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Scientific Name(s): Moschus moschiferus L.
Common Name(s): Deer musk, Musk, Tonquin musk

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2022.

Clinical Overview


Musk is used as a component of fragrances and as a fixative in perfumes. Animal and/or in vitro studies suggest components of musk have anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic, and cardiovascular activities. Clinical trial data are lacking to recommend use for any indication.


Clinical data are lacking to provide dosing recommendations.


Contraindications have not been identified.


Compounds derived from musk deer are highly lipophilic and accumulate in human fat and milk. Although musk is primarily used topically, caution is warranted during use in pregnancy and lactation because of a lack of toxicity data.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

There is potential for skin hypersensitivity reactions with topical use of musk.


No data.

Scientific Family

  • Moschidae (musk deer)


The musk deer (M. moschiferus) is a small, solitary animal that attains a stature of only 0.5 m. It is native to mountainous regions of Asia, including Tibet, and throughout 17 provinces in China.(Khan 2010, Yang 2003)

Musk is an odiferous secretion derived from the musk gland under the abdomen, near the pubis of the male musk deer. The glands weigh up to 30 g and contain about half their weight in musk. Musk is collected once or twice a year via 1 of 2 methods. In the first method, the trapped deer is killed in late winter or early spring, and the gland is removed. Alternatively in deer raised in captivity, musk is removed from the gland of immobilized animals using a special spoon.(Evans 1989, Fujimoto 2002) The dried whole gland (known as the pod) or the dried glandular secretions inside (musk grains) are employed in commerce as a perfume. Although historically derived from deer that had been killed for the express purpose of musk collection, the material is now largely obtained from deer specifically raised for musk production.

M. moschiferus musk should not be confused with muskroot (Ferula sumbul Hook; Family: Apiaceae), which is sometimes used as a substitute for musk in the perfume industry.(Duke 2002)


Use of musk dates back more than 1,300 years, when it was used by rulers of early Chinese dynasties. Consequently, it has a broad historical tradition in Chinese herbal medicine and has been used for potentiation of beta-adrenergic activity, cardiovascular stimulation, and as an anti-inflammatory. Current uses include as a component of fragrances, as a fixative in perfumes, or as a component of rouge, a red powder or cream used as a cosmetic for coloring the cheeks or lips.(Hayakawa 1991, Khan 2010, Oh 2002)


The fresh musk secretion is a dark brown viscous semisolid that turns to brownish-yellow or purple-red granules when dried. The term musk is also used to describe other materials with a similar odor, although these preparations may be of synthetic or herbal origin.(Khan 2010)

When distilled, musk yields the principles muscone (muskone) (0.3% to 2%) and normuscone. Muscone (or 3-methylcyclopentadecanone) is the key flavor component of musk. Two androstane alkaloids were isolated from the musk of M. moschiferus, and the structures (3alpha-ureido-androst-4-en-17-one and 3alpha-ureido-androst-4-en-17beta-ol) were elucidated by 2-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance analysis. Other compounds present in musk include steroids, paraffins, triglycerides, waxes, mucopyridine, other nitrogenous substances, and fatty acids.(Evans 1989, Fujimoto 2002, Khan 2010, Oh 2002) Musk pod formulations are recognized as a source of banned steroidal substances often identified in sports drug testing.(Thevis 2013)

Cyclopentadecanone is a synthetic compound that differs from muscone only by the absence of a methyl group.(Evans 1989)

Musk characteristics undergo seasonal changes. Testosterone and estradiol may play a major role in determining musk composition during the early stages of musk secretion (May to July), but not during the course of musk maturation (August to April of following year); musk secretion may be promoted by an increase in sex hormones in the month of June.(Fan 2018)

Synthetic musks are produced to replace expensive natural musk compounds extracted from the gland of the musk deer or musk ox, but these compounds are structurally and chemically different from natural musk. Synthetic musks are mainly divided into two types: nitro musks and polycyclic musks.(Katuri 2021)

Uses and Pharmacology

Anti-inflammatory/antihistaminic activity

Animal data

In a study investigating musk inhibitory effects on acute and chronic inflammation models, including a carrageenan-induced edema and formalin arthritis model, anti-inflammatory effects were thought to be related to the reduction of histamine and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) content in inflammatory tissues. In another study, musk showed antihistaminic effects, also potentially due to anti–5-HT effects.(Liu 2021) The anti-inflammatory activity of musk has been reported to exceed that of phenylbutazone in rats with experimentally induced adjuvant arthritis.(Taneja 1973)

Cardiovascular activity

Animal and in vitro data

Animal and in vitro studies have shown that musk, in particular muscone, may have a protective role in cardiovascular disease as a result of various mechanisms.(Liu 2021)

Antithrombin activity of musk was analyzed by thrombin titration in an in vitro study. Results supported antithrombin activity and also highlighted the fact that different musk species and producing areas affect the antithrombin activity potency. It is therefore necessary to pay attention to the species and producing areas in the process of musk domestication.(Luo 2018)

Cerebral ischemic injury

Animal data

Cell models have shown that musk ketone induces neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation in cerebral ischemia via activation of the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. This highlights the potential of musk ketone as a physiologically validated approach for the treatment of cerebral ischemia.(Zhou 2020)

Olfactory effects

Animal data

In vivo mice studies have shown that musk effectively ameliorates chronic stress–induced behavioral, biochemical, and neuronal structural changes in the main olfactory bulb, mostly through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.(Almohaimeed 2021)

Other uses

Musk may have spasmolytic, CNS-depressant, stimulant, and antibacterial activity.(Khan 2010)


Clinical data are lacking to provide dosing recommendations.

