What is Ambergris?

Fact or fiction: This ingredient comes from the fecal matter of sperm whales

woman opening perfume bottle
Kristina Strasunske/Getty Images

Could your fragrance be made of sperm whale poop? Find out where the popular fragrance ingredient ambergris really comes from, what it smells like, and which popular perfumes contain ambergris.

What Is Ambergris?

Ambergris is a natural ingredient used in many popular fragrances today. In its natural form, ambergris is a solid, waxy substance produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. It has a sweet, musky odor.

Because the ingredient in its natural state is so hard to come by, ambergris is considered one of the most expensive perfume ingredients in the world. 

The good news for you is that ambergris is often reproduced synthetically due to its high price.

Where Ambergris Is Found

Ambergris is passed in the fecal matter or regurgitated by sperm whales, and sometimes resides in their abdomens. It can be found floating upon the sea and along the shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean, on the coasts of Brazil and Madagascar, on the coast of Africa, of the East Indies, mainland China, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Molucca islands. However, most commercially-collected ambergris today is sourced from the Bahamas and Providence Island.

Historical Popularity of Ambergris Use in Fragrance

Ambergris has been a popular perfume ingredient since ancient times, possibly due to its excellent fixative qualities (it can be used to stabilize more volatile or delicate components).

The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Arabians all used it in perfumery. In Asian cuisine, ambergris was used as a spice. Turks brought it as an offering to Allah on their pilgrimages to Mecca.

What It Smells Like

Ambergris possesses an aromatic and complex scent, described as sweet, earthy, animalistic and powdery, with nuances of musk and marine notes.

Ambergris Perfumes to Try

These are some well-known fragrances that feature ambergris in their composition:

  • Thierry Mugler Alien
  • Jessica Simpson Fancy
  • Lancome Tresor
  • Britney Spears Hidden Fantasy
  • Davidoff Cool Water Woman
  • Moschino Glamour
  • Carolina Herrera CH
  • Estee Lauder Sensuous
  • Calvin Klein Secret Obsession
  • Vera Wang Princess
  • Dior Pure Poison
  • Gucci Guilty