What Is Musk Aftershave?

Stacy Taylor

Musk aftershave is a product that primarily is used by men and typically is applied to the face after it has been shaved. Unlike other types of aftershave, musk aftershave includes a musk scent, which emulates the fragrance emitted by the glands of certain plants and animals. Although aftershave is used to condition and protect the skin after it has been shaved, a scented aftershave such as musk aftershave also serves as a fragrance and might be used in place of cologne.

A musk aftershave conditions the skin and also provides a fragrance.
A musk aftershave conditions the skin and also provides a fragrance.

As naturally social creatures, humans have sought ingenious methods of attracting the opposite sex since the early days of man. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing this task is appealing to the sense of smell. Natural musk aftershave and lotions are unique among fragrances because they typically contain natural ingredients culled from the glands of animals. This type of scent appears to work particularly well at arousing the female sense of smell, which might account for its enduring success over centuries of use.

A bottle of aftershave.
A bottle of aftershave.

The word "musk" originates from mushkas, a Sanskrit term for "testicle." In the early years of perfumery, musk referred nearly exclusively to the glandular secretions of certain mammals and became one of the most expensive animal byproducts in the world. This expense, along with the emerging animal rights issues of the late 1800s, led perfumeries to adopt synthetic substances with similar odors in favor of the natural secretions normally used in musk aftershave. During the 1900s, the term "musk" came to refer to the entire class of fragrant base note compounds that commonly are used in scent products for men and women.

Among the many animals that have contributed their aroma profiles to musk aftershave products, none are as popular as the musk deer. Typically found in Asian countries such as Tibet, Mongolia and India, the male of this species carries a coveted musk pod in its genital glands that hunters harvest for its scent. Due to the unchecked hunting that musk deer once endured, the animal claimed a spot on the endangered species list in the mid-1990s, but it was downgraded to the vulnerable category in 2004. In many countries, it remains illegal to hunt and kill the musk deer for any reason. Other animals that have contributed their scent profiles to the artificial musk industry include the muskrat, the musk turtle, the African civet cat, the crocodile and the alligators of Central America.

Most reputable modern perfumeries typically use animal-friendly synthetic compounds in aftershave while trying to emulate odors found in wildlife. These artificial substances, often referred to as white musk, are placed into three main classifications. Polycyclic musk compounds and aromatic nitro musks currently appear in a range of musk aftershave and perfume products but are the subjects of public controversy because of chemicals that pose possible health risks. The third class, macrocyclic musk compounds are deemed safer for human use and are considered likely to replace the other two compounds as scent manufacturing progresses further into the 21st century.

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