The Scent Guide: What Does Musk Smell Like?

musk oils on shelf

Source:  jcfmorata/

Musk is a favorite base note in all kinds of scented products, from skincare to candles and beyond. Unlike actual musk derived from animal glands, synthetic musks offer a more ethical option and a unique scent that is still used commonly today. 

So what does musk smell like? Homesick reveals the origins of this helpful scent and explores the evolution and timeline of the modern musk we use now. 

The Origins and Evolution of Musk

Back in the day, musk was created from the glands of the wild Tibetan musk deer. Fortunately — and spoiler alert — this is no longer the case. Today, the musky smell you get from perfumes and candles is entirely ethical and is derived from a combination of synthetic and natural resources like plants. 

Still, the animal origins of musk are fascinating. It helps to understand better how musk came to be in human products and how it eventually evolved into synthetics for mass consumption today.

So how did we come to acquire musk? Musk was first discovered by Tibetan natives who noticed the male deer species mark their territory, spraying the scent from their musk gland during mating season. Long story short, the natives believed that they too could harness these aphrodisiacal powers. 

By the 6th century, musk was discovered by Greek explorers, making its way across India into the Arabic regions. This is where the power and popularity of musk took off, turned into everything from perfumes to pomander balls to ward off smells and disease. By the 15th century, the musk trade peaked, being used even in Islamic culture and regional rituals to represent the smell of heaven. 

It wasn’t until the 1880s that scientist Albert Bauer accidentally stumbled upon a musk-like odor while creating stronger dynamite. And it’s this synthesized molecule that is used more commonly for musk today. 

Fans of the Tropical Life Are Sure to Enjoy Our Hawaiian Candles

Today’s More Ethical Synthetic Musks

Since 1979, musk deer have been protected through various laws to prevent them from being hunted to extinction. But before this ban, scientists and researchers were already developing musk-like ingredients. While each synthetic molecule didn’t quite reach the essence of real deer musk, they did produce a slightly different, cleaner odor. 

Since Bauer’s accidental discovery, multiple years of research have created several types of synthetic musks and each offers a different smell, ranging from sweet and powdery to metallic. 

Let’s explore each a little more in depth:

Aromatic Nitro-Musks: These types of musks are derived from substituted benzenes and were often used in goods like soaps, detergents and body lotions. However, they are no longer used today. This is because research found that their compounds were disrupting the function of human cells and hormones. 

Polycyclic Musk Compounds: These types of musks are only used for laundry-style products. Lending a fresh scent, there is a downside: The molecules don’t break down properly, which makes them a less eco-friendly choice. 

Macrocyclic Musk Compounds: Last, but not least, these musk compounds are what many perfumers and candle makers use. The muscone molecule is most popular among these compounds, followed by floral exaltolide and power-like ambrettolide. 

So, What Does Musk Smell Like?

While many assume musk must smell like a rich leather, this isn’t the case. Today, synthetic musks are somewhat opposite, bringing in mellow undertones and floral fragrances, which are better suited as a binder. Powerful and at the same time elusive, musk is a versatile fragrance used in many products. 

If you like the smell of musk, you’ll also like patchouli. So what does patchouli smell like? Also used as a base in candles and perfumes, patchouli has a similar sweet yet spicy, musky scent that lifts other fragrances. 

Like the Smell of Musk? Enjoy It with a New York Candle

Homesick Candles with Musk Smells

homesick new york candle

If you are looking for the exotic smell of musk, albeit ethically made, check out these Homesick candles. Each of these candles offers a musky scent. 

Hawaiian Candles

Our Hawaiian candles will transport you to the lush, tropical island with ocean tides, cyclamen flowers and fruit, pineapples and coconuts. With base notes of musk, sugar and vanilla, there’s a sweet foundation that carries this candle's scent far. 

The New York Candle

With top notes of bergamot, lemon and grapefruit paired with oakmoss and sandalwood and musk, the New York candle captures a bustling city perfectly. It’s sure to remind you of walking Central Park on a rainy spring day or shopping in the concrete jungle. 

Ready to try a musk-scented candle? Explore Homesick candles and reed diffusers that offer a musk or a musk-like scent like patchouli.