Musk oil has a strong aroma and can come from animal, plant or synthetic sources. It is used in very small quantities because it tends to overwhelm the senses when undiluted. The oil is used in many, if not most, aromatic products as an enticing and fixative scent. Though men's cologne is best known for using musk, it can also be found in perfume, incense, candles and many other scented products.
Musk Oil Sources
Quality musk oil is either animal or chemical derived. Certain animals produce a natural musk substance that can be extracted. However, the high cost and animal rights concerns have made animal-derived musk oil an extremely rare product. Almost all commercial musk oils are created synthetically with chemicals. This helps lower the cost dramatically and prevents any animal cruelty or overhunting. It is also possible to obtain musk or musky scents from a variety of plants. However, plant musk does not have the strong, lasting and fixative powers of animal and chemical-derived musks.
Traditional musk oil comes from adult, male musk deer., which is native to Asia. Its scent has been used in perfumes and medicines for thousands of years. The typical process for extracting musk glands from a musk deer involves killing the animal. The gland is then extracted from the deer's abdomen and dried. This is why natural musk oil can be worth more than its weight in gold. It's also why musk deer populations have plummeted dramatically in the last century.
Other Musk Animals
Though musk deer are the most popular source of musk oil, there are other animals that excrete a similar scent. The North American Muskrat, Australian Musk Duck and Arctic Muskox have all been used for creating musk oils. The Musk Shrew and Musk Beetle, which can be found worldwide, can be used to create musk oil, but not very successfully.
Synthetic musk uses a combination of chemicals to create an aroma very similar to natural musk oil. It was first created in 1888 and named Musk Baur after its creator. Many different types of synthetic musk have been created since Baur's initial discovery, refining its chemical balance and scent. The use of synthetic musk became popular in 1979, right after musk deer were put on the endangered species list and most countries banned the import of natural musk oil. Synthetic musk is now used almost exclusively over natural musk.
Why Use Musk?
Animals use musk oil to mark territory and entice potential mates. When animal musk is diluted, it seems to have the same enticing effect on humans. The deep, sweet and powerful aroma is considered sensual, masculine and earthy. Musk oil is also the most powerful and lasting scent found in nature. The combination of enticing scent and fixative power makes modern, synthetic musk oil one of the most commonly used ingredients in perfumery.