Musks are the perfumery ingredient that we think face the most misconception. When most of us think of musks, we may think of big, strong, or animal-like scents that may not be very pleasant. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While musks originally came from animal source (the Musk Deer, Civet cat and Beaver) — modern musks , or white musks, are pleasant and are incredibly popular, finding a needed place in almost every perfumery formula.
Musks are comforting, clean, and powdery, but their olfactive description is almost better described as an impression rather than a distinct smell. This is because many people are completely anosmic (meaning unable to smell) certain musks. They’re used in perfume as a base note and provide depth and warmth to a fragrance, adding power and longevity without necessarily changing their smell.
While we mainly use synthetic ingredients to create the smell of musk today, some natural ingredients have a musk facet, like Ambrette Seed oil!
There are dozens of musks available on the market, but let’s talk about four white musk molecules we use very commonly in perfumery. Musks can be extremely difficult to differentiate to someone not trained in perfumery because their smells are very similar, but there are subtle facets that each one has which makes it unique.
Galaxolide: slightly sweet and floral, with a powdery, fresh, clean scent—like opening a warm tumble dryer. Galaxolide also has a slight fruity green apple note!
Habanolide: Slightly woodier with metallic undertones—like the smell of a hot iron running over a t-shirt.
Ambrettolide: fruity undertones—like ambrette seed oil. Abrettolide provides more impact to the top notes of fragrance than most musks.
Ethylene Brassylate: sweeter with hints of vanilla, woods, and spices.
The next time you go shopping for a new perfume, or if you come by for a perfume creation session, don’t be afraid to try out something musky! You might just surprise yourself.