Musk is and always has been a favored base note in perfume formulation for a vast array of commercial products.
Originally comprised of glandular secretions from the abdomen of the musk deer, this base note is also derived from both synthetic and other natural sources like plants, since the killing of the deer became illegal.
Musk has a rich, colorful and disturbing history as a popular perfume fixative dating back thousands of years to the highest mountains in Tibet and the wild musk deer.
The males of the species mark their territory by spraying from their musk gland, which is about the size of a golf ball and situated right in front of their penis.
Natives noticed and became captivated by these fragrant secretions, which occurred during their mating season and they became obsessed with possessing their aphrodisiac powers.
Musk’s first recorded use dates back to the 6th century when Greek explorers transported it from India.
Later, Arabic and Byzantine perfumers perfected the art of capturing its aphrodisiac powers, and musk’s popularity spread quickly along the silk and spice routes.
Extolled for its many virtues and a highly treasured commodity, during the Middle Ages the wealthier class used musk in balls of pomander as a means to fight bad smells that were synonymous with disease.
The trade of musk was at its height during the Age of Exploration during the 15th through 17th centuries. By that time, the Islamic culture had long incorporated musk into many of its religious rituals, as it was known as the perfume that only the blessed would smell in heaven.
Musk is one of the most costly animal products in the world and until the late 19th century, it was used abundantly in the formulation of fine perfumes.
In the 1880s, a scientist named Albert Baur, while attempting to create a more potent form of dynamite, accidentally synthesized a molecule which had a musky-type odor.
Synthetic musk evolved due to both economic and ethical concerns, and this new element, which is known as muscone, was am important perfume ingredient until the 1950s when scientists realized that the molecules failed to degrade, and instead, became incorporated into the environment.
What Does Musk Smell Like?
The scent of musk is powerful, captivating and yet elusive. In the hands of skilled perfumers, musk is incredibly versatile.
It softens and balances the lifetime of other less lingering ingredients and its essence becomes one with the skin itself.
Will Andrews, a scientist at P&G Prestige, a branch of Proctor and Gamble that designs perfumes for designer labels such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana states:
“Musks sometimes smell very fruity, sometimes floral. They are always soft. They are a paradox as far as these things go. They’re very heavy; that’s why they hang around the forest. What they do in the population is float like a feather. They allow ingredients to project off the skin while at the same time softening it.”
According to Philip Kraft, a well-known German fragrance chemist: “The more one studies its character, the more contrasting, vibrant and oscillating musk becomes. It is: repulsive-attractive, chemical-warm, sweaty-balmy, acrid-waxy, earthy-powdery, fatty-chocolate-like, pungent-leathery, fig-like, dry and\nutty and woody, to give just some impressions.”
The Misconception About The Scent Of Musk
It’ is said that just a few drops of natural musk oil added to a handkerchief can still be discerned even 40 years later!
Many believe that the history of musk is an indication that it is a heavy, potent and dark note such as leather, but the synthetic musks we use today are the exact opposite.
Modern synthetics range from sweet and powdery musks to almost metallic. Years of research have gone into creating these alternatives, which are subtle yet powerful even in the smallest of quantities.
Animal Musk vs White Musk
The hunting of the musk deer almost brought about its extinction as a species and it was practiced extensively until 1979 when legal measures were enacted to prevent its exploitation.
Before it’s ban, researchers were working on developing synthetic “musky ”ingredients, but the newer molecules failed to capture the true essence of musk albeit they did evoke a clean new odor.
These elements were rapidly incorporated into laundry detergents which offered otherwise rather dull olfactory options.
In 1926, Lavoslav Ružička, future Nobel Prize winner, succeeded in synthesizing musk’s natural element, muscone. From this spring board, arose further research and a myriad of diverse molecules known as white musks, which reproduced the original, natural scent.
White musks serve as excellent fixatives and binders for volatile ingredients and their tones can be mellow, floral, sensual, coppery or cottony.
They are categorized into three separate families; namely, nitro-musks; polycyclic musks, and macrocyclic musks.
Synthetic musks can be difficult to differentiate because they all have a very subtle and clean scent. The list below adds a bit more detail about each of the three categories.
