Perfume Guide

What Is Musk in Perfume?

Here’s What to Know About the Fragrance Note

In the world of fragrances, scents tend to fall into certain general camps like earthy, floral, fruity, or sweet. Then, there’s the outlier: musk, which happens to be a unique, distinct fragrance that turns heads and can give people a visceral feeling upon catching a whiff.

Though musk has actually been used in fragrances for centuries, the evocative scent has slowly risen to popularity again. “Musk has now become a really trendy scent that’s always been an essential component in personal fragrance,” says Carina Chaz, founder of fragrance brand Dedcool. “It’s usually found in sweet or woodsy, earthy scents, and tends to be a scent that those with advanced fragrance palettes appreciate.” If you’ve ever sniffed a musk fragrance, you’d understand how complex and alluring it is.

Part of understanding musk is knowing where it originally came from.”Traditional musk is an animal byproduct from deer secretion,” says Chaz. Sue Phillips, fragrance expert and founder of Scenterprises custom perfumery, explains that because the scent is animalistic in nature, it has sensual undertones. “These animals secreted a very strong odor, which made other animals sexually aroused,” she says. These days, perfumers use synthetic musk to mimic the scent.

The thing about musk is that it isn’t similar to any other fragrance out there, so it’s tricky to describe. Phillips likens it to body odor, but in a good, non-gross way. “It’s so distinctive, pungent, sexy, and sensual,” she says. “Sometimes people even call it B.O. because, in a way, these odors come from glands.” She points to the ’60s as a time when musk was especially popular, since one staple of the free love movement was to skimp on showering for days on end. “What happens is the perspiration absorbs into the hair, and that’s where a very musky, pungent smell comes from,” says Phillips, though notes that a bottled-up, synthetic musk fragrance will have a smoother, more clean scent to it than, ya know, body musk.

Just as people turn to woodsy scents for grounding, or citrus-based perfume to pep up their mood, musk serves more of an alluring, intoxicating purpose. “Notes in the musk category are grounding, traditional, and oftentimes very sensual,” says Lauren Gannes, formulator of aromatics company Highborn. “Musk is commonly that lasting note that stays behind after the more volatile notes have shifted on.” Since it straddles the line between different fragrance categories, perfumes often use it as a base note or as something you blend with other scents. Either way you wear it, Phillips says that musk is the fragrance equivalent of sex appeal.

Author : Rachel Lapidos