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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Can’t Smell A Thing!! (or why I hate Narciso…)

By Nosy Nerd Girl (aka Marla)

I am one of the 40% of the human population who are anosmic to macrocyclic and polycyclic musks. I fully admit it, here on PST….

Are you out there, my musk-challenged brothers and sisters? If so, will you come out of the closet and join me?

What are these musks? Why can’t we smell them? Why are we ashamed we cannot smell them?

Well, originally, musks were animal in origin. Many mammals have musk glands. I’ve smelled tiger musk (a bit much for me), and deer musk on living deer (very fragrant). I don’t think animals should be killed for their unique smells, but on the other hand, weren’t headspace technologies supposed to make these available without the suffering and death of cute mammals?

Nope. Didn’t work out.

So we are stuck with synthetic musks. Nitro musks can only be smelled on the weird retro items you buy on ebay. They’re great, but volatile. Apparently, if I store too many of them in my laundry room, my laundry room may go BOOM! I haven’t bought enough yet to find out….They’re also toxic, especially musk xylene, so they’re not used much now.

Bring on the polycyclics (many carbon rings). They are found mostly in household products of cleanliness (I’m looking at YOU, Galaxolide). I’m allergic to those. They don’t degrade. They mimic our hormones. They are bad. Next!

The macrocyclics, huge carbon rings of smelly delight, are still around in great abundance. Small problem: as with the large-molecule polycyclics, about 40% of us can’t smell them! They’re just too big for our noses and brains to wrap around. When Givaudan brought out Cosmone, the Lucky 60% raved about it. I bought a tiny vial. Couldn’t smell a thing. Disappointed!! It was another big, fat carbon molecule. Bye, bye, Habanolide and all your humongous family. Bring on the Alicyclics.

Alicyclics are very cool. Just a small carbon ring with a long, thin chain. Everyone can smell these! Auranone is a musk base by Firmenich. It's my favorite white musk basenote. Here are the notes about it from the Perfumer's Apprentice website:

“Strong yet delicate musk blend with fine floral notes.”

For all you anosmics out there, it’s true! Auranone smells great. Other firms have their own alicyclics and blends, equally sniffable and smooth. I’m told that there are some entirely new families of white musks being formulated out there, or held captive by the big flavor/aroma companies. I say, bring ‘em on! And put a big “Anosmic Friendly” label on the bottle, OK??

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32 Comments:

Anonymous Lavanya said...

Very interesting post, Marla- bring on the nerdy posts!

I need to smell these musks separately- I have no idea if I am anosmic to some musks or not.. (though I think I can smell Narcisco)

Do you know if Galoxolide is used in perfume as well and specifically which ones? Thanks!

1:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Very educational! I happen to be wearing Musc Ravageur while reading this and I am definitely NOT anosmic to that one! However, some other so-called musky perfumes do nothing for me, so I am assuming that those are the polycyclics.

1:07 AM EDT  
OpenID olfactoriastravels.com said...

I'm like you, anosmic to the biggies! :)
Thank you for that post, very informative!

2:01 AM EDT  
Blogger womo531 said...

Oh Chemistry how I miss thee~ =)
Thanks for this post Marla, I still remember when I was first introduced to the "aromatics" in my high school chem class... and those rings, I must of drawn hundreds of them through my college days as a chem major!

3:03 AM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

This is a great, informative post--thank you! I think that I am anosmic to some musks. But, how to tell in advance whether these are components of any given fragrance? It
s not as if these molecules are listed on the label. I know, I know...don't buy full bottles unsniffed. I guess that is a good reason right there.

5:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Tucasam said...

How do I know if I am anosmic? Is this the reason I do not like Shalimar, No5, Joy, White Linen and many others? To me these all have beautiful top notes and the dry down is good but the middle is a screechy horrid alarm that burns my nose and gives me a headache...is that anosmic or just weird?

