Animal raw materials in perfumery

Don’t lie to yourself, yes, animal raw materials exist in perfumery. They are obviously regulated and animal welfare is now a key issue.

Most animal ingredients are banned today, but some are still accepted. 

Which one? How? Why? Let’s see this together.

Forbidden animal raw materials

The Tonkin musk: forbidden today.

An abdominal gland of the musk-bearing chevrotain was dried. After a few weeks, white crystals formed thus developing this famous musky, creamy and animal smell. This gave depth and hold to perfumes. To collect this gland, located between the sexual organs and the navel, the animal was slaughtered. 

For several years, the animal has been protected, the material prohibited in perfumery and replaced by synthetic musks. Obviously the result is not exactly the same but does it really matter next to this animal protection. 

The list of these white musks grows and then shortens because it has recently been discovered that some of them are not biodegradable. It means they are harmful for the environment. These are then replaced by new ones.

The civet: forbidden today.

The substance that interested perfumers was secreted by anal glands of the animal called the civet. It was not killed but it was undergoing a curettage. This operating mode was extremely painful and traumatic. This is why this practice is prohibited. Nevertheless, there are still stocks of this material and can be used today.

A synthetic molecule is also used here to replace the civet: the civettone. If I had to describe the civet smell, the first descriptor would be fecal then fruity such as apricot compote or prune, very ripe fruits and also parmesan cheese. The civettone is softer, more musky, with a smell of wool and red fruits.

Authorized animal raw materials

The castoreum: authorized.

The castoreum comes from the Canadian beaver (Castor canadensis). It has different roles including waterproofing its coat, marking its territory, identifying itself and probably has a pheromonal action in addition. 

This beaver species was introduced to Europe decades ago. Programs have been put in place to capture and eliminate them because they are responsible for the sharp decline of fiber beavers in Europe.  

Preserving the European species is a key issue. This is why castoreum can still be used in perfumery even if its use is less frequent.

Grey amber: authorized.

This material is an intestinal concretion of sperm whales. Naturally sperm whales will reject this mixture of food and biliary secretion into the water. 

Grey amber then forms more or less large pebbles that float on the surface of the ocean. The smell is never exactly the same because it depends on its exact composition as well as the number of days spent on the water or its exposure to the sun.

Bees wax: authorized.

As for the sperm whale, no harm is done to bees. This is why this material can be used in perfumes.

When and how are they use by brands?

Animal materials that cause harm to the animal are therefore prohibited. Those which are naturally rejected by this one are allowed. Exception made for castoreum because the Canadian beaver, for reasons of survival of the European species, is hunted.

Despite this, some brands refuse to use these materials. They stipulate loading in their brief the prohibition on the use of animal material in order to be able to claim it later on the final product or in the more global values.

An important image and speech with very precise guidelines. The final choice therefore theirs and the perfumer adapts.