I was asked to talk about the difference among musks by a member of my forum, and I have to say that it is confusing. First it might be good to find out a bit about the musk family in general and then go on to talk about it’s members in particular.
Musks are prized for their staying power and ability to fix a perfume to your skin. They do this because they are composed of the heaviest molecules in the blend, and those molecules evaporate the slowest because they have a harder time leaving your skin due to their weight. They are not always the nicest part of the perfume and are so strong that they have the ability to take over the entire fragrance if not handled right. Musks can “freeze” your nose and stop you from smelling anything else. So, they have to be handled with care to produce a beautiful long lasting scent rather than a vulgar odor which vastly overstays its welcome.
It is hard to give a perfect picture of musks because they are so very subjective and everyone has their own take on them and each is wildly different. In addition, we have a very imperfect way of talking about fragrance, so if I say,”It’s a soft fragrance,” that can mean: nothing to you, that it is so light as to be undetectable, it is smooth, it is short lived, and just about anything else.
Musks used to be gotten from glands in several unfortunate animals, most famously the civet cat. In the late 1800’s they were starting to be produced by human chemistry and now they are legion. The old musks were very suave and could be subtle but in the 1980’s an entirely new breed of musks appeared which were sharp, cold, and used with a heavy hand in many cases. They were based on such things as the scent of ambergris and had a pronounced aquatic tinge to them. One of the most famous, Musk Oil by Jovan, had a laundry-like aspect because musks are found commonly in detergents for your clothes, keeps them smelling fresher longer.
Let’s now take a look at individual musks.
Black musk is often spicy like “Opium” or heavy and smooth like molasses without the sugary component.
Grey musk is an inbetween sort of thing which can have a very quirky component to it. This varies all over the spectrum depending on who is making it and it is difficult to classify. I do think that Grey Musk is a more fanciful term than descriptive but that is pretty subjective on my part, too.
White musk usually has a hawthorn part to it. Smells innocent and subtle.
Skin musk is usually a lot like white musk but can have an almost rubbery aspect, like skin can have.
Blue musk normally can have an ethereal menthol-like side to it which lingers a lot longer than most minty sorts.
Pink musk has a candy or Pink Sugar part in many cases. I don’t find it’s anything I want to stick in my mouth but there is a foody characteristic that you expect.
Red or Egyptian musk is very thick, wet, and sweet to my nose. It goes well with cinnamon and spicy middle and top notes.
Green or African musk is earthy and deep with a patchouli sort of edge to it. Animalistic and warm.
Yellow musk I find is a term used for amber more than musks.
There are also other sorts of “musks” and those generally are heavier forms of popular standard single notes like honey or spice. This is where the product varies wildly and one man’s divine orange musk is another man’s wooly mess. So much is a matter of taste. I have also found musks with names like Morning Glory, Petunia Beach, China Rain and others. They are musks but mixed with something else which gives it a flavor of the thing they are trying to remind you of.
So there you have it, the best I can do when it comes to explaining musks to you. I enjoy them immensely and I know you do as well.