FabrikaSimf/ShutterstockIt might be time to start checking the ingredients of your foreign perfume bottles because there’s a good chance this gross substance is one of them. Although it’s not legal to use in the U.S., many perfume manufacturers overseas still use ambergris, which is a substance that comes from sperm whales. According to National Geographic, “High-end perfumes from houses such as Chanel and Lanvin take advantage of the ability of ambergris to fix scent to human skin.” (By the way, here’s what your perfume choice says about you.)
Exactly where ambergris originates from is controversial. Some scientists agree that ambergris comes from the mouth of a sperm whale—in other words, it’s most likely whale vomit. However, others insist that ambergris is ejected from the back end of the whale and passes along with fecal matter (not that that makes it any less gross). “When sperm whales have a stomach or throat irritant, often a squid beak, they cover it in a greasy substance and cast it out,” according to National Geographic. (While we’re talking about perfume, here are the most popular fragrances in every state.)
Despite its bizarre origin, ambergris has been called, “the treasure of the sea and floating gold,” according to the Natural History Museum. The scent of ambergris varies, but it predominantly gives off odors of being sweet, musky, or earthy and typically washes up on shore as a hardened substance. Another reason perfume manufacturers use ambergris? An odorless alcohol called ambrein is extracted from it, which helps make perfume scent last longer (apparently, no one thought to use one of these beauty tricks that helps perfume scent last longer instead). Apparently, humans have known about this “floating gold” for over 1,000 years, but the origin of what exactly produced ambergris wasn’t known until the 1800s.
So there you have it. Every time you spray your foreign perfume, you’re probably also spraying yourself with potential whale vomit. (Now excuse us, while we check every single foreign perfume bottle we own.)