What Is The Real Musk Of Perfumery?

Misunderstood Musk.

We often hear ‘oh that big musky smell!’ but what does musk smell like? A true perfumers musk smells the very opposite to what most people think it is, and a formula wouldn’t be complete without it.

The Misconception of Musk

Due to the history of musk, most people believe musks to be big and strong scents that would be comparable to heavy and dark notes such as leather, but the musks of perfumery are in fact exactly the contrary!

Perfumery musks are molecules with subtle scent yet extremely powerful and essential to any perfume formula, even in the smallest quantities.

If musks were a colour it would be white. Their scent is subtle, with a powdery yet almost nothingness smell similar to baby’s skin. They are balancing base note ingredients that give a fragrance lingering depth and warmth. Like a best friend they bring everything together and ensure that what you’ve created is long lasting.

A Subtle Synthetic Superstar

If you’ve read some of our previous articles you’ll know how much we love talking about synthetic ingredients. Musk is another synthetic ingredient that perfumers have created and we’re so glad they did! Here’s why…

Natural musk is found in animals, in particular the male musk deer or from a cat with musk civet. They secrete an unpleasant strong-smelling brown substance from a gland, that once collected and dried into a powder it’s soaked in ethanol (for months or years) which brings about an aroma that is a lot more pleasant! This musk carries a light, powdery, wooly, slightly sweaty scent and is one of the most expensive raw materials in the world.

Thankfully we’ve all become a lot more conscious of animal products in cosmetics, so nowadays, and for a long time now, the use of natural musk or anything animal based is strictly prohibited meaning most perfumes today are in fact vegan (yay!).

Not wanting to lose this beautiful scent, synthetic versions have been created using the molecule responsible for musks smell such as Muscone and other synthetic musks.

The Musk Haves In Fragrance

There are dozens of musks but here are 4 of the most common ‘white’ synthetic musks used in fragrances. Musks can be difficult to differentiate for an untrained nose because they will all have a very subtle and clean scent by nature.


A syrup like liquid due to the fact it is mostly found diluted in a solvent. Galaxolide is slightly sweet and floral with a powdery, fresh, clean scent similar to opening a warm tumble dryer or hanging out clean bed sheets.


Similar to Galaxolide but with added elegance, stronger and slightly “woodier” and a metalic undertone that replicates the smell of a hot iron running over a freshly cleaned t-shirt.


More soapy in its aroma with fruity undertones, a smell that finely replicates ambrette seed oil (from the musk mallow plant!)

Ethylene Brassylate

Slightly sweeter with hints of vanilla, woods and spices! Great for intensifying other sweet and floral ingredients.

1 in a 1,000

Related Articles

Three perfume ingredients that make a perfume last long on your scarf
Read more
The Different Types of Perfumery Ingredients And How They Are Extracted From Plants
Read more
Three (not so synthetic) iconic synthetic ingredients of perfumery
Read More

Smell perfumery musks

In our ingredient box sets