Egyptian musk is a perfume that has been in existence for thousands of years. It is no accident that this fragrant oil is Egyptian. Hundreds of ancient wall friezes in archaeological sites in that country show Egyptian women pouring oils into larger vessels, wearing perfumed wax cones on their heads, and rubbing perfume onto their bodies. This mix of oils was supposed to mask unpleasant body odor, help the skin shine, and make both men and women smell pleasant and alluring. Though few original recipes exist, an approximation of this perfume can be made at home.
Both body odor and body hair were considered taboo by the ancient Egyptians. In an effort to keep clean and avoid sweating, many Egyptians shaved their entire bodies. Women and wealthy men wore loosely woven wigs that allowed the air to pass through them. Both the wigs and the skin were coated in Egyptian musk perfume. When the body warmed, either from the sun or from dancing and exercise, the musk often overshadowed any unpleasant scents. Perfumes were highly prized among the Egyptian people and were common items included in Egyptian tombs.
Most people describe Egyptian musk as having a heavily floral, earthy scent with a spicy undertone. This heady fragrance doesn’t generally smell cloyingly sweet or overly chemical. Commercial perfumers sell many different versions of this perfume, meaning two women wearing Egyptian musk may be wearing two entirely different mixtures. When choosing commercial mixes, consumers typically have a wide variety of brands to sample.
Historians speculate that ancient Egyptian mixtures were designed to be thick so they soaked into the skin more slowly, releasing their fragrances over very long periods of time. Some of the known ingredients in these ancient recipes included myrrh and frankincense. These resins were often easily harvested from local trees and marketed as highly prized trade items. They also gave the perfume plenty of body and acted as vehicles for the other scents.
Modern Egyptian musk recipes also typically call for both frankincense and myrrh resins. Today, these come in the form of oils or crystallized resin pieces. The oils are usually easier to mix with the other ingredients, but the resins may be powdered and used as well. Rose and patchouli oils, and vanilla and almond extracts, are also usually included in the recipe. Some enjoy the scents of jasmine and eucalyptus in the mix as well. Perfumers making their own Egyptian musk should start with just a little of each oil, mixing, matching, and omitting scents to achieve a recipe they like. This is likely how the Egyptians did it too.