Unfortunately, animal ingredients have been used in perfume for centuries. Some were (and occasionally still are) attained using cruel methods that harmed animals.

These ingredients, like musk for instance, are very popular in fragrances and are often expected in high end perfumes.

Here is a list of the most commonly found animal ingredients in perfumes.

are perfumes vegan?


Musk is obtained by removing glands from a male musk deer to obtain a musk odour (which is used as both a fragrance note and a fixative in perfumes).

Musk needs to be heavily diluted in alcohol. It has a complex aroma that is usually described as animalistic, earthy and woody, or something similar to the odor of baby’s skin.


The civet (an African cat-like animal) is used for the purpose of collecting its excretions for perfumery.

Civet oil is a soft, almost liquid material. Its odor is strong, even putrid as a pure substance, but once diluted it is pleasantly and sweetly aromatic.

African stone

African stone is derived from the aged excrement of the African hyrax, a small mammal. The material hardens and ages until it becomes a fairly sterile, rock-like material that contains compounds giving it an animalic, deeply complex fermented scent that combines the elements of musk, castoreum, civet, tobacco and agarwood. 


Castoreum comes from the castor sacs of beavers and is used to obtain a leather scent.

The dried beaver castor sacs are generally aged for two or more years to mellow before being used in a tincture.


Ambergris (a substance derived from sperm whale digestive secretions) is a key ingredient for Fougère and masculine perfumes and is still commonly used in both synthetic and natural perfume.

Freshly produced ambergris has a marine, fecal odor. It acquires a sweet, earthy scent as it ages.

Beeswax absolute 

Beeswax absolute is a very expensive natural absolute often used to add a honey note to a perfume. Perfumes with beeswax absolute may be classified as vegetarian but not vegan.

are perfumes vegan?

Thankfully, nowadays, the barbaric practices that harm animals for perfumery are all almost completely eradicated, and similarly smelling ingredients are mostly synthetically manufactured.


Nearly all musk fragrances used in perfumery today are synthetic, sometimes called “white musk”. They are used in many products, ranging from cosmetics to detergents. However, the detection of white musks in human and environmental samples as well as their carcinogenic properties has led to a reduction of their use in many regions of the world. 

Unfortunately, illegal poaching of musk deers is common. Modern use of natural musk pods also occurs in traditional Chinese medicine.


Most civet is produced in African farms, where African civets are kept in cages and stressed in order to produce the secretion. While civet can still be found in some artisan perfumes, it is now mostly replaced with synthetic Ambretone.

African stone

African stone is now collected without harming the animals, by digging strata of the brittle, resinous, irregular, blackish-brown stone. Because animals are not harmed in its harvesting, it is often considered an “ethical” substitute for deer musk and civet, which require killing or inflicting pain on the animal.


Castoreum can still be purchased, obtained from hunted castors. However, it is replaced with a synthetic material in the majority of perfumes. 


In the past the whales were often caught and killed for this purpose, but nowadays the ambergris is collected as ocean waste and not actually removed from the animal.

Perfumes can still be found with ambergris, but it’s quite rare. Most perfumes now contain a synthetic ingredient that replaces it, called Ambroxide/Ambroxan.

Beeswax absolute

Beeswax absolute is still commonly found in perfumes, in particular natural perfumes. It is used in small quantities, due to its price.

DIY Natural Perfume Workshop

Most modern commercial perfumes are now made of at least 95% aroma-chemicals (synthetic ingredients), and these tend to include the musks, ambergris, and other ingredients that used to be derived from animals. So a lot of the modern perfumes use synthetics to replace animal notes, and as such can be worn if you are vegan.

The tricky thing is to find vegan AND natural perfumes. 

Natural perfume companies may choose to use animal ingredients, like natural ambergris or beeswax absolute for instance.

So if you want to purchase natural and vegan perfumes, you’ll need to check with the company that sells your perfume that they are are BOTH. Because, as we discussed, perfumes can be vegan and synthetic, or natural and NOT vegan, or vegan and natural. Yes, I know, it’s confusing 😉

Your may also find that the scent of vegan & natural fragrances is surprising to you. That’s because naturals cannot replicate commercial perfumes, and you may be used to the smells of musks, amebrgris and other synthetics without even realising it.

When choosing to adopt a vegan lifestyle, it’s important to realise that natural animal ingredients can only be replicated by using synthetics, so you must make a choice:

  • buy “copies” of what you were used to before, and therefore accept they will contain mostly synthetic materials, or
  • change your habits and taste, and adopt natural perfumery – natural perfumes are different, but they still smell amazing!
DIY Natural Perfume Workshop

If you’d like to create your own signature scent and make sure it’s vegan & natural, why not come to one of our natural perfumery workshops in Melbourne?

The Natural Perfume Essentials Workshop is a 3-hour, in-person workshop.

During this hands-on learning experience, you’ll make not just one but three perfumes:

You will make 1 solid perfume, 1 roll-on perfume, and 1 spray.

Natural, Organic, and Vegan Ingredients

In this DIY Vegan Beauty Workshop, you will learn how to create vegan perfumes using natural, organic, and vegan ingredients through sustainable methods.

You also have more than 50 essential oils and absolutes to choose from such as neroli, rose, clove bud, jasmine, violet leaf absolute, and many more.

You will be guided step by step to create your own fragrances.

DIY Natural Perfume Workshop

In-Depth Introduction to Perfume Making

Here’s what we’ll cover in this workshop:

  • Perfume Families
  • Top/Middle/Base Notes
  • How to Craft Unique Fragrances
  • Perfume-Making Safety Guidelines
  • Techniques to Make 3 Different Types of Perfumes
  • How to Use and Choose Between More Than 50 Gorgeous Natural Oils and Absolutes
  • Worksheets to Create your Own Formulas
DIY Natural Perfume Workshop

Your Natural Beauty Workshop Instructor

Hi, my name is Lily and I’ll be teaching the class!

I’m a natural beauty enthusiast, and I love making DIY natural beauty products like organic perfumes. I teach all the Mademoiselle Organic workshops and started Mademoiselle Organic in 2017.

Making perfumes is not only a creative and relaxing hobby. It’s a big step towards a healthier beauty routine.


I look forward to having you in this workshop. Click here to join our next class and learn more about natural perfumes today.


With love,


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2 thoughts on “Are perfumes vegan?

  1. Eli Richardson says:

    I’m outraged by knowing how perfumes are made out of animals! The other day, my wife and I were watching a documentary on animal cruelty and which products we should avoid purchasing. After reading your article, we think we won’t be buying any perfume that isn’t vegan, so we’ll be sure to spread the word around! We appreciate you helping us understand which perfume ingredients are vegan.

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