People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants animal lovers to know that musk, a common ingredient in fragrance and cosmetics, can also be known by a shocking name.
In a video summarizing animal abuses in the beauty industry, the watchdog agency called out musk as “secretion painfully scraped from a gland” near the private parts of animals such as deer and beavers.
And their name for musk? “Butthole juice.” Say what?
“Musk is sometimes used in perfumes, and it’s obtained from animals in a variety of lethal and cruel ways,” says Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “One form of musk comes from deer, and those deer are killed, have their musk glands removed, and then the musk is extracted.” Musk can also be obtained from animals such as beavers, some kinds of cats, and otters. “A number of animals are slaughtered just for a scent,” says Labchuk.
Even if animals are not killed for their musk, the scent is harvested under cruel conditions. “Wild cats can be kept in cages, typically in horrible conditions, and whipped around the genitals so the glands produce the scent. They’re not killed, but they’re tortured for their entire lives,” says Labchuk. Beavers and deer are simply shot and killed.
There is, thankfully, a silver lining. “I think the cosmetic industry is moving rapidly away from animal products in general,” says Labchuk. One alternative to musk is labdanum oil, which is extracted from naturally occurring rock. Another is the seeds of ambrette, a flower that smells so much like musk that it’s also called “musk mallow.”
Today, some fragrance companies have turned to synthetic musk. But according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), even synthetic musk may be carcinogenic. Two common faux musk chemicals, known as nitromusk and polycyclic musk, have been detected in the body in fatty tissue, blood, and breast milk. Some nitromusks have reportedly been linked to cancer and fertility problems in women, or even simply to skin irritation.
“There are naturally derived musks as well as synthetically derived musks, both of which may be found in consumer products. The synthetically derived musks would not necessarily be sourced from animals, but some of them have been linked to health concerns and, therefore, should be avoided,” says Nneka Leiba, the director of healthy living science at the EWG. “If a shopper is interested in avoiding musks, they should choose products that disclose the ingredients in their fragrance mixture, rather than simply including ‘fragrance’ on the ingredient label.”
For beauty lovers hoping to avoid animal abuses, PETA has put together a database of cruelty-free cosmetic companies. Among the fragrance brands that the organization endorses are Elizabeth and James, Ted Baker, Jack Black, Lush, and Bath & Body Works. For those who want the scent of musk without the animal issues, the Body Shop has an entire White Musk fragrance collection that offers musk-scented, cruelty-free perfume, body lotion, fragrance mist, and more. Check this list before shopping to avoid companies that test on animals or use animal products.
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