origins of the Musky Scent

The natural musk used most extensively for commercialized perfumes origins from an animal bearing the same name: the male Musk Deer. When the male musk deer is looking for a mate, it secretes musk from a gland under the skin of its abdomen to mark its territory and mate. Freshly secreted musk is an unpleasant, strong-smelling brown substance that most would turn their heads away from. The final product used in perfumes is musk that has been dried into a powder form and then soaked and diluted in copious amounts of ethanol (for months or even years) to produce the much more familiar and pleasant-smelling musky scent we are familiar with. 

As one of the most expensive raw materials in the world costing as much as three times the price of pure gold, this musk carries a scent that is described as light, powdery, wooly, and even slightly sweaty. 

While other animals have similar musk glands, due to its difficulty in extraction, the musk deer remained the go-to choice for commercial extraction of natural musk. Unfortunately, natural musk is typically collected by trapping and killing the musk deer to extract the gland, resulting in them being hunted close to extinction and causing the rarity and price of natural musk to skyrocket. Thankfully, amid rising concerns about the musk deer’s extinction and growing consumer consciousness about animal products, natural musk has long been banned and replaced with cheaper, synthetic musks also known as white musks. 


Synthetic aka White Musks 

There are 4 main categories of synthetic musks: 

Nitro musks:

The first and oldest synthetic musks developed in 1888 by Albert Baur. They contain nitrogen atoms.

Some synthetic musks such as Musk ambrette, have been banned in the perfume industry since 1981 due to their photo-toxic and neurotoxic nature. Some other synthetic nitro musks such as musk xylene and musk ketone can still be found in the market in cosmetics and other fragrances, however, their use is limited or even banned in certain countries over toxicity concerns. Hence it would be best to avoid products containing nitro musks. Overall these musks give a more woody and powdery scent.

Polycyclic musks:

The second group of synthetic musks,  a group of cheap and strong fragrances used in a multitude of fragranced products. ‘Polycyclic’ means multiple rings, meaning the chemical compound has more than one carbon ring.

Some common polycyclic musks include Tonalide and Galaxolide. These polycyclic musks are popular in cleaning products for their ‘clean’ scent and ability to cling well to fabrics. However they are known to be poorly biodegradable and amid their widespread use, have begun to leech into the environment through waste water and negatively impacting the ecosystem and organisms who ingest it. Thus, while not yet banned their use has been greatly limited and reduced in favor of the next group of synthetic musks: macrocyclic musks.

Macrocyclic musks:

Developed in response to growing concerns over the environmental limitations of polycyclic musks, this is now the most popular form of synthetic musk in the fragrance industry. ‘Macrocyclic’ refers to large carbon rings containing 12 or more carbon atoms.

Muscone, the main component of musk and a macrocyclic musk was only recently successfully syntheized during this advent of macrocyclic musks. Thus far, there has not been enough research to show if macrocyclic ketones exhibit any negative or toxic effects on humans or the environment. However, they are expensive to synthesize and thus not yet able to compete with the cost-effectiveness of synthesizing polycyclic musks, meaning polycyclic musks will not yet be phased out completely, and macrocyclic musks will remain secondary till greater advancements in their synthesis are made.

Linear or alicyclic musks: A new exciting discovery!

Aclicylic musks differ greatly in structure and scent from existing categories of musks and are a relatively novel invention and are not yet used widely in commercial products. Popular compounds in this category include Helvetolide and Romandolide. 

Common Types and Characteristics of Musk Oils and their Scents 

Different synthetic musk oils have different scents, here we will broadly categorize them and their more distinct characteristics. 

Animalic musks:

Made to imitate the natural animal musk, they’re described as a bold, slightly ‘funky’ or dirty smell but with the sweet warm richness that natural musks use to captivate perfumers around the world and give the perfume more body and character. 

‘Colorful’ musks:

White, red, black, and other ‘colors’ of musk are not referring to the color of the oil. Instead, these colorful musks use colors to describe the general mood and scent of the musk. For example, synthetic white musks tend to have a ‘clean’ scent contributing to their wide use in cleaning products. Meanwhile, black and red musks are described as having a heavier more intense aroma. Red musks are even described as sultry with a hint of spice and wood. 

Egyptian musk:

From ancient recipes found in Egypt, Egyptian musk was made with a blend of natural animal musks and botanicals. Egyptian musk today is made entirely of botanicals such as muskwood, musk seeds, and musk flowers, and essential oils such as frankincense, myrrh, rose, and cedarwood. 


Anosmia to musks

Anosmia is the partial or complete loss of smell or towards certain scents. Due to its wide variety and various notes, musk is one of those scents that many people are anosmic to due to genetic variation in a particular olfactory receptor responsible for perceiving musky smells. Thus the way a certain musk smells can be very different for each person, with some perceiving the musk as weaker or stronger than others, to being completely unable to smell it at all. To account for this, perfumers often use a mix of musky notes to produce a single musk accord, increasing the chances that any given consumer can smell at least one of the multiple musky notes. 

An absolute musk have!

An iconic base note with its multifaceted nature, the musk is a unique olfactory experience that resonates with a wide audience. From the ancient use of natural musks to the wide variety of synthetic alternatives today, musks have evolved to fit the various needs and preferences of the world while still retaining their essential charm. Whether it be adding depth to the floral notes of ‘The Blooming Jewel’, or adding that extra warmth to the citrusy, spicy accord of ‘Soaring at Dawn’, musky scents have proven to be a undisputed universal base note, capable of captivating those who smell it. Musk’s enduring popularity is a testament to their versatility and timeless appeal. Musky scents offer a perfect balance of comforting familiarity and class, making them perfect for those who want to exude confidence, sophistication, and warmth.

Embrace that musky scent and discover the captivating power they hold with our Scent Journer Perfumes in the scents ‘The Blooming Jewel’ and ‘A Starlit Spell’!

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