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Wednesday, August 03, 2011


By Marla

Who out there likes a good amber perfume? I sure do! But only Nerd Girl would be brave (or stupid, or obsessed) enough to wade into the Amber Aromachemical Swamp with a net.

First off, amber, the organic gemstone, is not involved. At least, not until a few months ago, but that will be the subject of a different article. Vanilla, labdanum, tonka, ambrette, and benzoin are the true culprits of your swooning compulsion to buy more amber perfume. Today I’ll enjoy confusing you with the subject of benzoin.

Perfumista, be warned. Do not confuse benzoin, that lovely resin, the basis of many a treasured amber scent, with the crystalline compound benzoin. Benzoin resin does not contain this crystalline compound.

In other words, benzoin contains no benzoin. Got that?? Now would you like to feel confused? Styrax (genus) may be known as styrax, storax, benzoin, or, very oddly, snowbell. And perfumes sometimes list, in their notes, benzoin, styrax, and storax, all together. And no, I haven’t figured out why they do that. Or why they ignore snowbell, which sounds like a word that marketing types would go for.

OK, would you like to be even MORE confused??? Sure you would. This is from Wikipedia, and it’s true:

“The chemical benzoin (2-Hydroxy-2-phenylacetophenone), despite the apparent similarity of the name, is not contained in benzoin resin in measurable quantities. However, benzoin resin does contain small amounts of the hydrocarbon styrene, named however for Levant styrax (from Liquidambar orientalis), from which it was first isolated, and not for the genus Styrax itself; styrene is used to produce polystyrene plastics, including StyrofoamTM.”

Wait, don’t change the channel, I’m going to explain, it’s not my fault….

Oh, forget it. I’m too confused. Just know that benzoin resin is a lovely, golden, sticky substance that gives sweetness, depth, and longevity to amber perfumes and incense. It’s warm and sweet, vanillic with a touch of cinnamon. I recommend the Sumatran variety (Styrax benzoin), but some prefer the Thai (Styrax tonkinensis). A lovely mainstream perfume that showcases benzoin is Kenzo Amour le Parfum, in the bronze bottle. But it’s skulking about in virtually every amber perfume ever made. If you’d like to try it in its pure form, you can burn some Papier d’Armenie.

And benzoin doesn’t smell at all like Styrofoam. Really. Does Styrofoam actually smell??



Blogger Flora said...

Marla, I adore benzoin, whether it is hot and heavy in an amber scent or adding a touch of warmth to a floral, it's a favorite note for me. Thanks for the 'splanation!

12:50 AM EDT  
Blogger Tara said...

Hi Marla, I love benzoin essential oil and burn it often with other lighter oils. Must try Kenzo Amour Le Parfum. What do you think of Guerlain's Bois d'Armenie?

5:25 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love benzoin, too, and use it practically all the incense I make. It adds so much to so many perfumes, doesn't it?

6:45 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never been able to try the Bois d'Armenie, waahh!! But I've heard it's lovely, and does showcase benzoin well. And I'm happy to report there's a "Benzoin Essence" for perfumers that's been clarified and thinned, true to scent, and much easier to use than the sticky stuff! I want to buy a liter of it.

6:48 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guerlain's Oriental Brulant smells like Bois d'Armanie, moreso than their perfume called Bois d'Armanie...AnnieA

10:26 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's interesting, as benzoin is one of the principal ingredients of Oriental Brulant, and I'm not sure how much is in Bois d'Armenie- must give that one a try!

11:16 AM EDT  
Anonymous Perfume said...

I like benzoin perfumes. The one I am using now is Benjoin by Prada.

7:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Tammy said...

What a fun, charmingly written and oh so informative post! I sincerely hope you're teaching somewhere!

I need to isolate the scent somehow, as I don't think I recognize it. I do enjoy amber perfumes, but can't say as I have ever noticed any particular thing that sounds like this.

9:15 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love blending with Benzoin EO and use it in a number of my perfumes. Just a little goes a long way. Great article too. Jane C

11:17 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think of the Prada?

6:49 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks!Benzoin blends into other scents and harmonizes more than it stands out on its own as, say, vetiver does. So it's a prized base note even when it's not used in an amber. And it's why there aren't many "soli-benzoins" out there! But on it's own, it really is lovely.

6:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it's wonderful stuff! It's amazing how much longevity it can add to naturals, without overwhelming the other notes. It just sort of adds a richness if used lightly.

6:52 AM EDT  

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