Perfumes have been part of the human experience for a very long time. And they’ve been used for all sorts of reasons, be it freshen up the room, ourselves or to appease the gods. Back then, they were entirely composed of all-natural ingredients like flowers, precious woods and essential oils. Today, our technology has allowed us to source a number of aromas, some of them so weird that it’s a wonder what perfume makers were thinking when they put it in there. Below are five bizarre ingredients that may be in your perfume.
1. Dimethyl Sulfide
This is one of the most potent chemicals in perfumery, thanks to its repulsive and penetrating odor of sulfur and onions. Why sulfur and onions, you ask? It’s because dimethyl sulfide is naturally found in onions, along with durian fruit, asparagus and the dead horse arum lily. It’s also found in roses and geranium, making it the perfect choice to enhance the rosiness of geranium oil and to make a more natural rose base. But it’s also a very versatile scent. If you’ve ever smelled a perfume that reminded you of the sea, it’s most likely dimethyl sulfide working its magic!
2. Civet Musk
There are more than just stinky plants in your perfumes. There’s also civet musk, a thick secretion produced by the glands of the civet cat, a mammal found throughout Africa and India. In its purest form, civet musk is extremely overwhelming and repulsive, which is why it’s often heavily diluted. In this diluted stage, we’re left with a unique and pleasant floral animal odor, nothing like its original putrid smell. As you can imagine, civet musk is quite pricey and mainstream perfumers either omit it altogether or use artificial replacements. It’s more commonly found in the more luxurious brands.
3. Costus Oil
Costus oil used to be a common ingredient in classical perfumery, particularly in some of the most popular men’s colognes ever created. Sadly, it has been banned for a while now due to the herb’s endangered status in India. The catch? It smells like wet dog hair. But when diluted and combined with other animal ingredients like civet musk, costus oil gives the perfume a note of iris flowers and unripe melons. There are synthetic replacements for costus oil, but they pale in comparison to the real thing.
Mercaptan is an organic gas made of carbon, hydrogen and sulfur with quite the pungent smell – it is said to resemble rotting cabbages or dirty socks. It’s also the reason why human breath and flatulence smells so badly at times. There are many types of mercaptans, each with their own distinct odor, like the ribes mercaptan, which has a note of black currant, or the furfuryl mercaptan, which will remind one of coffee. As mentioned earlier, good perfumers know how to blend these otherwise strong ingredients together in a way that only the accent notes stand out.
One of the most commonly used ingredients in perfumery is phenols. In fact, it’s safe to assume that just about every perfume has some phenols in them. It should be noted that phenols aren’t just a single ingredient, but the general name for a group of substances naturally produced by most plants as a defense mechanism against insects and the environment. Some phenols, such as cresols, smell like commercial cleaners while others resemble horse and human urine. But, when mixed just right, they can be used to mimic flowery aromas like ylang ylang and jonquil.
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