Labdanum Perfume Ingredient: What is It? What Does It Smell Like?

Labdanum mimics the scent of amber, though it can also be described as having a smoky, strange smell. 

It smells slightly leathery yet sweet, with a tiny hint of amber. 

The warm vanilla notes in this dry musk, combined with its leathery scent, create a rich profile, making it a great choice as a base note in perfumery.

What is Labdanum?

Labdanum is a brown resin that comes from the cistus ladanifer shrubs (commonly called the Rock Rose). It’s ubiquitous in large swathes of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa. 

It can be grown easily in many countries, so long as the weather is dry and hot. 

Today, the precious oil is extracted by boiling the leaves or branches using solvents via steam distillation. Previously, extraction techniques didn’t possess this level of finesse. 

Labdanum was previously collected from the coats of sheep and goats that grazed on the shrubs.

Early Arab perfumers described it as the sweetest of all substances and have used it among other ingredients in their perfumes for years. 

In Egyptian times, it was used to create the kyphi incense blend. The Egyptians referred to labdanum as black balsam and used it for ceremonial purposes as well. 

Because of its medicinal benefits, some believe that it’s the “Balm of Gilead” mentioned in the Bible.

What Does Labdanum Smell Like?

Much like real ambergris or “amber,” actual labdanum has an animalic side to its profile. The sweet notes of vanilla and resinous warmth of the plant oil make it a great woody base for perfume. 

Another reason the oil is so popular in perfumery is that it’s a great example of a fixative for other scents. It’s also a way to add synthetic ambergris notes to the perfume.

Labdanum smells of light tobacco and raw resin with terpenic notes. When added to a blend, the tar-like notes start to emerge. 

If used as the main ingredient or base note in a perfume, the other fragrance notes are “fixed” in place at the same time as the essential oil, which adds intense smells to the aroma.

While amber was previously popular in the scent industry, labdanum absolute smells smoother. It actually smells like synthetic amber, making it a great essential oil to use. 

In addition, it has the benefit of coming from plants as opposed to the negative associations with whaling.

Fun fact: Its usage supposedly stems from the time period of the revered Venetian merchant, Marco Polo.

What Scent Family is Labdanum?

Labdanum is part of the chypre subgroup. Chypre (pronounced sheep-ra) is French for Cyprus, the European island which is said to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. 

Other smells built on a similar accord are patchouli, oakmoss, and bergamot.

Chypre fragrances are almost always built on an earthy accord and are both warm and dry. Their fragrances are often refined with elements of florals or fruits. 

The end result is natural and doesn’t smell synthetic.

What are the Benefits of Labdanum?

Smelling the essential oil is said to boost your immune system. It has a calming, grounding, multifaceted note which is believed to allow you to draw upon long-forgotten memories when inhaled. 

The Japanese use the oil in their Neriko mixtures, which form part of their sacred tea ceremonies.

It’s worth noting that you should consult your doctor before using labdanum for any purpose other than perfume, as the effects aren’t widely researched.

Is Labdanum Feminine or Masculine Scent?

Depending on the accord formed, it can be used to create masculine, feminine, or unisex perfume. It’s used as the base of almost all amber perfumes.

INeKE San Francisco Gilded Lily is a great option for a feminine parfum which is immediately associable with the deep tones of the essential oil.

Best Perfumes with Labdanum Notes 

1. Le Labo Labdanum 10

100% vegan and cruelty-free, it makes sense that Le Labo is so popular. 

This eau de parfum features civet and castoreum which allows the oil to mingle expertly and smell leathery yet sweet, hence the notes’ prominence. 

2. Tom Ford Amber Absolute

Launched in 2007, this is an option for men and women and smells like you’re walking through a pine forest after it has rained. Labdanum’s odour is both invigorating and cleansing in this cologne.

In the drydown, the saltiness comes through, enhancing the depth of fragrance within the resin.

3. Givenchy Play Intense

Although advertised for men, many women also wear Play Intense. 

The essential oil of French labdanum forms a strong base that smells like coffee and spice.

The Bottom Line

Labdanum smells smoky, spicy, and intense. It’s used commonly in aromatherapy and in herbal medicines, and that’s why labdanum smells are in such high demand. 

Once you have smelled labdanum in a perfume, it’s difficult to choose a parfum that doesn’t feature this base. Hence, even natural labdanum can be quite expensive.