Ingredient Decoder: Musk

When a cologne evokes that unmistakable earthy sensuality, it’s a safe bet that musk is culprit. A standard base note in most fragrances, this original love potion has an origin story as intriguing as the scent itself.

Where it’s From

Muscone, the compound that gives musk its characteristic odor, was once extracted from the genital secretions of male musk deer found in Asia. Since these animals were declared endangered in 1979, a ban has been placed on hunting them. Now most muscone produced today is either derived from plants or made synthetically.

Where it’s Found

It’s used as the heart—or loins—in most fragrances, from Chanel No. 5 to BVLGARI Man. Its aroma can also be detected in shampoos, soaps, deodorants, detergents, and various cosmetic products.

How it Works

With its large molecular structure, musk evaporates very slowly. As such, it's used to anchor top notes and prolong a perfume’s intensity. It adds a distinctive warmth to fragrances and gives them a seductive feel.

What it’s Good For

In ancient times, musk was used as a stimulant to spur health and virility in men. While Henry III’s infatuation with the scent led him to spritz it on all his courtesans, Alexander the Great used it to command the attention of many a Macedonian babe. Today, synthetic musks are made to approximate the libidinous fragrance of natural musk. In Cartier’s Déclaration, for instance, musk blends with bergamot and Moroccan Artemisia. The combination conjures pure confidence.

Need to Know

Restraint is important when applying an especially musky scent. Don’t overdo it—simply hold the fragrance at arm’s length and spritz on pulse points. You want your scent to linger in someone’s memory, not induce olfactory post-traumatic stress disorder.

For Birchbox Man’s full list of ingredient decoders, go here.

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