6:53 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Lavanya,
Glad you liked Nerd Girl's first post! Galaxolide is used in EVERYTHING. Mostly household products, also some perfumes and deodorants. It's one of the "clean laundry" scents. It's also in most Earth Women's blood and breast milk, gack!
-Marla

7:08 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flora,
Some people are partially anosmic, so they can smell bits of one perfume, none of another, depending on how the musks are blended. Others smell the "big musks" just a little. Most perfumers use several types so everyone can smell something. Narciso seems to be an exception, I've never been able to smell the original at all.
-Marla

7:10 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Birgit, we are obviously too petite to smell those "big musks". We need the equally petite alicyclics in our perfumes!
-M

7:11 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

womo531-
I remember drawing those, too! I don't know if students do that anymore, or if they just make them on the computer.
-Marla

7:12 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

queen cupcake,
That's right, never buy unsniffed! Or you could go with the naturals. Plant musks really don't smell like synthetic musk or animal musk at all, but they are gorgeous all on their own. You could google the old "Mystery of Musk" project to find some good candidates.
-Marla

7:13 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tucasam,
That's not anosmia, that's hypersensitivity to certain synthetics. I cannot bear Safraleine, for example. Grain de musc has commented on her loathing of a certain synthetic she calls, "spiky wood", ouch! Many people love Iso E Super, others find it screechy and painful. You are perfectly normal, and I'd recommend trying some of the naturals for you, too!
-Marla

7:15 AM EDT  
Blogger JoAnne Bassett said...

Thank you for your very educational post. I learned more chemistry when I became an aromatherapist and it has also helped as a natural perfumer.

I discovered in the late 80's that I could no longer wear the synthetic scents. I am highly sensitized and get headaches, my throat closes, cough, my nose runs, you get the picture. The clean smell in laundry detergents etc is also very bad for me.

When I became an aromatherapist I also became a 100% natural perfumer. I find using ambrette seeds is a good substitute for musk. I took part in the Mystery of Musk project. There are a number of good naturals that supply that musky note. I would definitely try it.

11:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous Best Skincare for Women said...

Most perfumers use several types so everyone can smell something. Narciso seems to be an exception, I've never been able to smell the original at all.

Best Skincare for Women

12:37 PM EDT  
Blogger rory said...

interesting... :)

2:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you, JoAnne. Though the botanicals are not like animal musks, they are complex and satisfying, and I was really astounded at the range of beautiful perfumes in the Mystery of Musk Project.
-Marla

4:26 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should say also that the synthetics are not like animal musks, either! I have not read anything too sinister about health effects with alicyclics, but they are newer, so we should keep up with the research. It was scary to think my kids have polycyclics in their system because I believe in breastfeeding....
-Marla

4:28 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! Thought I'd chime in with a little more info that might be helpful. This is a great topic. Auranone is actually a combination of a number of ingredients, not just one musk. Here is the sales description for it:

Auranone® is a subtle assemblage of some of Firmenich’s finest musks. Created around Romandolide®, this captive Alicyclic musk is blended with Habanolide®, Exaltolide® Total, Muscenone and Helvetolide® to produce a robust musk core. Traces of sandalwood, amber, violet and powdery notes provide a pleasant finishing touch.

I have found that people who are anosmic to musks can usually still smell Auranone because at the very least they will smell the non-musk notes in it, like the violet ionone and sandalwood notes. Also, because it is composed of several musks they may smell some used in Auranone but not smell others. Romandolide is an alicyclic musk that was captive by Firmenich until just recently. It is now available for general purchase. i'd be curious if you could smell it in isolation out of Auranone, and if you could smell Helvetolide in isolation. I'd love to know if alicyclics really are easier for more people to smell.

And you're right, plant-based musk notes are wonderful -- ambrette seed, angelica root, labdanum, and others.

--Laurie from Sonoma Scent Studio

7:04 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laurie, thank you for chiming in about plant musks and Auranone. I can certainly smell the violet and powdery facets, and, as it's a strong musk for me, I could probably smell the formerly captive alicyclics in isolation. I'll see if Perfumer's Apprentice is selling the newly freed captives!
Best,
Marla

9:05 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating post, Marla. As several have commented, it takes me back to my organic chemistry days. I drew lots of polycyclic rings, and even built 'em with the ball and stick models a time or two.

As for anosmia to musks, I've wondered. I joke about being a queen of skank, loving most big musks. They don't smell *that* sweaty/ripe to me. Things that others find mildly skanky, I'd never wear to the office--like Fracas or Agent Provocateur. But I wore MH's L'air de rien for a week once. Perhaps I'm most worried about overpowering sillage, not scent? Not sure.

