Musks and anosmia

We were talking about musks in a perfumery group and it got me thinking about the issues I’ve run across when having testers try new scents in progress that have musk in the base.  We all smell musks a bit differently because some people are anosmic to certain musks or can smell them but not as strongly as other people can.  I smell most musks quite well, so if I make a blend with a fair amount of a single musk in the base, that blend will smell very different to someone who can’t smell that musk.  One strategy is to use a combination of musks in the base so that if someone can’t smell one, they might pick up on another.

Different musks have different odor profiles though, and I like to choose the right ones for the scent at hand.  Ethylene brassylate is sweet and fairly strong, ambrettolide is sweet and very strong with a slight fruity nuance (only a tiny bit is needed), galoxolide is powdery and clean and a bit too reminiscent of laundry to me, habanolide is a little powdery and has a metallic nuance, isomuscone is powdery and less sweet than brassy or ambrettolide are to me, arova is similar to brassy but not quite the same, velvione is pretty and a little softer than habanolide to me but maybe not to others, and on and on.  So many musks are available.  Nitromusks like musk ketone are not used much in perfumery anymore because of environmental concerns, but there are plenty of newer non-nitro musks to choose from.   Some musks like Exaltolide are meant to have an exalting effect on the blend so that you would notice their effect even if you can’t smell the musk itself.

People can be anosmic to other ingredients besides musks, such as ISO-E Super.  Some people (like me) smell a nice, strong, consistent cedary musk scent from iSO E, but others have the scent fade in and out, and still others smell pickles, lol, though that’s usually only at higher concentrations.   I think fragrances smell different to different people partly because we each smell things differently, partly because of skin chemistry, and partly because of our preferences and associations.  These differences make it very challenging for the perfumer, and a one-scent-fits-all blend isn’t possible.  That’s what makes room for so much scent variety in the market, and what makes custom scent work so special.

Sonoma Update: I’m trying to get Vintage Rose on the site tonight and Wood Violet tomorrow.  I’ll send out a newsletter about them probably Sunday and will offer a little draw for some free samples of them next week.

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  1. Thank you for writing about the different musks used. I think I can smell most of them pretty well. One of my favorite drydown scents is Iso Super E.

    Galaxolide seems like it might be the stuff used in many detergents these days. Many “white synthetic musks” tend to smell quite soapy to me.

    My husband works as a hydrologist and has seen the cumulative effects of musks entering our watersheds. Some are fairly harmless, but he says the nitromusks have been labeled as carcinogenic and are still found in measurable amounts in our water today despite being banned long ago in many products. Along with other substances such as hormones, the cumulative effects on wildlife and humans are substantial. But, they were very popular at one time and I have heard that many perfumers miss them.

    Anyway, love the new scents! I will be getting a few of them soon.

  2. Hi Cheri! Wow, that’s interesting your hubby is a hydrologist. One of my old college advisors on my thesis committee was a hydrologist. The computer modeling was fascinating showing how contaminants move through the aquifers. Functional products like laundry detergents are responsible for large amounts of musks going into the environment. We’ve got some good green alternatives for those products these days though.

    Some of the musks can smell soapy to me too, especially if they are put with some of the soapy aldehydes, and galoxolide does remind me of laundry detergent too. Tonalide is another one like that.

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