Musk pod formulations are recognized as a source of banned steroidal substances often identified in sports drug testing.(Thevis 2013)

Pregnancy / Lactation

Compounds derived from the musk deer are highly lipophilic and accumulate in human fat and milk. Although musk is primarily used topically, caution is warranted during use in pregnancy and lactation because of a lack of toxicity data.(Schlumpf 1998)


A dose-dependent induction of CYP1A1 and 1A2 was observed in the liver microsomes of adult rats fed synthetic musk. Substrates for CYP1A2 include acetaminophen, caffeine, tamoxifen, theophylline, and warfarin. Although clinical and drug interaction data are lacking, caution may be warranted when concomitantly using musk with a narrow therapeutic index drug (eg, warfarin).(Schlumpf 1998)

Adverse Reactions

As with many naturally derived compounds that are applied topically, there is the potential for skin hypersensitivity reactions. Musk components are known to cause a variety of dermal reactions, including pigmented dermatitis following the application of musk-containing rouge.(Hayakawa 1991) Photoallergic contact dermatitis following the use of musk-containing fragrances has also been observed.(Megahed 1991) In a survey of dermatology clinics in Scandinavia, musk ambrette (a plant that has a musky aroma) was among the leading topical photosensitizers reported.(Thune 1988) This material was similarly cited as one of the most photosensitizing compounds in a Mayo Clinic photopatch testing study.(Menz 1988)


A review of the scientific literature revealed no reports of systemic toxicity with the use of musk.



This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

Almohaimeed HM, Batawi AH, Mohammedsaleh ZM, et al. Musk (Moschus moschiferus) attenuates changes in main olfactory bulb of depressed mice: behavioral, biochemical, and histopathological evidence. Front Behav Neurosci. 2021;15:704180. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2021.70418034512285
Duke JA, Bogenschutz-Godwin MJ, duCellier J, Duke PK. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. CRC Press; 2002.
Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy. 13th ed. Bailliére Tindall; 1989.
Fan M, Zhang M, Shi M, et al. Sex hormones play roles in determining musk composition during the early stages of musk secretion by musk deer (Moschus berezovskii). Endocr J. 2018;65(11):1111-1120. doi:10.1507/endocrj.EJ18-021130175720
Fujimoto S, Yoshikawa K, Itoh M, Kitaharai T. Synthesis of (R)- and (S)- muscone. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2002;66(6):1389-1392. doi:10.1271/bbb.66.138912162565
Hayakawa R, Hirose O, Arima Y. Pigmented contact dermatitis due to musk moskene. J Dermatol. 1991;18(7):420-424. doi:10.1111/j.1346-8138.1991.tb03108.x1791247
Katuri GP, Fan X, Kosarac I, Siddique S, Kubwabo C. Synthetic musk compounds in human biological matrices: analytical methods and occurrence-a review. J AOAC Int. 2021;104(2):368-383. doi:10.1093/jaoacint/qsaa15433283860
Khan IA, Abourashed EA. Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 3rd ed. Wiley; 2010.
Liu K, Xie L, Deng M, Zhang X, Luo J, Li X. Zoology, chemical composition, pharmacology, quality control and future perspective of musk (Moschus): a review. Chin Med. 2021;16:46. doi:10.1186/s13020-021-00457-834147113
Luo Y, Tan T, Liang XL, Zhao HP, Liao ZG, Yang M. Quality evaluation of musk based on the biological potency of its anti-thrombin activity. Article in Chinese. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2018;43(10):2112-2117. doi:10.19540/j.cnki.cjcmm.20180116.00229933679
Megahed M, Hölzle E, Plewig G. Persistent light reaction associated with photoallergic contact dermatitis to musk ambrette and allergic contact dermatitis to fragrance mix. Dermatologica. 1991;182(3):199-202. doi:10.1159/0002477841879588
Menz J, Muller SA, Connolly SM. Photopatch testing: a six-year experience. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1988;18(5, pt 1):1044-1047. doi:10.1016/s0190-9622(88)70102-42968373
Oh SR, Lee JP, Chang SY, Shin DH, Ahn KS, Min BS, Lee HK. Androstane alkaloids from musk of Moschus moschiferus. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2002;50(5):663-664. doi:10.1248/cpb.50.66312036025
Schlumpf M, Suter-Eichenberger R, Conscience-Egli M, Lichtensteiger W. Bioaccumulation and induction of CYP450 liver enzymes by synthetic musk fragrances in developing and adult rats. Toxicol Lett. 1998(suppl 1);95:210.
Taneja V, Siddiqui HH, Arora RB. Studies on the anti inflammatory activity of Moschus moschiferus (musk) and its possible mode of action. Ind J Physiol Pharmacol. 1973;17(3):241-247.
Thevis M, Schänzer W, Geyer H, et al. Traditional Chinese medicine and sports drug testing: identification of natural steroid administration in doping control urine samples resulting from musk (pod) extracts. Br J Sports Med. 2013;47(2):109-114. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-09098822554845
Thune P, Jansén C, Wennersten G, Rystedt I, Brodthagen H, McFadden N. The Scandinavian multicenter photopatch study 1980-1985: final report. Photodermatol. 1988;5(6):261-269.2977817
Yang Q, Meng X, Xia L, Feng Z. Conservation status and causes of decline of musk deer (Moschus spp.) in China. Biol Conserv. 2003;109:333-342.
Zhou Z, Dun L, Wei B, et al. Musk ketone induces neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation in cerebral ischemia via activation of the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. Neuroscience. 2020;435:1-9. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2020.02.03132112919

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