Let Nerd Girl out more often! I'd love to learn from her. Be well. --HemlockSillage

9:27 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marla, I don't have any Romandalide but I do have some of the alicyclic musk Helvetolide and would be happy to send you a sample if you want. Just send me an email. So far I've only had two people try it who are anosmic to most musks and they were anosmic to Helvetolide too, so it might be anticlimactic, lol. It would be interesting to have a few more people try it though.
--Laurie

10:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Tama said...

I am beginning to think I am a "partial" anosmic to musk. I can smell what I call "hippie musk", similar to what is found in Body Shop White Musk, but deeper. But Muscs Kublai Khan is more or less invisible as a musk, and that one knocks people over. Narciso is invisible, too. Brent Leonesio of Smell Bent seems to use a musk I can smell, and it's delightful. Most mainstream white-musk-based fragrances just dry down to chemical stew or maybe the wood or whatever else is in the base. I guess it's those bis-ass molecules in there!!

11:21 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tama,
Our perception to smell and taste are mostly genetically determined (though diseases can change the profile or cause anosmia, too), so I think it must be hard for perfumers to gauge exactly how "the average consumer" will perceive musk perfumes. Cilantro is another substance that people perceive in completely different ways depending upon their genetic profile, to some it smells fresh and green, to others, soapy and medicinal, to others, foul and rotten!
-Marla

8:30 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your laundry room may go boom? As in blow up? What fragrances (obviously vintage ones) contain nitro musks?

Hmmm, should I be worried about my perfume room then? I probably don't have enough to be in danger.

2:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Best perfume for Women in their 20s said...

I recommend this to all who are sweet, fun, and different, like the perfume.

Best perfume for Women in their 20s

5:42 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
Don't worry, I was being a bit silly. Nitro musks were accidentally discovered by Albert Baur in the 1800s when he was trying to work out a better formula for TNT! Nitro musks won't blow up your perfume cabinet, they are just notoriously unstable, and somewhat toxic.
-Marla

7:21 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forty percent! I'm not alone!! But my inability to smell synthetic musks means many fragrances seem unbalanced. Accordingly my collection has alot of wood and oakmoss. Can you write another post listing fragrances with Auronone? Would love to try what everyone else raves about.

10:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous Lavanya said...

Marla- Thanks for the info..I usually use close to natural cleaning products/laundry detergents and body products..Perfume is my area of indulgence- I don't monitor ingredients too carefully- but Galaxolide sounds scary!! I've heard that the Ormonde Jayne bases contain them- is that true? Are the musk used/ingredients divulged ever- or does mostly have to trust one's nose to figure this out?

1:25 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
Sadly, perfume companies would rather use silly phrases like "rain-kissed ice musk" than "Auranone", so it's very hard to tell who is using what in what. Sigh....But if I find out more about specific perfumes with Auranone, or its sister, Auratouch, I'll let you know.
-Marla

4:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lavanya,
I wouldn't worry about any Galaxolide exposure in perfumes per se. Only the tiniest amounts would be present. It's more an issue of the vast volume of the synth musks used in large doses in so many products worldwide. The big molecules don't break down, so they find their way into everything. Even people living totally vegan lifestyles in remote California ashrams were found to have the same stuff in their blood as everyone else. Effects are largely unknown.
-Marla

4:54 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Late to the post, but thought I'd comment. I could barely smell Le Labo's Another 13 for the first several hours upon testing it, but by night it was all I could smell and it was all bad news, so perhaps I am hyperosmic (sic) to a breakdown product to ambroxan or perhaps there's a steep equilibrium curve for me between little and too much when it comes to this synthetic. Overall, I am pretty sensitive to synthetic musks.

Also, for an earlier comment, not sure that Musc Ravegeur is actually primarily a "musk-based" perfume, more like an impression of musk made from mostly non-musks, spices and such. The name I believe is misleading.

2:18 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous,
Anosmic to hyperosmic sounds weird, but I've heard quite a few people complain of the same thing. Why does it happen? No idea. We still don't even fully undestand how the sense of smell works in the first place, there are really just stronger and weaker theories. And I agree about MR- it's "a poem to musk", not musk itself.
-Marla

9:01 PM EDT  

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