Musk, the oil, the lust, the myth and the truth

How Musk is made?

It is a question that the Perfumist gets consistently asked, is your musk oil pure musk?

Before we answer this we have to first understand what musk is, as rarely any house or company try to explain this to their clients and many just put the label (real musk) on their products or try the symbolize the idea that they used natural products without explaining what musk is and how they use it. 

For the house of the Perfumist, Musk is a natural substance with dark/black color that usually has a strong odor and is used by animals for mating and attraction as the scent of the musk has strong pheromones that usually the male animal produces to attract the females in the mating season. Even though musk can refer to many substances such as the African musk or civet, or various synthetic musks whose compound exhibits some character of deer musk. other animals also produce musk in very small amounts that are not sufficient to be used in perfumery or medicine such animals are muskox, the musk shrew, the musk beetle (Aromia moschata), the musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), the American alligator of North America.

When we speak about Musk here we speak specifically about the deer musk or the seven species of deer musk which are

1-   Moschiferus or what is also knowns as the Russian musk or the Siberian musk deer which lives in Northeast Asia

2-   Anhuiensis or the Chinese musk Anhui musk deer, which lives in Eastern China

3-   Berezovskii or the Dwarf musk deer or what is known as the Tonkin musk that exists in South China and Northern Vietnam

4-   Fuscus or the Black musk deer or what is known as the Himalayan musk which lives in Eastern Himalayas, is little different and hardly distinguished from the following one

5-   Chrysogaster or the Alpine musk deer which is not white in color and has a slightly different shape which lives in Eastern Himalayas

6-   Cupreus or Kashmir musk deer, also known as the Indian musk or the Assam Musk exists in Western Himalayas and Hindu Kush region.

7-   leucogaster or the White-bellied musk deer distinguished for its white dotted belly and these species exist in Central Himalayas.

Those are the seven species of deer musk that produce musk used in medicine and in perfumery.

In the old day, musk was used as a medicine and it was mentioned in many books and references in old Indian, Chinese, Persian and Arabic references. There are many books and scripts written and published about its benefits and many things magical properties of musk and its powerful pheromonal effects on the mind and the body.

So, what is musk?

It is a sake from the musk pod, a preputial gland in a pouch, or sac, under the skin of the abdomen of the male musk deer. That has a semisolid material (powder-like) that is dark or black in color and has a very penetrating, persistent, and strong odor. This material is what makes the musk oil the house of the Perfumist make and producer.

Does musk smell good?

No not at all, musk on its natural unharnessed form smells very unpleasant it smells like animal poop and pee and if you smell it directly the first time, you would probably lose all interest in anything musk related. When it’s dried, ground and mixed, and harnessed by a Perfumist then the magic of musk present itself in an extremely lustful and aromatic earthly scent that generation of Perfumists swear can drive people crazy and make others fall in love with you without their control from a single sniff!

So, is musk oil real musk?

Yes, technically when someone says musk oil, it means natural oil that has musk in it. It is never pure musk by itself as musk is not liquid. So when we say musk oil it means natural scented or unscented oil that is made and mixed with natural musk to make an authentic musk oil.

How it’s done?

There are few recipes for musk oil, mainly it’s Indian, Chinese, and Arabic. Those are the authentic musk recipes that chemists and perfume makers throughout the ages worked and tried and consider the standards by which musk oil and perfumes (Attars) are made.

Since musk is extremely potent and powerful and I mean extremely, just you know how powerful and potent musk is the male deer with a full musk pod can attract females from over 5 miles distance in a jungle which is considered a heavily scented place itself still the musk penetrated through 5 miles. If you open a musk pod and cut it in a room without doing anything else the scent will stay in that room for days. If you touch it with your hand even with the slightest area the scent will stay after you wash your hand 3 times. Yes, this is Musk!

So when musk oil is made it’s usually one of the following a mix of all rose oil, sandalwood oil, patchouli oil, neroli oil, or scentless carrier oil. The recipes are as the following based on which book or the reference you use but generally it’s the following

1-   Arabic recipes between 1% to 3% of the total amount of the oil

2-   Chinese recipes between 2% to 5% of the total amount of the oil

3-   Indian recipes between 5% to 7 % of the total amount of the oil

4-   (our recipes) between 7% to 10% percent musk to the total amount of the oil

(this specific percentage can only be done in modern times as the musk must be mixed with a high acidity oil such as pure rose and then matured and then the whole mixture is mixed with the final base such as sandalwood or patchouli).

7% to 10% of musk is not only very hard to and tricky to use but it’s the maximum amount of musk you can use in an oil to be used as perfumes or in a wearable way. Anything over that will not be wearable or pleasant and the musk will totally and completely remove and scented elements of the other oils or substances and it will smell like an extremely repellant dark liquid.

So when someone say pure musk oil it simply means this is pure natural musk in a percentage of 1% to 10% of musk, mixed and made with pure natural scented or unscented oils in specific recipes based on the work, the potency, and the structure needed.

There is no such thing as pure musk oil in the world that has 100% musk and musk oil in a liquid, musk itself is not directly solvable so it has to be dried then ground with a pestle and mortar? then mixed and matured for months, and this is the only real and authentic way or making musk. Musk is very hard to make and mix, it takes a long time, dedication and it’s definably not cheap. Actually, musk is one of the only materials in the world that throughout the ages has always been more expensive than gold gram by the gram in many cultures and cavillations Musk is considered a sacred or restricted material limited to the religious leaders, kings, and emperors.

What do the other companies use?

Due to the fact that major and heavily invested in marketing campaigns for the billion-dollar industry of mass-produced perfumery promoted musk as the material that makes scents and perfumes sexy and attractive, many people started using or associating the term musk or musky to describe the profile of earthy, leathery, heavy scented accords in some perfumes. The truth is this got nothing to do with musk or at least real musk.

Most musk (about 99% of musk) or what is described as a musk in mass-produced perfumes and colognes is not musk and really doesn’t associate with real musk in any way other than in some scent structure. This mind of musk or what is known as Musk xylene, or Musk ketone is a synthetic material made from a base of Nitro,


That was accidentally discovered by the German scientist Albert Baur in 1888 by compensating toluene with isobutyl bromide in the presence of aluminum chloride and nitrating the final product. This was done accidentally through research and trying to find and make a more powerful and destructive form of explosives (TNT). It appears that the scent of the odor that is similar in some ways to musk comes from the symmetry of the three nitro groups in the molecular structure.

So technically most of the synthetic musk that is used in perfumery is the accidents result of research to make bigger and better explosives this kind of musk has been researched and many think it’s dangerous and can cause bad and harmful effects on the skin and the body if used by high concentration and for extended times. This make many companies and especially European perfume companies reformulate and remake many perfumes that used high amounts of this musk and tried to make them safer and used friendly after many accusations or research that this material can cause many problems including cancer.


Currently, the rules of protecting producers and companies, give perfume companies the right not to disclose the full materials and constituents of the perfume on the bottle, if you look at most perfume bottles you will be about two or three mentioned materials, such as ethanol, or aqua but nothing else given that most perfumes with a minimum scent structure will have more than 100 material and constituents in the bottle. Making perfumes the only product that is sold and used directly in the body and the skin, on consistent regular bases without discoursing the content of it!

Final advice!

1-   Independently and open-mindedly research and know the products you use.

2-   Try to use niche or natural whenever possible.

3-   Don’t overpay for the brand, the label, or the marketing campaign