Scent Note: What does musk smell like?

Musk smell

In This Article

If you are new to the world of musk or interested in discovering the history behind its powerful scent, you've come to the right place. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of musk's aroma and its origins.

Musk is a unique substance that can make a perfume roar, purr, or even evoke the idea of "sex-in-a-bottle." It is an essential molecule in perfumery, known for its subtle yet potent aroma. Even in small amounts, musk is a vital ingredient in any perfume recipe. Its scent is delicate and powdery, with a barely-there quality reminiscent of a baby's skin. As a base note, musk lends depth and warmth to a perfume, helping to bind everything together and ensure the fragrance's longevity. Perfumer Posse describes musk's scent as "speaking carnally in whispers or screams." As a result, it is present in almost every fragrance we apply to our skin. However, musk serves purposes beyond this.

What does musk smell like?

When used by a perfumer, musk softens, balances, and repairs a fragrance, adding staying power that keeps it on the skin while preventing other short-lived ingredients from dissipating too quickly.

Musk's skin-like scent

The original musk is derived from the secretions of the sex gland of the Tibetan musk deer, which has become endangered. Since 1979, this deer species has been protected by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The decline in the population was inevitable, as it takes 140 deer to produce one kilogram of musk. Musk's use dates back to the 6th century when Greek explorers brought it from India. Its appeal spread along trade routes for silk and spices. The origin of musk's use in perfumes remains a mystery, particularly given that raw musk oil has an unpleasant odor.

Musk's Complex Nature

German perfumer Philip Kraft beautifully captures the complex love-hate relationship with musk. He describes the character of 'natural musk tincture' as contrasted, lively, and oscillating, including: repulsive-attractive, chemical-warm, sweaty-balmy, acrid-waxy, earthy-powdery, fatty-chocolate-like, pungent-leathery, fig-like, dry, nutty, and woody.

It has been reported that a handkerchief infused with natural musk oil can still be smelled 40 years later. Today, perfumers use a wide variety of synthetic musks, ranging from sweet, fluffy musks to almost metallic variations, instead of the real thing. The perfume industry has invested millions of dollars in finding substitutes for this essential ingredient, resulting in patented notes like Galaxolide, Andoxal, Nirvanolide, Celestolide, Velvione, and Helvetolide.

The smell of musk in perfume

Besides synthetic alternatives, natural components like ambrette seed, galbanum, and angelica root extracts can also impart a musky quality to a fragrance. It is rare, but some individuals who are allergic to one or more musk components might have difficulty detecting the scent of musk.

Experience the scent of musk in these fragrances:


Inspired by Parfums de Marly's Delina. Adeline evokes the image of a freshly cut Turkish rose drenched in morning dew, with hints of lily of the valley and peony. As the scent develops, it transforms into a delightful concoction featuring notes of lychee and rhubarb spiked with nutmeg. Vanilla, white musk, and frankincense provide depth and intrigue in the background. The ingredients are masterfully blended, resulting in an all-natural, ultra-refined, and highly fragrant perfume. Discover the sensual allure of musk by trying these fragrances, and experience the captivating essence of this versatile ingredient.

In conclusion, musk is a powerful and enigmatic ingredient in the world of perfumery. Its unique scent qualities, both subtle and potent, make it a key component in many fragrances. Its history, complexity, and the industry's efforts to find ethical alternatives only add to its mystique. Delve into the world of musk and explore its fascinating role in the creation of unforgettable scents.

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1 comment

There are really awful musk scents on one end of the spectrum and clean laundry musks on the other end. Somewhere in between are the cuddly musks. Two of my favorites are Santa Maria Novella Muschio and Farmacia SS Annunziata 450.

Muschio opens a bit like the smell of a doctor’s office, but melts into the most comfortable love-skin scent imaginable. I’m just careful to only wear it when I have enough time to let it get comfortable before I need to be around people (takes 2-3 hours).

450, as my teenage daughter described it, smells like “pencil shavings and hugs” right from the start. No need to apply it 3 hours before going to work.

I have another that isn’t stinky, cuddly or clean at all, but somehow it just doesn’t seem appropriate to wear in a home environment! Bruno Acampora Mus. I can’t explain it except when I feel it, I want sex. I only wore it once during the day in public. This time an older gentleman followed me out of a store in the parking lot, waved me out of my car, and complimented me very awkwardly on how I had been parked. It was as if he had to make contact by any means possible. Bruno Acampora Musk is powerful stuff!

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