1. Aromatic Nitro Musks
These nitro derivatives of substituted benzenes were used in perfume formulations and various consumer goods such as; soaps, detergents, and lotions, well into the 20th century. They are no longer utilized today because research has deemed their compounds as disrupters of human cell functioning and hormone systems.
2. Polycyclic Musk Compounds
Only used by a few laundry companies today, their fragrance is undeniably fresh and pleasant, but due to the fact that their molecules do not degrade properly, they are a poor eco-friendly choice.
3. Macrocyclic Musk Compounds
These musks are the most preferred by modern perfumers such as Alpha Aromatics. The most popular molecule they contain is muscone, but there are others as well including floral exaltolide and powdery ambrettolide. Each facet adds definition, passion and resiliency to any formulation.
Alpha Aromatics And Our Use Of Musk
We are a creator, manufacturer and supplier of custom fragrances for use in scented products have been in continuous operation since the 1940s. We have since become both a leader and pioneer within the perfume industry.
Our fine compositions are used for superior quality perfumes, personal care products, candles and diffusers, fragrances for home products and our odor neutralizers for those that use the services of private label manufacturers, custom packaging companies, toll blending (the specialty service of custom mixing a company’s unique formula into a final product) and of course a vast array of manufacturers.
In the words of Roger Howell, Alpha Aromatics’ chief perfumer (featured below): ”We drive the scent trends that guide product branding for a wide range of clients in the personal care, household cleaning and institutional industries. We have created innovative fragrances that remind you of the essence of particular seasons. We know how important branding is for the continued growth of our clients’ product lines, and we pride ourselves on building scents that build great brands.”
Some Favored Alpha Aromatics’ Fragrances Using Musk
This fragrance was created for various lip products and it opens with streams of crisp, crunchy apple, tangy and woody-nuanced raspberry, fresh, dewy melon and green, sweet-tart red pomegranate.
These elements soon fold into a floral heart note bouquet featuring aromatic, romantic rose, intense, sensual jasmine and woody violet.
This memorable fragrance completes with a base note comprised of elegant, lush vanilla and passionate, earthy musk.
Radiant Currant and Amber
Often formulated for room spray applications, a burst of invigorating citrus, succulent, sugary mandarin uplifting, tart grapefruit and tangy, ammoniac black currant soon fold into a heart note bouquet streaming with bright, exotic lily, intense jasmine and buttery, waxy tuberose.
Base notes of warm, golden amber, potent and sensual patchouli, earthy musk and sugary vanilla complete this unforgettable scent.
Lavender Apple And Oak
This redolent fragrance was designed for a pet-product manufacturer and it opens with a fruity stream of luscious, spicy mandarin, crunchy green apple, uplifting grapefruit and tangy black currant.
These aspects soon surrender to a middle note marked by shimmering, tropical lily, intoxicating jasmine and aromatic, soothing lavender.
A woody base note characterized by pine-fresh fir needle, sensual musk and earthy, forest-aged oak completes this scent.
Very effective when used in disinfection products, streams of citrus open this fragrance marked by uplifting grapefruit, fresh, sharp lime and refreshing, clean lemon.
These elements soon meld into a middle note of intensely exotic jasmine, dreamy, musky rose and the soft lingering bouquet of fragrant blooms.
A base note of woody, sensual and passionate musk finishes this memorable fragrance.
White Lily and Grapefruit
Tart, invigorating grapefruit, clean, fresh lemon and succulent pineapple open this fragrance that is often a preferred ingredient in shaving products.
These aspects soon fade into a floral heart note bouquet featuring waxy, feminine and delicate lily-of-the-valley, fresh sugary orange blossom and creamy, rich and smooth gardenia.
This memorable scent finishes with a musky woody base note.
Coconut Milk And Mango
Specifically designed for sun tanning products, this exotic scent evokes glimmering white sands and dazzling tropical sunsets.
A top note of gingery mango, luscious orange, sugary tangerine and tangy grapefruit opens this unforgettable fragrance.
This elements soon meld into a heart note characterized by facets of milky coconut and soft, redolent florals. Sugary, elegant and lush vanilla and earthy musk complete this exotic formulation.
Speak with our team today to discover how a particular brand can be enhanced by the addition of musk to a product line!
Photo Credits: Pixabay