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Scent of Amber- Recent Article in Polish American Journal

February 23, 2010 6 Comments

Dear Andzia,

I see so many fragrances, body lotions and soaps with amber or amber oil listed as one of the main ingredients. Is Baltic amber used in all these products?

Baltic amber, in its raw, untouched natural form will give off an aroma similar to pine sap. The best way to obtain this smell is burning thin shavings of amber directly over glowing charcoals. Burning amber gives off a sharp pungent piney aroma–extremely strong and very harsh. Amber was burned in the Middle Ages to ward off the Black Plague and it just might possibly have helped the people feel better, if only for a short time. Inhaling smoke from a pile of burning amber would most likely make one cough almost uncontrollably and bring tears to the eyes–possibly conducive to clearing impurities out of one’s system.


In ancient times peoples burned amber for a number of different reasons. It has been said that the Chinese peoples burned copious amounts of amber as a symbol of their unending supply of wealth. Since amber was an exotic luxury good, it was an extreme status symbol to show that their money could literally go up in smoke and not worry them one little bit.

As far as beauty products, perfumes, soaps and the like that we see on today’s market, the amber used for the “top notes” is manufactured from different materials –none of them actually amber as we know it. “Amber”compounds (the good ones) are primarily made from the resins of benzoic trees (spicy, gummy Asian trees) and labdanum (rock rose) with essential oils and fragrances added to it. Almost all of these products come from places such as Sumatra and India, where hand intensive labor is required to harvest the spices, herbs and special blends of ingredients.

Of course, the manufacturers of such products keep their blends top secret. If you have ever used a high end product with “amber” as an ingredient, you most likely have enjoyed warm notes of a woodsy, earthy very rich fragrance—telling yourself this is exactly what amber must smell like.

At the opposite end, if you are using a relatively inexpensive product with an ingredient labeled as “amber” you are most likely smelling a cheap synthetic version of any number of other synthetics combinations and imitations such as vanilla, jasmine and the like. Possibly quite enjoyable but definitely not real amber by any means.

A decade ago, one could actually find products in Poland that were made with amber as an ingredient. Amber has many positive properties and Poles, from ancient to modern times, have always been both creative and clever in using those properties for well being. In today’s world amber is very scarce and very expensive, making products with this marvelous gem almost impossible to obtain or, much more importantly, to properly authenticate.

You may ask me a question about amber by emailing: Andziaemail

Your question may be answered in The Polish American Journal, online here at Blog for Amber, in's Fan page on Facebook, or by personal email.  Please understand that due to time constraints not all questions will be answered, but I will do my best to answer the more interesting ones.

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