Musk is a class of aromatic substances commonly used as base notes in perfumery. They include glandular secretions from animals such as the musk deer, numerous plants emitting similar fragrances, and artificial substances with similar odors.
Musk was a name originally given to a substance with a penetrating odor obtained from a gland of the male musk deer.
The substance has been used as a popular perfume fixative since ancient times and is one of the more expensive animal products in the world.
The name originates from the Sanskrit word for "testicle", mu?ká, and has come to encompass a wide variety of aromatic substances with similar odors despite their often differing chemical structures.
Until the late 19th century, natural musk was used extensively in perfumery until economic and ethical motives led to the adoption of synthetic musk, which is now used almost exclusively. The organic compound primarily responsible for the characteristic odor of musk is muscone.
In Ayurveda, musk has been considered as a life-saving drug and used in various cardiac, mental and neurological disorders.
It has also been included in various compound formulations, such as Kasturi Bhairav Ras, Kasturi Modak, Mrignabhyadi Vati and Mrigamadsar, which have wide therapeutic applications.
Some plants such as Angelica archangelica or Abelmoschus moschatus produce musky-smelling macrocyclic lactone compounds.
These compounds are widely used in perfumery as substitutes for animal musk or to alter the smell of a mixture of other musks.
Since obtaining the deer musk requires killing the endangered animal, nearly all musk fragrance used in perfumery today is synthetic, sometimes called "white musk".
They can be divided into three major classes: aromatic nitro musks, polycyclic musk compounds, and macrocyclic musk compounds. The first two groups have broad uses in industry ranging from cosmetics to detergents.
However, the detection of the first two chemical groups in human and environmental samples as well as their carcinogenic properties initiated a public debate on the use of these compounds and a ban or reduction of their use in many regions of the world.
Macrocyclic musk compounds are expected to replace them since these compounds appear to be safer.