If you wear perfume, you’re probably well familiar with its scent. But are you familiar with all the ingredients that make up your favorite fragrance?
Perfume ingredients include a blend of alcohol, oils, and other components such as industry staples bergamot, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, and ylang-ylang.
We’ve compiled a few of the strangest perfume ingredients of all time and in which iconic and modern-day fragrance brands you can find them. Feel free to skip to our jump to our infographic below to see all the ingredients.
Another odd, animal-derived ingredient is ambergris, a waxy material found in the digestive tract of sperm whales. Coveted for its fragrance-enhancing abilities and sweet oceanic musk scent, ambergris was allegedly used in the original Chanel No. 5.
Although largely replaced by synthetic variants today — such as the one found in Thierry Mugler’s Alien Eau Extraordinaire, it is rumored to still be found within rare perfumes and overseas brands. Ambergris has been cited as one of the most expensive perfume ingredients on the planet.
There’s nothing as enticing as the smell of bacon, which has also made its way into perfumery. Known for its unique salty and smoky aroma, bacon was used in the Bacon Classic fragrance, which launched in 2010 and also featured notes of Virginia cedar, grapefruit, lime, orange and pepper. More recently, it’s become a featured scent in many body washes and shower gels.
Native to America, cactus has had a long history of utilities, including food, tools, medicine and ritualistic ceremonies. Cactus is a popular succulent plant today, but did you know it has also been used in fragrances? Cactus emits a grassy, green scent that helps to liven unisex perfumes. It is used in Givenchy’s Xeryus Rouge and Demeter Prickly Pear Perfume.
Cannabis is known for its recreational usage, but its distinguishing animalistic, herby scent has also been used to delight the senses. While most perfume makers rely on tricks to mimic the plant, perfumer Mark Crames included the ingredient his Cannabis Flower fragrance. It’s a true cannabis fragrance that balances the scent with notes of flower and spice.
Vanilla is a common, beloved ingredient in many top-selling fragrances. However, did you know that the anal secretions of beavers can also produce a pleasing vanilla aroma? Also known as castoreum, this ingredient has been often used in classic leather-themed perfume.
Until the 18th century, castoreum was used to treat conditions ranging from headache to hysteria. Castoreum is now replaced by synthetic replacements and hyraceum — an earthy rocklike material fossilized from the hyrax’s urine. Etat Libre d’Orange’s Fils de Dieu is a notable fragrance with castoreum in its recipe.
With perfume’s long history of noble use, it’s no surprise that caviar – another luxury delicacy – would find its way into perfumes and cologne. Harvested from fish eggs, caviar doesn’t have a distinct scent. Rather perfume makers use it to give the ingredient more body and substance. The ingredient is used in Thierry Mugler’s Womanity Perfume, known for its simultaneous sweet and savory scent.
Ever wondered why Calvin Klein Obsession for Men smells alluring? It’s inspired by the secretions of civets, a catlike mammal from tropical Asia and Africa. While pure civet is a pungent paste, it gains a floral scent when diluted with alcohol.
Renowned for its radiant, musky aroma, the cologne has been shown to attract Guatemalan jaguars. Although most civet musk today is synthetic, farming still exists in some parts of the world.
Edamame is a kind of soybean typically eaten as an appetizer before sushi. Many Celebrity scents contain edamame in their top notes. The soybean provides the fragrance with a crisp, green aroma. Today, soybean is used as an ingredient in perfumes like B Skin Balenciaga.
Gunpowder, also known as black powder, is a chemical compound consisting of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate. The formula has exploded into the fragrance industry with its boldly peppery and smoky scent. Although gunpowder sounds like a men’s aroma, it is also mixed in feminine fragrances like Flowerbomb Nectar by Viktor & Rolf.
If fragrances can attract other people, it might just contain human secretions. Etat Libre d’Orange is one brand that has experimented with blood, sweat, spit and urine ingredients in order to generate arousal in men and women.
Labdanum is derived from the rockrose shrub and was used in ancient times as a natural remedy and perfume ingredient. In the past, the substance was collected by combing the thighs of goats and sheep that rubbed up against the shrubs.
However, today, labdanum is extracted from the shrubs using solvent extraction or steam distillation. The ingredient’s amber, leathery scent in used in colognes like Bleu de Chanel and Herod Cologne.
Cinemagoers might be keen on this welcoming ingredient. Although strange, popcorn emits a buttery scent with a roasted corn background. It was famously used in the original version of Miss Dior Cherie and is a component in the Demeter Popcorn Perfume that also features notes of vanilla.
Naturally found in feces and coal tar, skatole is the essence of waste. Even when diluted, skatole smells repulsive. So why is it even used in fragrances? Oddly enough, small traces of skatole are found in many flowers, like jasmine and orange blossom.
When combined with these floral scents, the chemical makes the mixture smell more natural. Skatole has also been shown to act similarly to serotonin, which contributes to pleasure and happiness in humans. Maurice Schaller’s Nuit de Chine is one of the most famous perfumes to feature skatole.
A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. In 1998, the International Flavors & Fragrances corporation put a rose on the Discovery space shuttle to study the effect of gravity on its scent.
As it turns out, the resulting ingredient possessed a “floral, woody and spiritual” fragrance. It was then incorporated in Shiseido Zen — complete with a futuristic bottle.
What Is Perfume Made Of?
Before fragrances are made, the raw materials and ingredients must first be gathered. Perfumes and body powders are made from a mixture of natural ingredients such as resins, leaves, flowers and spices as well as animal musk like the ones we just discussed.
Since not all ingredients are readily available, perfume makers often produce synthetic chemicals in laboratories to replicate the scents. When manufacturing a fragrance, perfume makers consider each of the ingredients and how they can be used to balance and enhance each other.
After the ingredients have been selected and extracted, the mixtures are then blended and aged into perfumes. For more information on how fragrances are made, check our perfume manufacturing guide.
Although perfume making practices have changed throughout the years, some strange ingredients are still sprayed on our skin to this day. Even the most iconic and appealing perfumes can be enhanced by strange and unpleasant ingredients, showing just how dynamic perfumes are. To explore new ingredients and scents, shop our discount perfumes and colognes.