In common with balsam of Peru and balsam of tolu, this is an oil – tapped from a tree (Styrax benzoin), after deliberately damaging the bark.  It was first described in the 14th Century; the Arabs called benzoin ‘frankincense of Java’, and it’s had a seriously long tradition of use in pomanders, pot pourri, incense and soaps. (Rather usefully, benzoin multi-tasks as an antiseptic and an inhalant, as well as a stypic, i.e. it actually stops minor wounds bleeding.) Benzoin gives ‘body’ to many perfumes (it’s especially widely-used in ambrées) and is sweetly seductive. As perfumer Alienor Massenet explains: ‘Benzoin is as suave as vanilla, and has a touch of cinnamon to it. I use it for feminine and masculine fragrances: it gives an “openness” and sensuality to fragrances.’

Smell benzoin in:
Chanel Coromandel
Givenchy Pi
Yves Saint Laurent Opium

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