14 Strangest Perfume Ingredients of All Time

By Leanna Serras May 20, 2019
image of 14 Strangest Perfume Ingredients of All Time

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 is made from a blend of alcohol, oils, and other components. Some ingredients are common staples in the industry which you might have seen, like bergamot, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, and ylang-ylang. However, perfume markers have also experimented with unexpected strange ingredients over the years, from beaver secretions to fish eggs.

We’ve compiled a few of the strangest perfume ingredients of all time and in which iconic and modern-day fragrances you can find them. Feel free to skip to our jump to our infographic below to see all the ingredients.

Ambergris

Ambergris is a material found in the digestive tract of sperm whales.

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 within overseas perfumes. Ambergris has been cited as one of the most expensive perfume ingredients on the planet.

Bacon

Bacon is created for perfume by blended a hint of cured meat with salt and essential oils.

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.

Cactus

Cactus is extracted from the blooming petals of prickly pear.

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

The cannabis scent is produced synthetically for fragrances.

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.

Castoreum

Image showing a beaver, where castoreum is gathered from.

Vanilla is a common, beloved ingredient in many 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. Fils de Dieu du riz et des argumes is a notable fragrance with castoreum in its recipe.

Caviar

Caviar is harvested from fish eggs of sturgeon fish

With perfume’s long history of noble use, it’s no surprise that caviar – another luxury delicacy – would find its way into a fragrance. 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.

Civet Musk

Civet musk comes from anal glands of civets and has a floral, musky 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, Obsession for Men’s musky scent has been shown to attract Guatemalan jaguars. Although most civet musk today is synthetic, farming still exists in some parts of the world.

Edamame

The edamame ingredient is extracted from soybean plants.

Edamame is a kind of soybean typically eaten as an appetizer before sushi. Alexander Wang’s first fragrance for Balenciaga contained edamame in its 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

Gunpowder is a peppery, smoky ingredients that contains sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate.

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 masculine ingredient, it is also mixed in feminine fragrances like Flowerbomb Nectar by Viktor & Rolf.

Human Secretions

Some fragrances were derived from blood, sweet, saliva, and urine.

If fragrances can attract other people, it might just contain human secretions. Perfume makers have experimented with blood, sweat, spit and urine in strange perfumes such as Secretion Magnifiques to generate arousal in men and women.

Labdanum

Labdanum used to be gathered from the thighs of goats that brushed against rockrose shrubs.

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.

Popcorn

Popcorn's aroma molecule is extracted from heated kernels to create the scent.

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.

Skatole

Skatole is foul-smelling chemical found in feces and coal tar that gives florals a natural scent.

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 ingredients, 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.

Space Rose

This fragrance features rose petals where were launched into space in a spaceship.

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 perfumes are made, the raw materials and ingredients must first be gathered. Perfumes 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.


Share This Article

Featured Posts

best oud perfumes for women and men

Best Oud Perfumes for Women and Men

September 18, 2019
woman walking down the street looking confident and happy

What is Sillage + 10 Other Fragrance Terms You Should Know

September 10, 2019
attractive perfume bottles with roses

Fragrance Notes: Everything You Need to Know

September 10, 2019
attractive young woman drinking water

13 Beauty Benefits of Drinking Water

September 10, 2019

VIDEO: Best Men’s Fragrances with Jeremy Fragrance!

September 4, 2019
woman looking in the mirror and touching her face

8 Face Yoga Exercises for Anti-Aging

August 28, 2019
woman mixing essential oils

24 Essential Oil Roller Recipes (+ Free Wedding Gift Printables)

August 26, 2019
lady with tattoo smelling her wrist

How to Smell Good: 18 Ways to Smell Fresh All Day

August 20, 2019

Best Niche Perfumes For Fall

August 18, 2019
Jean jacket with open perfume bottle on it's side sitting next to it

How to Get Perfume Out of Clothes: 6 Methods to Try

August 15, 2019

What is Eau de Toilette & How Does it Compare to Other Fragrances?

August 9, 2019
peach colored perfume in decorative box with ribbon around the box

How to Store Perfume: 13 Ways to Help Your Fragrance Last Longer

August 5, 2019
woman standing near her sliding glass door

13 Ways to Prevent Indoor Air Pollution (Backed by Science)

August 5, 2019

Best Citrus Fragrances for Summer

July 28, 2019

15 Evidence-Based Aphrodisiac Scents to Improve Date Night

July 18, 2019
woman laying in bed smiling

9 Benefits of Beauty Sleep – According to Science

July 16, 2019
man and woman enjoying a date

[Survey] Women’s Biggest Date Killers Revealed

July 12, 2019
cologne bottles lying on a black table

How to Apply Cologne: A Man’s Guide to Fragrance Usage

July 12, 2019
perfume bottles, flowers and fun little illustrations

Kids Craft: “Perfume” with Printable Labels

July 12, 2019
flowers and petals in science equipment

The Science of Scent Marketing

July 12, 2019
Bride putting perfume on her wrist - close up

Find Your Perfect Wedding Fragrance

July 12, 2019
closeup on a diffuser

15 Scents to Help You Sleep

July 12, 2019
a cup of tea with a flower in it

12 Scents That Will Make You More Productive

July 12, 2019
Person holding clear containers of homemade beauty products

35 Coconut Oil Beauty Products You Can Make at Home

July 1, 2019
woman sneezing into tissue

Fragrance Sensitivity: What You Need to Know

July 1, 2019
colorful perfume bottles arranged in a row

Your Guide to the Fragrance Wheel and Scent Families

June 26, 2019

 A Week of Vacation Fragrances For Summer

June 19, 2019
happy woman meditating on beach

Celebrity Morning Routines Backed By Science

June 11, 2019

Best Designer Perfumes for June Brides and Grooms

May 21, 2019
Women sitting at window ledge with tea

15 Healing Aromatherapy Scents And How to Use Them

May 13, 2019
photo of perfume making materials

How Is Perfume Made? The Perfume Manufacturing Guide

April 26, 2019
Best niche perfumes for fall

15 Fragrance Hacks to Make Your Perfume Last Longer

April 25, 2019

Best Perfumes For Mother’s Day

April 22, 2019
essential oils, flowers and herbs

8 Scents Scientifically Proven to Increase Student Productivity

April 19, 2019

Versace Dylan Blue: 3 Moments This Cologne Makes Infinitely Better

April 3, 2019

Parfums de Coeur: 5 Wild & Wonderful Fragrances to Try

March 26, 2019

Award Winning Fragrances for Men and Women

March 24, 2019

Ferrari Colognes: The 4 Best Fragrances to Test-Drive

March 21, 2019
herbs, flowers and spices

The Fascinating History of Perfume

March 21, 2019

Joop! Cologne: 4 Signs You Need to Start Wearing It Immediately

March 13, 2019
woman testing perfume to see if its expired

Does Perfume Expire? Find out If Your Fragrance Has Gone Bad

March 8, 2019

Polo Cologne: How a Legendary Scent Lasted 40 Years

March 5, 2019

How To Find Your Signature Scent: Starting a Perfume Collection

March 3, 2019

Black Cologne by Kenneth Cole: A Rare Scent for All Four Seasons

February 25, 2019

Chrome Cologne by Azzaro: 3 Occasions This Scent is Perfect For

February 18, 2019

Rihanna Nude Perfume: Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Wear It?

January 23, 2019
Follow us @Fragancex