It seems we’ll put just about anything on our bodies that might make us more attractive -- even the scent of a male musk deer. For centuries, natural musk aroma was prized as a supposed aphrodisiac.
Today, musk scents come from chemicals synthesized in laboratories. So-called nitro musks and polycyclic musks are widely used in perfumes and as scents in laundry products. Some synthetic musks were shown in the 1990s to have the potential to build up to toxic levels in the body, causing tissue damage.
After these studies were published, many manufacturers reduced their use of musks. However, citing ongoing research showing the safety of musks, large U.S. companies continue to commonly include these chemicals in household products like fabric softeners, laundry detergent, and perfume.
What you can do: Tonalid and Galaxolide are two trade names for polycyclic musks, but musks usually hide inside the term “fragrance” on product labels. To avoid musks, write the manufacturer for a complete ingredient listing, or opt for fragrance-free products.
To find products nearly or completely free of any potential toxin, Greene recommends the Skin Deep web site maintained by the Environmental Working Group. Its searchable database lists products it suggests are safer, in each cosmetic category. Or check the Cosmetics Database for a list of ingredients.