Musk notes can come from animal, plant, or synthetic sources. The illustration to the right shows the musk deer, whose pods were collected and used to create animalic base notes in older perfumes.
Animal Sources: Essence from the musk deer pod is rarely used in perfume today because we no longer find it acceptable to kill deer for the pods. Other animal sources of musky essences include castoreum (collected from beaver castors), civet (essence from a small mammal's glands), and whale ambergris (a rare and costly substance that comes from whale excrement that floats in the ocean and eventually washes onto shore). Most modern scents use plant essences and/or synthetic ingredients to replace animal-derived deer musk, castoreum, civet, and ambergris. The only animal-derived ingredient we use at Sonoma Scent Studio is beeswax absolute (we do not use deer musk, beaver castoreum, or civet).
Plant Sources: Plant sources of musky scents include ambrette seed (Abelmoschus moschatus), labdanum, angelica root, costus root, beeswax, and cumin seed. Indolic floral essences also add animalic notes.
Synthetic Sources: Synthetic ingredients for musk accords tend to fall into two categories: the clean white synthetic musks and the synthetic animalics. The synthetic white musks are not really animalic; they provide a clean, warm, skin-like aroma with lots of longevity and diffusion. They add radiance to perfume and can exalt other notes. The early nitro musks were replaced by the polycyclics, which are now mostly replaced by macrocyclics and alicyclics because those are biodegradable. The animalic synthetics include synth civet and castoreum, para cresyls (narcissus notes with floral and animalic facets), indoles (found in jasmine and other white florals), synth costus, and some synth ambergris notes.